For as long as most people can remember, a Chrysler  mid-size sedan has been the darling of rental fleets. Coarse powertrains, cheap plastics, uninspiring  and sometimes harrowing driving dynamics are what you’ve come to expect from a Chrysler Group product at the airport rental counter.  Around Los Angeles, if you saw a Dodge Avenger or Chrysler Sebring, it was much more likely to have a bar code taped to a side window than a license plate frame from a dealer. The expectations were set pretty low by our friends in Auburn Hills.

When Fiat was given a stake in Chrysler during the 2009 bankruptcy, one of the promised products was a competitive mid-size sedan.  Fast forward to 2014 and Fiat has purchased 100% control of Chrysler. The new group was renamed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, incorporated in the Netherlands with a tax (dodge) domicile in the U.K.  Arrivederci, Turin. See you later, Auburn Hills – but don’t worry, FCA will be listed later this year on the NYSE and the Milan Stock Exchange.

2015 Chrysler 200

2015 Chrysler 200

The 2015 Chrysler 200 fulfills the promise of a mid-size sedan, competitive with the likes of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima or Ford Fusion.  It’s built in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on a platform donated from sister company Alfa Romeo, running either Fiat’s thrifty 2.4L I-4 Tigershark Multiair II (184 hp, 173 lb-ft of torque) good for up to 36 mph or Chrysler’s outstanding 3.6L Penastar V6 (295 hp, 262 lb-ft torque) good for up to 31 mpg. Either engine is mated solely to a 9-speed automatic transmission manufactured under license from Germany’s ZF.

I took a quick test drive in a 200C with the 3.6L Pentastar V6. It’s the same engine in my 2012 Dodge Charger; however, it’s more lively in a smaller, lighter car with front drive. That said, I couldn’t stop comparing the front drive 200 to my much heavier and larger Charger.  I didn’t miss the size or weight, but I definitely missed the linear neutrality of rear-wheel drive. Such is my cross to bear.

2015 Chrysler 200S

2015 Chrysler 200S

The 200 inspires lazy driving. With 9 gears, under normal driving, you have no clue what gear you’re in unless you look at the dash read out. When you mash the go pedal down, it jumps to life and quickly overtakes anyone dawdling along in traffic, but then you settle back to a relatively uninvolved driver interface.  I didn’t detect much torque steer, but then again, the electric power steering didn’t provide much road feedback.  I did, however, hear more road noise than I expected, on par with the noisier Mazda 6 I drove earlier this year.

You can opt for a panoramic glass sunroof. It makes for a light and airy interior.

You can opt for a dual pane panoramic glass sunroof $1,495. It makes for a light and airy interior.

The front of the 200S is modern if not exactly distinct.

The front of the 200S is modern if not exactly distinctive.

The suspension is definitely not sports-tuned. To that end, it soaked up the a rough patch of road with ease. Hard turns weren’t its strong suit either – but it’s not supposed to be a sports sedan.  I got the sense that it would make daily commuting and long drives a comfortable affair.

Visibility was generally decent, but I found the A-pillar to be rather long and thick which is a byproduct of the steeply raked windshield.  The fastback coupe-like silhouette makes larger rear blind spots, very much like a Ford Fusion. But I guess that’s what things like blind-spot monitors are for, right?

The gear selector is a large rotary knob on the center console. Other Chrysler Group products as diverse as a Ram 1500 pickup truck and the new Jeep Cherokee use the  same setup. It’s in a good location, but I doesn’t provide any noticeable indentations or stops between Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. That makes fast flicking between drive and reverse difficult when you’re in a hurry to do maneuvers like a 3-point turn or parallel parking on a busy street. It’s annoying.

The rotary gear selector looks good and feels like a nicely-weighted, machined knob. It just doesn't "rock" well between gears.

The rotary gear selector looks good and feels like a nicely-weighted, machined knob. It just doesn’t “rock” well between gears.

But where the Chrysler 200 shines is its lovely new interior. Each new product under Fiat’s ownership have demonstrated quantum leaps in quality and ergonomics from previous generations and this 2nd Gen Chrysler 200 is no exception.

The plastics are far better than the econo-box junk Chrysler previously churned out. Soft touch materials are in the right places. Harder plastics are reserved for areas you don’t see or touch.

This is a detail of the interior door trim/pull handle. The memory power seats are an upgrade to the top-of-the-line 200C.  The simulated open pore wood trim is nicely done.

