2012 Chrysler 200
2012 Chrysler 200 Expert Review:Autoblog
You don't have to take a trip to Egypt to know what the pyramid of Gisa looks like. It's an amazing feat of engineering, the construction of which continues to confound scientists to this day. But while Gisa is a true world wonder, Egypt is also home to many structures that were never completed. Half-built pyramids, obelisks that were intricately cut out of solid bedrock only to be left un-hoisted and 1,000-ton rocks that were dragged by hand for miles and left sitting unused. Why would anyone go through all that effort without finishing what they started?
We've long asked the same question about the Chrysler Sebring. Engineers took the time to come up with all the components needed to craft a new sedan for Chrysler, yet the steering, chassis and engines were woefully unfinished works. When looking at the Sebring, it's like designers threw darts at a wall to find the right sketch, and the same lack of completeness could be felt on the inside, where rubbery materials materials were assembled with the precision of a sofa cushion fort.
Luckily for Chrysler, the Sebring and those unfinished Egyptian objects have one more thing in common: They're both consigned to history. Chrysler's designers and engineers have worked together to right the wrongs of the Sebring, and those efforts have led to the newly named 2011 Chrysler 200. We spent a week with a nicely equipped Limited model to see if Chrysler's mulligan can go toe-to-toe with its peers in a very competitive mid-size sedan segment. Continue reading...
That Chrysler decided to change the name of the Sebring to the 200 should come as no surprise. The new naming structure makes sense given that the sedan's big brother is the 300, but the badge swap goes further than that. The Sebring was a train wreck of epic proportions, as then-owner Daimler cut budgets and rushed timelines to deliver a cost-competitive offering in the segment. What Chrysler got was a cheap, hot mess that needed massive discounts to be moved, mainly to rental fleets. Imagine working the counter at Avis and telling people that they're stuck with a Sebring. Talk about an easy sell to "upgrade" to a full-size Kia Amanti.
The 200 is still based on the Sebring architecture, but Chrysler claims to have made major changes to the steering, suspension, interior and exterior designs. Chrysler even added a new 3.6-liter "Pentastar" V6 that produces a best-in-class 283 horsepower. And while we still see a heavy dose of Sebring in every 200 we encounter, particularly the profile, the new sedan is at least slightly more handsome than its predecessor. The folks at Chrysler's marketing arm have taken notice as well, as the 200's Super Bowl commercial, which featured Eminem trolling the streets of Downtown Detroit, was the most talked-about spot that any Detroit automaker has crafted in years.
Our $28,505 Limited tester (a base 200 costs $19,245) came exceptionally well loaded with standard features, including 18-inch aluminum wheels, leather seating surfaces, an eight-way power driver's seat, remote start, heated front seats and side mirrors and Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth. Among the other options added to the spec sheet were the $895 6.5-inch navigation screen with 30GB hard drive, Sirius Satellite radio and traffic and an $845 power moonroof.
When it comes to mid-size sedans, an attractive exterior isn't always part of the recipe for success. Unfortunately for Chrysler, the Sebring was the malignant tumor of automotive design: lumpy, bulbous, rough around the edges and in need of immediate surgery. But that's the canvas on which Chrysler designers had to paint a reborn sedan, and the results are a solid effort that doesn't quite let us forget about the S-word.
The metal forward of the A-pillars is new, which means the straked hood, smallish and under-defined grille and retro headlight assemblies were cast aside. In their stead are classy LED daylight running lamps, a new chrome grille and a more masculine hood. Engineers also widened the track and lowered the 200 just a touch, which gives the sedan a slight air of aggressiveness. The rear end was updated as well, with a more stylized fascia cribbed from Jaguar that includes a tasteful chrome strip connecting modern-looking LED taillamps.
But while the changes to the 200 represent a substantial improvement, the one area that didn't receive attention brings back the not-too-pleasant memories of the Sebring. The bulging greenhouse from the Sebring carries over to the 200, and we couldn't be any less pleased. It's the part of the car that makes even non-enthusiasts say 'that looks like a Sebring.'
