Test Driven: Chrysler 200

Chrysler 200 (Front)

All things considered, Chrysler was probably the worst choice of the entire midsize car field for the past couple of years.  Thanks to a multitude of bad qualities, such as frumpy styling, a rental-spec interior, and cringeworthy driving dynamics, the Sebring, and its Dodge Avenger brother, was one of the most hated cars in the segment.  Jeremy Clarkson, for example, doesn’t usually hold back when he finds things wrong with a car, but when he ranked the Sebring Convertible as his least favorite of 2008, clearly, something was wrong.  So, Chrysler went back to the drawing board with a dull pencil and not a lot of outright cash, and the result is the red sedan you see above.

The 200 looks much nicer from the rear–it hides the roofline. The rear details are very interesting–every time I looked at it I found something else to like. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start.

Considering what Chrysler had to work with, I’m pretty impressed at the result.  The Sebring didn’t really provide a lot in terms of stuff to keep, so Chrysler had its work cut out when designing the new 200.  That said, they’ve used their resources correctly.  The new engines, for one, are already recieving applause.  The Pentastar V6 in my test car is one I’m familiar with as the standard engine in the 300, and it’s already made the list of Ward’s Ten Best Engines since its recent debut.  The interior is, in a single phrase, like night and day–the thin plastics and ugly interior details are gone, replaced with soft-touch vinyl, some touches of leather, and surprisingly comfortable and supportive cloth seats.  I’ve been in other cloth equipped Mopars, and this one was better–it didn’t feel like my sofa at home.  It actually felt like a car seat.  So, when you take into account what they had to work with, the result is pretty surprising.

The rims that came on this car, along with the tires, are well-sized and offer a soft but not wallowy ride. Chrysler did their homework with fixing this.

The styling isn’t perfect–I’m not sold on the shape, which looks a bit egglike from the side.  The front and rear are much nicer than the Sebring’s old face.  Meanwhile, the sticker price should definitely get buyers in the door–the car I drove, which was equipped with everything but leather upholstery and heated seats, was $26,585. Considering how a similarly priced Camry or Accord would cost quite a bit more, this is a serious bargain.

On the move, the Chrysler was serene and conventional–a huge step up from the Sebring it replaced this year.  The big V6 is far more suited to this car than in the 300–it pulls with authority and offers a nice growl–it definitely feels V6-esque, but the fuel economy (19/29 MPG from the EPA) certainly is surprising for such a big motor.  It rides smoothly, something that I was glad to discover, this being a “semi-luxury” vehicle.  It’s refined overall, and the styling actually helps the driving experience–that tall roof lends itself to a huge amount of headroom inside.  Chrysler did its homework in the interior and in fixing up the driving experience, and it really shows.

Very good interior quality–Chrysler spent the most money on the inside, and it shows. The rental-car feel has been abolished from the 200.

Overall, it’s certainly not perfect–the steering is overboosted (not to the point of zero feel, but I would be happier with quicker steering on a car this size) and the brakes are a little spongy.  That said, this is a solid effort for the lack of money available.  Chrysler’s on a shoestring budget, and they’re spending the money where it counts.

-Al

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