A huge upgrade restores glory |
Even with the crossover utility vehicle craze that both automakers and consumers alike are all scrambling to get their heads around, the standard mid-size family sedan still prevails on the roads. Not everybody needs or wants a large all-wheel drive monstrosity to carry around one child. While midsize sedans have been gradually growing in size, they still remain the default choice for small to medium sized families.
Most of the big automakers are players in the mid-size four-door sedan segment. Everybody knows the incumbents: the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Chevy Malibu – just to name a few. Each offering follows a similar formula: four doors, inoffensive styling, high efficiency, and a high value factor. There are quirks and nuances coming from each brand, but the end result can sometimes be a little hard to pick apart if you had them all side-by-side.
Chrysler has been in the mid-size family sedan game for some time. The “200” nameplate in itself has a somewhat interesting history. One needs to go back to 2007, when the third-generation Sebring was introduced. Its polarizing styling kept it away from seeing major sales success – many described it as a hodge-podge of seemingly random styling elements that didn’t really work together. The Sebring was ultimately relegated to extensive fleet duty. Chrysler’s new parents, Fiat, came along and had to do something. Renaming the car “200”, restyling it heavily, and dropping in some new powertrains helped it somewhat.
Fiat has done a good job lately injecting much-needed capital into the Chrysler Group family. The latest Jeep Grand Cherokee is quite solid from the fire-breathing SRT all the way to the EcoDiesel. The Ram brand of pickup trucks has been revitalized with new powertrains and major updates. The 2015 Dodge Challenger and Charger can only be described as insane once you drop the name “Hellcat” into the conversation. Lastly, the Chrysler Group has put in a lot of overtime improving the interior quality and feel across the board. I picked up the keys to a fully-loaded Velvet Red Pearl Chrysler 200C.
This time around, Chrysler has done a pretty decent job styling the 200. Chrysler, in part, has the Fiat group to thank for the 200’s underpinnings, because the new 200 is actually quite handsome, especially in this deep shade of red. The curves all make sense in a cohesive way. The large winged emblem in the front grille doesn’t let you forget that this is a Chrysler design, but some may be a little disappointed that this isn’t just a “baby 300”. The organic curves front to back quickly suggest otherwise. The fast roofline is somewhat inspired by the Ford Fusion – some would call it “coupe-like”. Regardless of your opinions, it is a design choice that seems to have trumped the engineer’s wishes for “function over form”.
My test car was also equipped with the available Premium Lighting Group, which gets you HID headlamps and LED daytime running lamps as well as LED fog lamps. The LED daytime lights do a good job dressing up the front of the car. Also equipped were the handsome optional 19” wheels (wearing 235-section tires). The larger wheels also help hide some of the size and heft of the 200 – this is not exactly a small car. Out back, chromed exhaust finishers built into the rear bumper cover offer a high-end feel usually not associated with this class. All being said, there is a lot of chrome trim on the 200C. It is clear that Chrysler has pushed the design envelope with the 2015 200. I had a few people stop and ask about it.
The Chrysler Group has made big strides in their interior designs and assembly quality. Gone are the days of poorly-fitting plastics and a sea of very-fake wood. A lot of the curvy design language makes its way into the 200. The large 8.4-inch Uconnect system (a $600 option, with satellite navigation) is front and centre as soon as you get into the leather-trimmed, heated (and cooled!) bucket seats. The next thing that gets the attention is the rotary gear selector knob. It’s a good idea in theory – the knob takes up a lot less space and is interesting from a design perspective, but takes away a little bit of the tactile feedback. Even though the S mode at the end has a lockout, it’s not difficult to find yourself accidentally selecting it. Interesting tidbit: the solenoid in the knob that that unlocks it when you step on the brake is very audible.
The rotary knob also allows for a little more flexibility in control placement. The climate control buttons and knobs are nearby, intuitive, and easy to figure out. One drawback about the 200’s interior design: there are no physical buttons for the heated seats and steering wheel. Both these options are located in the “Controls” menu in the Uconnect screen. I did like how Chrysler makes use of the start-up legal disclaimer screen to provide quick access to the seat heater and steering wheel controls. It’s a great idea that should be emulated.
Interior space in the 200 is comfortable enough, and is in-line with the rest of the class, but rear-seat accommodations is where things start to differ, somewhat. Thanks to the attractive and aggressive roofline, rear-seat passengers will often find a reduced amount of headroom available. This is further compounded by opting for the sunroof. Detail: the trunk’s hinges are of the undesirable “gooseneck” variety – they can crush any tall items situated underneath.