Chrysler seems to get that the 200's greenhouse is its Achilles heel, as all of the original press shots of the sedan were taken at angles that minimize the roofline at all costs. There were no profile shots, and even the three-quarter views are so-skewed they almost look like head-on photos. Even that now-famous Super Bowl commercial never shows the 200's profile. And it's two minutes long.
Just when we think we can't past that bulbous roofline, we step inside the 200's overhauled cabin. Before getting behind the wheel the difference is plain to see, with rich-looking materials, more attractive color combinations and a steering wheel as fat as they come. The cheap plastic has been swapped out for far cushier, higher end materials, while contrasting white stitching gives the cabin more class. Even the seats are changed for 2011, and our leather-wrapped thrones were plenty comfortable with a reasonable amount of bolstering.
Further improvements come on the tech front, as Chrysler has ditched the lousy stalk-based cruise control setup in favor of attractive, back-lit buttons on the steering wheel that are very easy to see and use. The biggest news, though, is reserved for Chrysler's Uconnect. Though not as feature-packed as Ford's Sync, Chrysler's infotainment system just works, and without all the brain-drain we've endured in other mid-size offerings. The 6.5-inch screen looks deceptively similar to the Sebring's nav, but this system is far snappier when called upon, showing us that the hardware behind the liquid crystal curtain is all-new. You can also store up to 30 GB of data on the vehicle's hard drive, but we were more than happy to stick with our iPod connected through the back-lit USB port towards the bottom of the center stack.
Not everything is perfect within the 200's cabin, though. The back seats aren't as roomy as those in the Toyota Camry or Chevrolet Malibu, and the 13.6-cubic-foot trunk lags behind the competition. Also, the 200 is a bit wider than the competition, yet front hip room is worse than Camry, Malibu or the Ford Fusion, while rear hip room bests only the Chevy.
The 200's interior is now competitive in the mid-size sedan segment, but how does she drive? First and foremost, our tester came armed with Chrysler's new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, which packs 283 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm, and is mated to a six-speed automatic with a manual shift option. The combination of the V6 and the automatic yields solid refinement that's fine for the vast majority of drivers, though Honda and Toyota deliver smoother options. There were times we felt we had to work the 3.6-liter engine a bit hard to get our kicks, but overall this 3,559-pound sedan can scoot. Torque steer rarely rears its head unless you really get on the go-pedal, especially on wet pavement or with a fair amount of lock dialed into the wheel.
The last-generation six-cylinder in the Sebring was a testament to cost-cutting, but it was a crown jewel when compared to the car's atrocious ride and handling. The steering wheel was loosey-goosey, bumps felt like chasms and the chassis needed a double-dose of Prozac to calm the hell down. Most of those injustices were righted for 2011, starting with a lot more confidence coming from the wheel itself. Steering is no longer feather-light, with solid resistance that, while numb, is nevertheless reasonably accurate.
The 200's chassis is no longer the 'float like a butterfly' setup we detested om the Sebring. When hitting the curves, for example, the tallish 200 looks like a sedan that is just begging to exhibit body roll, but it doesn't. It could be the Goodyear P225/50R18 BSW All Season Touring Tires, or it could be the re-tuned suspension. It's likely both. But that's not to say that the 200's underpinnings are firm or crisp on the handling front; they're just not nearly as bad as before. We still felt a bit of vagueness where we'd like communication, and the stiffer chassis felt awkwardly synthetic.
On the fuel economy front, the 200 manages 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. That's right about where the V6 Camry is, but it can't hold a candle to the 34 miles per gallon from the Hyundai Sonata Turbo. We managed 24.7 mpg during our time, which is right about where we expected. On the safety front, the 200 also manages a score of "Good" from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, earning it a Top Safety Pick award.
The Chrysler 200 is just about everything the Sebring should have been back in 2007, with a vastly superior interior, improved looks and a far better V6 under hood. But beating the Sebring is like clobbering the underweight, glasses-wearing math whiz on his way to chess practice. So where does the 200 fall in comparison to its current competition?