This is a detail of the interior door trim/pull handle. The memory power seats are an upgrade to the top-of-the-line 200C. The simulated matte open pore wood trim is nicely done.

There are plenty of hard-wired buttons, knobs and switchgear in addition to Chrysler’s excellent U-Connect touch-screen infotainment system. It’s nice to have easy to reach controls for volume, changing channels and climate control functions in addition to redundant controls on the multifunction steering wheel and the 8.4″ touch screen.

The cockpit of the Chrysler 200 is a nice place to spend time.

The cockpit of the Chrysler 200 is a nice place to spend time. Note the tasteful blend of a large touch-screen and physical controls.

Garmin still supplies the navigation system, but the graphics have matured and are much clearer and better rendered than before. I didn’t try the voice recognition system. The one in my 2012 Dodge is useless. Hopefully the new generation is much better.

The clever center console has cup holders that slide back to reveal a cave, complete with USB port, for your phone, tablet or other assorted stuff. Of course, there is also some room in the armrest, which also adjusts – a nice touch whether  you’re tall or small.

The 2015 200 sports a slick new center console.

The 2015 200 sports a slick new center console. Note the electronic parking brake next to the gear selector.

The 200 also offers the latest array of nearly autonomous safety features. Opt for the $1,295 Safety Tech package (on the 200C) and you get the latest generation of Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go. The car will stop itself completely and then resume following the car in front when traffic moves again.  Advanced Brake Assist in concert with Full-Speed Forward Collision Warning uses both radar and cameras to detect an imminent collision and applies extra braking force to automatically completely stop the car. Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection are more advanced and work in concert.  Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist looks for lane drift with stereo cameras and can nudge the car back into its lane. Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist do exactly what’s advertised. And to round off the package (a true bargain) Chrysler throws in rain-sensing wipers and automatic high beams.  Remember, this is all for $1,295!

The democratization of technology is moving faster than anyone predicted.  The Chrysler 200, properly equipped, is nearly capable of autonomous driving. It’s just a few thousand lines of software code and a couple sensors away from driving itself.

The back seat wasn’t particularly spacious and the swooping roof line made getting in back somewhat difficult for my 6’1″ frame.  I seem to fit better in back of an Accord or Camry, then again, I rarely ride in the back of my own cars. The scooped out left/right rear seats made the theoretical center 5th seat only good for a small child.

2015 Chrysler 200 Back Seat

2015 Chrysler 200 Back Seat. The rear wheel wells cut into the door opening making it a bit harder to get in.

The sporty seats in the 200S are surfaced with perforated leather. You can option them with seat coolers as well as heaters.  Great for hot weather in Southern California and those cold winter mornings.

The sporty seats in the 200S are surfaced with perforated leather. You can option them with seat coolers as well as heaters. Great for hot weather in Southern California and those cold winter mornings.

The exterior styling of the Chrysler 200 looks like a cross between a Ford Fusion and a Hyundai Sonata. While I think it’s pleasing to the eye, I also think it’s so derivative that it doesn’t stand out in the crowd like the sexy Mazda 6.  I think a more emotional or futuristic design would have helped to attract new customers.

There is one feature that could set the 200 apart from the competition.  In the crowded mid-size segment, all-wheel drive is a rarity.  The Subaru Legacy has the company’s symmetrical all-wheel drive as standard equipment and Ford offers an AWD option on the Fusion.  Chrysler offers AWD on either the 200S or 200C, but only in conjunction with the V6.

Note the AWD badge on back of this 200S.

Note the AWD badge on back of this 200S.

Chrysler wants you to forget everything you thought about its former entries in the mid-size market. The 2015 200/C/S is a competitive entry worthy of consideration with the heavy hitters (Camry, Accord, Sonata, Altima, Fusion, Optima) and even an alternative to a niche vehicle like the Subaru Legacy.

You can never have enough safety features these days. Air bags are everywhere - which is pretty much a given in today's hyper-competitive mid-size family car segment.

You can never have enough safety features these days. Air bags are everywhere – which is pretty much a given in today’s hyper-competitive mid-size family car segment.

As we say in Hollywood when it comes to award season: For Your Consideration. The new 200 is worth a look and maybe even a few awards.

