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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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