That's a different story. While the 200's cabin can stack up against nearly any in the segment and the new Pentastar V6 is certainly competitive with the other mid-size sedans, those are easily the 200's best attributes. When it comes to looks, refinement and especially reputation, the 200 still isn't near the top of the mid-size food chain. But in a segment with heavyweights like the Camry, Accord, Altima, Sonata and Fusion, at least the 200 can finally pop a squat at the big kids table, but it's still sitting on an unpadded folding chair and using plastic cutlery. It's nice to see Chrysler finish what it started, even it was five years too late.
Chrysler isn't into mincing words about the company's recent past. After years of corporate and product neglect, those at the helm of the smallest of the Big Three know that the company has a long way to go to regain buyer confidence. While a rash of new and revised models are hitting Jeep and Dodge show rooms over the next few months, it's clear that the company is beginning to gain momentum under the guidance of Fiat. But the models under the Silver Wing seem to be staring down the barrel of a more uncertain future. With plenty of product overlap with Dodge and a lack of any real brand cohesiveness, Chrysler has yet to yield any clear indication of progress away from the dark days of the company's past. As a result, buyers are having a hard time knowing what to make of the company or where it's headed.
Still, after Chrysler emerged from Chapter 11, it was clear that wherever the carmaker was going, the Sebring wasn't coming along for the ride. After a long, degrading life of rental car service and all out neglect from designers and engineers alike, the Sebring had mutated into a car that was a few leagues behind the competition, even when the third-generation bowed in 2007. To that end, Chrysler sent the Sebring name to the burn pile by revealing the 200 – a small sedan that rides on the same bones as its ill-fated predecessor but wears new sheet metal and a revised interior along with a slew of significantly reworked mechanical components. The result is the vehicle that Chrysler should have built in the first place – a competent economy cruiser with plenty of content even at lower trim levels. Is it enough to banish thoughts of the Sebring from our minds? We hopped behind the wheel to find out.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
One of the unfortunate realities of adolescence is that the teacher's pet always gets away with more than the mischievous child in the class. Once you've landed yourself on the troublemaker list, you're doomed to have to work twice as hard as your goody-two-shoes counterpart, which is exactly where the 200 finds itself right now. For years, the motoring press delighted in nothing more than condemning the vehicle's predecessor, so the 200 now has some serious ground to cover to prove itself a viable competitor in its segment. Part of that effort rests on the four-door's new exterior. Chrysler's designers did as much as they could to give the 200 its own personality by adding details like sculpted headlights with projection lenses and LED accents, and removing design elements like the odd striations on the old Sebring's hood.
In fact, everything from the A-pillar forward is all new. The front fascia is a much more mature design with subtle brightwork nestled down low and an attractive grille with blades that mirror the design of the new Silver Wing emblem. From the front, the look is, dare we say, attractive, though still a bit too anonymous.
That same level of handsomeness is carried around the rear of the 200, too, with sharp LED tail lamps, a cleaner rear fascia thanks to the license-plate bezel that's been moved to the vehicle's trunk lid, and small strips of shiny up top and down low. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the 200's rear end is paying the Jaguar XF quite a compliment.
Unfortunately, the 200 is hobbled by having the same roofline and side profile as its less-than-loved predecessor. That makes parallels between the two all but unavoidable. Additionally, while Chrysler did a smart thing by keeping the rear of the vehicle free of any badges other than the new Silver Wing, designers took the odd step of sticking unattractive chrome 200 emblems on the C pillars. Hopefully those issues will be ironed out once Chrysler gets the chance to rework the 200 from the ground up.
But for all of the tweaks to the vehicle's exterior, it's the interior that's been given the biggest revision. The harsh, Rubbermaid-style plastics of the Sebring have been nearly banished completely in favor of high-quality leather seats and soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels. The change is downright amazing and makes the 200 a perfectly acceptable contender instead of an also-ran.