The 2015 Chrysler 200S in Vivid Blue Pearl Coat and on the right, the 200C in Granite Crystal Metallic Clear Coat.  Ready for a close up. Ready for your consideration.

The 2015 Chrysler 200S in Vivid Blue Pearl Coat and, on the right, the 200C in Granite Crystal Metallic Clear Coat. Ready for a close up. Ready for your consideration.

2015 Chrysler 200 Trim Levels (add $995 destination charge to any level):

  • 200 LX from $21,700
  • 200 Limited from $23,255
  • 200S from $24,495
  • 200C from $25,995

Chat  —  Posted: June 28, 2014 in Chrysler
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Mercedes-Benz is no longer just a niche luxury brand. Starting in the early 1980s with the 190E (now the C-Class) Mercedes boosted sales volume in order to reduce overall costs, broaden the appeal of the brand to a new market segment and hook in those younger customers earlier to make them life-long brand loyalists. The Baby-Benz experiment worked and today the C-Class outsells every other Class of Mercedes vehicles.

But while the C-Class may lead volume, the E-Class fuels profit. Lesser versions of the E-Class, sold outside the US, are better known as taxis and livery cars. In the U.S., however,  the E (Executive) Class – is a lovely mid-sized luxury sedan, best for mid-level executives and upper middle-class families. It’s the half-way point in the Mercedes line-up, until you can afford the flagship S-Class.

If you were expecting the E-Class Coupe to be just a two-door version of the sedan, you’d be wrong. The E-Coupe is smaller, more intimate and simply gorgeous. The pillarless design, (standard) panorama glass roof and fully lowing rear windows give the otherwise tight cabin a light and airy feel, not to mention unobstructed views from side to side.  Expensive engineering is on display and we are all better for it.

The 2014 E350 Coupe is gorgeous from every angle.

The 2014 E350 Coupe is gorgeous from every angle.

The 14-way, 3 memory position front sports seats – also standard – have pronounced side bolsters. While my 6’1” 185 lb frame enjoyed being hugged by the $1,370 perforated Nappa Leather, I think larger people would feel squeezed. But maybe this car was designed like a high couture, tailored suit – it’s supposed to look good even if it’s a bit uncomfortable.

The interior is expertly and beautifully finished.  Everything from the double-stitched leather seats to the brushed-chrome accents, soft-touch plastics, switch-gear and center analog clock, look and feel like fifty grand. The flat-bottom steering wheel, part of the $1,490 Sports Package, is an ergonomic work of art – I didn’t want to let go. So even if you’re uncomfortably stuffed into the cockpit, you still look marvelous!

The instrument panel is easy to read. The steering wheel is a first-rate affair.

The instrument panel is easy to read. The steering wheel is a first-rate affair.

Unlike the sedan, a center console divides the rear seats making the E-Coupe a strictly 4-person affair.  And even then, given the steeply-raked roof and paucity of leg room, anyone sitting in the back seat either has to be a child or a contortionist.  Full size adults not riding in front should find alternate transportation. Uber or Lyft anyone?

It's a tight fit in the back. You need to be very short and very thin to fit back there. It's best to just throw some Bloomingdale's bags back there and call it a day.

It’s a tight fit in the back. You need to be very short and very thin to fit back there. It’s best to just throw some Bloomingdale’s bags back there and call it a day.

And speaking of rides, I found the E350 Coupe’s road manners a bit rude. I was surprised by the amount of road noise that soaked the cabin. We were driving on very well-paved streets and highways in the Coachella Valley and I expected the cabin to be quieter. I couldn’t feel the road – that was banished by the lifeless, if precise electric power steering – but my ears could hear any road imperfection and the constant tire drone.  My ass could feel potholes and rough surfaces courtesy of the stiff suspension.

The cup holders are very poorly placed. Almost any cup will block a whole host of buttons and displays.  I think the message is don't bring drinks into this lovely cabin. The German overlords disapprove of eating in your car.

The cup holders are very poorly placed. Almost any cup will block a whole host of buttons and displays. I think the message is don’t bring drinks into this lovely cabin. The German overlords disapprove of eating in your car.

At least the drivetrain on the E350 isn’t a disappointment.  The 3.5L direct-inject V6 makes 302 horsepower and 273 pound-foot of torque.  Mercedes’ outstanding 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters is standard. Shifts are warp-speed and nearly imperceptible.  Most of your driving will take place in the leisurely Eco mode, which starts the car in 2nd gear to avoid jack rabbit, gas-sucking starts. Sports Mode is much more entertaining, but it will also kill fuel economy, which is only class-average at 20/24/30.

