The 2011 Super Bowl commercial that introduced the new Chrysler 200 was remarkable, with exquisitely photographed scenes of Detroit and rap superstar Eminem boasting, “This is the Motor City and this is what we do.”
But the Chrysler 200 turned to be a lot less than remarkable, basically a warmed-over Sebring that was far behind the curve in the high-stakes midsize-car segment, which made the meaningful ad about Chrysler’s rebirth seem like so much hype.
This time, they got it right. The completely redesigned 2015 Chrysler 200 is everything that the previous model was supposed to be, and it finally gives the renamed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles something to compete with the Camrys, Accords and Fusions of the world.
The new Chrysler 200 is handsomely styled with a coupe-like profile, high-relief character lines and expressive details, and the interior is well-finished and thoughtfully designed with useful touches, such as the large, open-sided stowage area under the center console. In that compartment, a rubber mat has an embossed depiction of the Detroit skyline, a not-too-subtle reminder of the car’s all-American roots.
Well, to a degree. There is some DNA from the Italian part of the family such as the firm chassis derived from the sporty cars of Alfa Romeo. That’s certainly a good thing and contributes to the 200’s feeling of stability and sure-footedness in fast driving.
More than anything, the Chrysler 200 is surprising in both refinement and performance, a big step up for Chrysler in a part of the auto market in which it has never before excelled. The 200 is a very good car in most respects, and it should be a hit for Fiat Chrysler as it makes its way forward.
The premium ride and sophistication belie the sedan’s modest price points. Starting price for the base LX model is $22,695, the more luxurious 200 Limited or the sporty 200S around $25,000, while the top-drawer 200C is priced from just under $27,000. Of course, that can add up quickly as you layer on the available options.
The 200S that I drove on a long and winding trip through northern Arizona was fully equipped, its $24,495 base jumping up to $32,215 with the addition of such items as navigation, premium sound system, lighting group, 19-inch black alloy wheels with performance tires and the 295-horsepower Pentastar V6 engine. The bottom line also includes $995 shipping. Yet at that price the 200S had the level of equipment and panache of a competitive sport-luxury car and it still felt like a pretty good deal.
The optional V6 engine – a 2.4-liter Tigershark inline four comes standard – was plenty powerful enough for the long mountain grades of the outsized Western landscape, with strong acceleration on tap at any speed. Chrysler claims the Pentastar engine is the most powerful in its midsize sedan segment. The V6 is quiet and relaxed most of the time, but it does set up a roar under hard throttle. Not too loud, but noticeable.
The real drivetrain story is the automatic transmission, first seen in the latest Jeep Cherokee. It has nine gears. That’s right, nine. While that might seem over the top, the technology contributes to the 200’s strong highway EPA fuel mileage estimate of 32 mpg with the V6 or 36 with the four.
The shifting is seamless and hardly noticeable, although there is an occasional clunky downshift when coming out of a slow turn. The gear numbers are displayed on a small readout in the gauge cluster, or else you’d never be able to guess what gear you’re in. What I noticed is that the shifting rarely gets beyond fifth in regular city driving, then it maxes out in seventh at quicker urban speeds. Gears eight and nine are pretty much reserved for the highway.
Actually, the transmission performance was quite impressive, and I rarely felt the need to activate the paddle shifters except when I wanted to test them out. They work just fine and you really don’t get lost rowing through all those gears since you’re generally shifting through the first five. So while nine gears just might be excessive, it all seems to work out OK, especially with the fuel-mileage benefits.
The steering in the sport model is quick and precise, though fairly numb. The electronic stability control is very effective without being intrusive. I turned a little too fast onto a side road that unexpectedly tuned into loose dirt, but instead of having the car plow straight ahead and maybe off the road, the stability control gathered it up and pulled it into the turn. All-wheel drive is an available option with either engine. Overall handling feels firm and neutral.
The 200’s interior has been brought up to a premium level and shows Chrysler’s renewed attention to detail and refinement. The surfaces and materials feel first rate, with attractive stitching on the dash and doors, lots of stowage areas (including a secret space under the flip-up passenger seat, which comes directly from Chrysler’s minivan expertise).
The center console is very nicely done, though I would like it better if it were narrower and didn’t take up so much space. Keyless entry and pushbutton start come standard for all 200 models, and a rotary shifter knob on the center console is a nice innovation that works well.
The sporty gauges in the S model look pretty flashy, maybe a bit too flashy. They do provide a lot of useful information for the driver.
One quibble – why would they put a 911 police emergency button right at the bottom of the rear-view-mirror frame where it’s all too easy to bump into? Adjusting the mirror, I accidently pushed the button and had to apologize to the 911 operator for the mistake. Not a good thing. The button should be located in a less vulnerable place.
Full-featured infotainment system with its large and colorful video-display screen seems busy and complex until you get used to it. There are physical knobs for audio and climate control, which is always appreciated. A nice feature: a button on the console turns the screen off entirely when you don’t feel like looking at it.
The Chrysler 200 is something of a game changer for Fiat Chrysler, and it finally gives Chrysler a midsize sedan with which to compete against the leaders in the heart of the U.S. auto market.
2015 Chrysler 200S
Base Price: $24,495
As tested: $31,220
Type: four-door, five-passenger sedan
Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Power: 295 hp, 262 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
MPG: 19 city/32 hwy