That's not to say that every last element of the ghost of Sebring past has been exorcised. Oddly enough, Chrysler chose to continue to use both the same shifter and hand-brake lever as the old machine. With chunky, cheap-feeling plastics and visible injection-molding seams, these pieces feel out of place given the classed-up guise of the rest of the cabin. Swap those two pieces for nicer hardware, though, and you'd have a cabin that's a few light years ahead of its predecessor.
Chrysler says that its engineers and designers left no stone unturned on the mechanicals of the 200. The biggest change comes from the fact that buyers can now have their 200 with the company's excellent Pentastar V6 under the hood. With 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, the engine makes all the difference in the vehicle's drivability. While the old 2.4-liter four-cylinder is still around, it's gotten no more smooth, powerful nor fuel-efficient. In fact, with the new six-speed automatic transmission, the V6 consumes just 29 mpg highway while the four-cylinder comes in at 31 mpg in the same cycle. We'll trade 2 mpg for over 100 additional horsepower any day of the week.
Technically, the bottom-rung 200 comes with the same four-speed automatic gearbox as the 2010 Sebring, though Chrysler says that option will make up just 5 percent of the total mix. We're guessing that the four-cylinder, four-speed combo is built for one thing and one thing only – rental car duty. Meanwhile, an optional six-speed automatic will take care of shifting duties for both the 2.4-liter and 3.6-liter engines, though eventually Chrysler says it plans to unveil an optional six-speed dual-clutch transaxle just for the four-cylinder. We're hoping that the new transmission will make that engine both more livable and fuel-efficient when it debuts soon.
But Chrysler didn't just plop a new V6 under the hood and call it day. The company's engineers also took the time to give the vehicle's suspension a good going-through. As a result, the 200 sits nearly half an inch lower in the front and a quarter of an inch lower in the rear to help put the vehicle's center of gravity closer to the ground and improve handling. In addition, of the vehicle's 30 suspension bushings, 26 were re-engineered to provide a firmer ride and more feedback along with larger roll bars and stiffer springs and dampers. Throw in a steering rack with a quicker ratio, and you've got the essentials of a thoroughly-revised ride.
Our tester came with the potent 283-horsepower Pentastar V6 under the hood. With an extra 50 horsepower and 2 mpg highway over the outgoing 3.5-liter V6, the engine is exactly what the doctor ordered for the 200. Not surprisingly, there is some torque-steer under hard acceleration, but it's not nearly as much you'd expect. The power is always controllable without feeling like the steering wheel is going to wrestle its way out of your hands. With all of that extra grunt on tap, the sedan has the pep it needs to best traffic on the interstate, giving the whole vehicle a much more confident feeling. It's more than we expected.
Shifts from the six-speed automatic are smooth, though the logic isn't as quick as we'd like. We noticed a bit of a delay between the time that our foot went for the floor and when the gearbox actually began dropping cogs, but saw a similar action across the entire Chrysler line. Even so, the gearbox is a wonder of technology compared to the old four-speed disaster. We have to wonder why Chrysler is even bothering to offer the old tech in base trim.
Suspension-wise, the 200 is more sorted than the Sebring it replaces, but the engineers still have a good bit of work ahead of them. Handling is far from confident, with a cushy ride that still has plenty of slop compared to competitive metal. Even with those new bushings, stiffer springs and larger sway bars, the 200 delivers a good amount of body roll with a detached steering feel. We have to wonder, however, if buyers will even care given the now-nice interior and decent slew of standard equipment depending on trim level.
Chrysler also made some waves about how much quieter the interior of the 200 is supposed to be compared to the Sebring, though we noticed plenty of road and wind noise during our stint behind the wheel. More than once we found ourselves wondering if the front windows were open at the top, especially at interstate speeds.
Of course, it's easy to start digging at the details in the 200, but it pays to remember that this sedan carries a base MSRP of $19,995 with destination. Even in Limited trim, with that beefy V6 under the hood, the 200 will only set you back $24,495, complete with heated leather seats, the stylish 18-inch wheels of our tester and a 30-gig hard drive-based stereo. That means for all of its foibles, the 200 is a good value instead of just a cheap car. For us, that's the most impressive change of all for Chrysler's small sedan.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
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