The 2015 Chrysler 200 is a make-or-break product for the recently renamed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, doing battle in the single largest slice of the auto market: midsize family sedans. It's also symbolic, a car which Chrysler can use finally to bury the memory of the Sebring and earlier 200 – along with the ghosts of DaimlerChrysler and Cerberus. The 2015 Chrysler 200 represents a fresh start.
It looks like one too: Though there's little controversial about the design, it's an attractive, fluid shape that comes off better on the road than in photos. Curves abound, accentuating both front fascia and rear haunches, with a pronounced shoulder flowing into the trunklid and delivering the coupelike profile currently in vogue.
Accents vary by model: The lineup consists of base 200 LX starting at $22,695; one step up, buyers can opt for the luxury-themed 200 Limited or the more aggressive 200S in the $25k range; at the top sits the 200C starting at $26,990. S trim levels get blackout exterior moldings while other lines get an attractive satin chrome trim. Buyers can opt for 17 through 19-inch wheels depending on price level and option package.
Inside, this is a different Chrysler than we're used to. Every surface has been attended to, resulting in a comfortable, quiet respite with gorgeous matte wood accents, especially on higher trim levels. The adjustable, sliding center console cover/cup holder is Audi-grade, with premium hardware and a damped slider mechanism. Door panels feature soft materials top-to-bottom even on base LX trim models, while contrast stitching and muted copper accents lend a designer touch to nearly every surface. Keyless entry and pushbutton start are standard on all 200 models, as is a rotary E-shifter knob for the automatic transmission.
Beneath that knob is an expansive open storage area protected by a rubber mat that features the kind of hidden design touch we've seen on Jeep vehicles of late: The downtown Detroit skyline is embossed on the rubber surface. Pushing the "Imported from Detroit" motif a bit too far? Interior design head Klaus Busse explains, "This is an American design story. We're not trying to be a European or an Asian car." But as someone in the office quipped, "Cool kids never have to tell you they're cool."
Available acoustic windshield and side glass, coupled with extensive sound-deadening efforts throughout make the 200 cockpit luxury-car quiet; it also feels a quarter-size smaller than some of its prime competitors, though. Those who regularly shuttle tall passengers or those with convertible child safety seats should carefully balance their rear seat needs against what's offered in the Toyota Camry and VW Passat.
What's it like to drive?
The driving fun available behind the wheel of the 2015 Chrysler 200 should surprise the skeptics. Much like the new Jeep Cherokee, the 200 handles far better than paper specs and past experience would lead one to expect. On the exquisite, twisting ribbons of California's Highway 1 north of San Francisco the new Chrysler leapt around turns with only minor body roll, and the tires maintained their composure well into the margins of sane driving regardless of whether it was a front-drive I-4 or AWD V6 getting flogged. It's no Lotus, but for drivers accustomed to the flaccid steering of a Camry the new 200 will feel like a sports sedan.
Engine choices include two now-familiar Fiat-Chrysler mills: A 2.4-liter Multiair Tigershark naturally aspirated I-4 making 184 hp and the Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 offering 295 hp. The four will be all most buyers need, and reportedly will be good for up to 35 mpg highway. Though obviously lacking some of the V6 grunt, the 2.4-liter FWD models we drove felt lighter on their feet in hard driving than the V6; that said, they couldn't touch the sound of the six-cylinder models which have been treated to a throaty exhaust tune that makes them sound remarkably like a Maserati Ghibli we recently drove.
AWD is available with either engine, and the only transmission is the 9-speed automatic first used in the Jeep Cherokee. Transmission software has been a sticking point for Chrysler with this gearbox, and our preproduction 200 testers exhibited some rough 2-1 shift confusion in slow city traffic; engineers on hand assured us a new software revision was already on the way that would correct the harshness.
For competitive comparisons, Chrysler offered examples of the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion to drive back-to-back. Both Camry and Accord were far noisier inside; increased rear legroom partially offset their chintzier interior materials. Altima and Fusion were similar in terms of refinement and interior size/quality, though the former is saddled with a CVT (albeit a good one) and the latter stickers several thousand dollars higher than the point a comparably equipped 200 is expected to land.
Do I want one?
With Ford moving upmarket, the Chrysler 200 offers something it's never been able to claim before: A lot of car for the money. In many respects it's the domestic equivalent of the Nissan Altima: Comfortable and capable on the road with near-luxury appointments inside. Now it's up to the marketers to make sure potential customers are fully aware the new car is not the same clapped-out 200 they rented on their last vacation.
Either way, Chrysler finally has a competitive midsize sedan to sell, one that will sit in many full-line showrooms beside the Dodge Dart and new Jeep Cherokee. That lineup alone shows a bright future.
2015 Chrysler 200
On Sale: Spring 2014
Base Price: $22,695
Drivetrain: 2.4-liter, 184-hp, 173-lb-ft I4; FWD, nine-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 3,473 lb
0-60 mph: 8.4 sec (est)
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Hwy/Combined): 26/35/29 mpg (est)
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