One thing Chrysler has been traditionally good at is storage options. The cupholders themselves sit on a sliding platform, which reveals a very deep storage compartment, complete with cut-outs to help you manage your wiring. Ahead of the main compartment, and under the climate controls, is another storage compartment. Interestingly, the removable rubber liner is stamped with an outline of the city of Detroit. It’s a nice touch, and highlights the importance of the American-built 200 to cities like Detroit and American culture on a greater scale.
Under the hood of the Chrysler 200 is the choice of two gasoline engines. My car was equipped with the up-level 3.6L “Pentastar” V6, producing a muscular 295 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Today’s trends are seeing a lot of automakers turn to turbocharged four-cylinder engines that take the place of yesterday’s V6 engines. These high-tech boosted engines are a good idea in theory, but one cannot forget about the customer who prefers the feel of a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder engine.
The engine is paired up with a new ZF-designed 9-speed (nine!) automatic. CVTs (continuously variable transmissions) and double-clutch gearboxes are really starting to penetrate the market, so it’s a little surprising to see Chrysler stick to a traditional stepped automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available, but only with the V6 engine. Having nine speeds available gives Chrysler a lot of flexibility in choosing the right gear ratios that balance both efficiency and good performance when desired. A CVT provides an even wider gear ratio spread, but they still face an uphill battle in gaining acceptance from consumers.
From the driver’s seat, the 200C is quick, thanks to the horsepower and short gearing in the first four ratios. Chrysler seems to have tuned the engine air intake plumbing and exhaust to deliver a throaty growl from the V6 as it rises through the rev range. This is what I would call a “rev-happy” engine – one needs to really get on the loud pedal to make the most out of the horsepower. Gear shift quality is a little mixed, however, with some slightly jerky shifts that interrupt the otherwise smooth Pentastar engine. One interesting item: it’s hard to get the transmission to engage ninth-gear in normal situations.
Even on the highway, you’ll often stay in eighth-gear as you cruise at speed. If you’re going fast enough, you can use the shift paddles behind the steering wheel to force a ninth-gear upshift, but it will revert back to “full auto” mode after a few seconds, which means eight-gear again. If you select “S” mode on the rotary knob, you can force ninth-gear and have it stay put. When you do, you can cruise at 120km/h and the engine will be spinning at only 1400rpm. You’ll have to downshift to make any sort of passing move, but this is a really good highway cruiser.
My tester came loaded with all sorts of toys and gadgets, one of which is the Safetytec group. For $1995, you get Adaptive Radar Cruise control, automatic high-beam assist, full blind-spot assist, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and parking assist. Most of these features have been seen elsewhere in the industry, but they are also starting to trickle down to more mainstream markets. What I haven’t seen before in this class is the Perpendicular Park Assist. Enable this feature as you roll down a packed parking lot aisle, and the 200C will look around, and alert you when it has found a suitable spot. It will then tell you to bring the car to a stop as it starts working its magic. The steering wheel quickly turns left to its bump stop, and you’ll get a prompt to release the brake pedal so the car can swing left. You’ll then get another prompt to stop, select reverse, and the wheel will turn right. Release the brake and the 200 will have backed itself up into a parking spot.
The big V6 engine up front, combined with all-wheel drive meant that I wasn’t expecting super stellar numbers out of the 200C. Chrysler rates this particular car at 12.8L/100km in the city and 8.1L/100km on the highway. I managed an average of 11.1L/100km, which is about mid-pack in this class, considering the powertrain. Chrysler brags about the ability to disconnect the rear axles from the engine, which is a good idea in theory, but you can’t get rid of the added weight the all-wheel drive system adds. The 200 will accept 60L of regular fuel.
The Chrysler 200, in the base LX trim, starts at $19,495. You are missing out on a lot of the gadgets the 200C gives you, but you still get the 2.4L engine with the nine-speed automatic – no manual transmission is offered. My test car, fully loaded, stickers at $36,070 before additional dealer fees and taxes. When comparing with the competition, the MSRP is competitive, but the 200C has a lot of technology up its sleeves. This includes things like the all-wheel drive availability and the Safetytec package.
What Chrysler has done is gotten themselves back into the ultra-competitive mid-size family sedan game, with a pretty big bang. The new 2015 Chrysler 200 is a good effort top to bottom – discounting it on its heritage alone would be a bad idea. The swoopy roofline does cut into rear-seat accommodation, and the new nine-speed transmission has a few quirks, but aside from that, the 200C turns heads, offers some interesting technology and gadgetry, and manages to stand out a little bit from the usual suspects.