Chrysler 200 — Becoming competitive

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The mid-sized sedan, one of the la
rgest and most profitable segments in North America has for years left Chrysler in the dust, its only entry, the aging and bland Sebring and the more recent 200. Non-competitive was an understatement.

To improve on the outgoing 200 was not even close to an adequate goal when Chrysler stylists and engineers began developing the new sedan. It needed to be competitive with such mainstream vehicles as the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion. To the rescue is an all-new 200 that is so much better in virtually every way than the outgoing model that comparison is an exercise in superfluity.

Chrysler calls the 200 a clean-sheet design, but there's an asterisk attached and it refers to the fact that the sedan is based on Fiat's "Compact U.S. Wide" platform that currently also carries the Dodge Dart. Asterisks aside it works, offering a solid, well-planted driving experience in a real, competitive mid-sized sedan.
From a design standpoint, the 200 is conservatively attractive and, while not as extravagantly stylish as some of its competitors it stands out in the crowd, with a streamlined elongated body, artfully sloping roofline, large wheels, and "the new face of Chrysler," a very attractive front end.

Even more impressive is the completely reworked cabin. The design is elegant, set off by a large (optional) 8.4-inch infotainment screen and a first-in-the-segment rotary-style shifter. The optional Premium Group package brings striking real wood inlays. But regardless of trim level, materials are first class and the fit and finish in our test cars was top drawer.

We figured Chrysler would get it right when it came to exterior and interior styling, so the biggest surprise to us was how well the car handled as we drove both the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 on a considerable number of miles of twisting, winding, elevation-changing roads.

The 200 features a first-in-class nine-speed automatic transmission across the lineup. Standard on the sedan is the four-cylinder rated at 184 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque. Optional is the 3.6-liter V-6 that makes a best-in-class 295 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Our hands-down choice would be the brawny V-6, but we found the four-cylinder more than capable. For those living in colder climates with occasional bad road conditions, the 200 is available with all-wheel drive cribbed from the new Jeep Cherokee compact crossover, but only with the V-6 engine.

The four-cylinder is where it's at in the mid-sized segment these days, the bread and butter engine configuration that now comes in virtually every nameplate, all with excellent gas mileage and competent performance. We think Chrysler has reached this high standard with its 4-banger Tigershark; easy to drive and EPA fuel economy measured at 23 mpg city, 36 highway 28 combined.

The V-6 is the performance tool for the 200 with 0-to-60 times measured just over six seconds. Mileage numbers are average for the segment at 19 city, 32 highway and 23 combined in front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive models are slightly lower at 18/29/22. For performance junkies, the best way to go is with the V-6 in S trim that includes a sport-tuned suspension, and 18-inch wheels and tires. This setup gives the sedan a sporty, buttoned-down feel.

The 200 comes in four trim levels: LX, Limited, S and C. Standard equipment across the lineup is generous and includes 17-inch wheels, keyless ignition and entry, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and a four-speaker sound system with USB/iPod integration. Navigation is optional across the lineup.

The 200 can be loaded with safety as optional equipment including blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, frontal collision warning, lane departure warning, an automated parking system, automatic high beam control and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Regrettably, a rearview camera is only available on the S and C models and as an option. We think all cars in 2015 should have rearview cameras as standard equipment.

The base LX trim comes with a generous assortment of equipment and looking anything like a stripped down model for a starting price of $22,695 including destination charge. Prices range through the trim levels to the C with all-wheel drive starting at $31,190. The C we tested including navigation, a 506-watt Alpine stereo and a SafetyTec package with adaptive cruise control, rearview camera and a blind spot system priced out at $33,420.

Our S trim model with V-6 came with the navigation and upgraded sound system package, and the Comfort package including heated seats and dual-zone climate control and rear back-up camera. The bottom line was $31,980.

Base price: $22,695; as driven, $31,980
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 295 @ 6,350 rpm
Torque: 262 foot-pounds @ 4,250 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108 inches
Length: 192.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,473 pounds
Turning circle: 39.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 16 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 32 highway, 19 city
0-60: 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima

The Good
• Classy interior with upgraded materials
• Strong performance from V-6
• Available all-wheel drive

The Bad
• Back-up camera not standard equipment

The Ugly
• Tight rear-seat quarters