And speaking of saving fuel, the standard Eco Start-Stop system was annoying. You really don’t notice the engine while driving unless you’re pushing it, so when it comes to a stop and shuts itself off, you really don’t notice. But when you release the brake or touch the gas pedal, it fires back up and you can feel a slight shudder. That I could live with, but I can’t live with the climate control going into eco mode when the engine shuts off.  In hot weather – it was 96 that day – you need the cooling whether or not you’re stopped in traffic. You can shut it off, but it resets itself each time you start the car. Ugh.

The center console has a comfortable arm rest, hidden storage under the arm rest and the well-weighted rotary controller works most of the infotainment/navigation functions.

The center console has a comfortable arm rest, hidden storage under the arm rest and the well-weighted rotary controller works most of the infotainment/navigation functions.

In addition to the Sports Package and Nappa Leather Package, my tester came equipped with the Premium Package – $3,270, Keyless Go – $650 (which should be standard), Lane Tracking Package – $875 and Steel Gray Metallic paint – $720.

3-position power seat memory is standard. The switchgear is beautiful and the wood, plastic and leather all mesh in lovely harmony.

3-position power seat memory is standard. The switchgear is beautiful and the wood, plastic and leather all mesh in lovely harmony.

Almost any E-Class will come with the Premium Package which adds hard drive navigation (lovely 3-D maps!), upgraded Harmon/kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system, SiriusXM radio/traffic/weather and a rear view camera.  At this level, I’d like these items to be standard – particularly the rear view camera – but this is how the option game is played. The Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist worked flawlessly and were mostly helpful, if sometimes annoying.  All told, this car was $61,500 including the $925 transportation charge.

While not large, the navigation and infotainment screen was easy to read. The 3-D maps were lovely.  And the upgraded Harmon/Kardon sound system was superb.

While not large, the navigation and infotainment screen was easy to read. The 3-D maps were lovely. And the upgraded Harmon/Kardon sound system was superb.

Steel Grey is a good color for this car.

Steel Gray is a good color for this car.

If you’re going to blow $60,000 on a German luxury car, I’d dump the $875 Lane Tracking Package and pop for the $2,800 Driver Assistance Package which incorporates adaptive cruise control (Distronic Plus) with advanced cross-traffic, blind spot, lane keeping, collision braking and pedestrian recognition capabilities. In short, it’s almost autonomous driving.

The large, single-bar grill flanking a huge Mercedes 3-pointed star telegraph the E350's sporting intentions.

The large, single-bar grill flanking a huge Mercedes 3-pointed star telegraph the E350′s sporting intentions.

This E-Coupe feels like it’s trying too hard to be a BMW when it should simply give in and be a Mercedes-Benz. I’m buying an E-Class Mercedes because I want a more cosseting, wafting luxury experience. If I wanted annoying run-flat tires and a harsh ride, I’d get the new BMW 435i with the Sports Package – because at least it would be more fun and entertaining to drive.

I think E350 Coupe should drop the sports car pretense and just go for the personal luxury experience. It’s an extremely alluring, almost regal package, all wrapped up in taut sheet metal and sexy new headlight modules.  The lack of a B-pillar is an expensive, defining feature not available at your BMW or Audi dealer in this class of car.  If you want a more sporty version, opt for the E550 Coupe with the fire-breathing 402 hp 4.6 L biturbo V8.  Otherwise, let the E350 Coupe be the lovely lady that she is.

For me, however, I’d go for the E-Class sedan. You get a significantly larger cabin, the convenience of 4 doors, seating for 4 adults and an accommodating trunk. All for less money.

My choice would be this 2014 Mercedes E250 Bluetec. The diesel-powered sedan is far more practical, handsome and it gets a whopping 42 mpg highway, besting most hybrids.  Consumer Reports said that it was their 2nd favorite car - coming in just below the Tesla Model S.

My choice would be this 2014 Mercedes E250 Bluetec. The diesel-powered sedan is far more practical, handsome and it gets a whopping 42 mpg highway, besting most hybrids. Consumer Reports said that it was their 2nd favorite car – coming in just below the Tesla Model S.

Chat  —  Posted: May 22, 2014 in Mercedes-Benz
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