2015 Chrysler 200 Limited First Test
The 200 Can Join the Pack of Respectable Sedans
Most people aren't car enthusiasts. They see their vehicles in a much more utilitarian way, and only think hard about them when they've lost their keys.
These people buy the bulk of vehicles sold today, and they're the primary customers of the midsize car segment, the largest single segment in America. For a carmaker to be taken seriously, it needs a competitive vehicle in this group.
For more than two decades, the midsize segment has been ruled by the likes of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The Americans continued to besmirch their reputation with significantly inferior midsize entries. But that no longer seems to be the case. The Ford Fusion is a solid competitor and the Chevrolet Malibu is the only mild hybrid in the mix. And then there was the Chrysler 200, a rogue of bad taste. That has changed with the launch of the 2015 Chrysler 200 midsize sedan. It's a true Camry-fighter, a moniker placed on many Chryslers before with little enthusiasm or belief. But this time it's apt.
By the numbers, the 200 holds its own compared to other midsize cars. Its acceleration is its weakest link, going from 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds, whereas many midsize cars can break 8 seconds. I'll attribute that to the car's base engine, the 2.4L Tigershark four-cylinder, and the car's plump weight of 3439 pounds. The MultiAir engine generates 184 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough to cruise nicely at 80 mph on any freeway but not enough to blast off like a rocket ship. (If you really want more power, the 200 offers its Pentastar V-6 with 295 horsepower to out-muscle any other midsize sedan.)
The 200 arrives with a nine-speed automatic transmission that might slow its acceleration time, as other cars go through fewer gears getting to 60. The transmission does make acceleration smooth. Again, however, I wonder how much a midsize car customer cares about acceleration beyond getting up to highway speed to merge. And the 200 managed a 16.6-second quarter mile with a top speed of 83.5 mph. Even in our Big Test (coming May 19), nothing beat it by more than 0.8 second.
But does that matter at all? If you've got a spouse in the passenger seat and two kids in the back, is launching at lights really the first thing that comes to mind? Probably not. But stopping certainly is. The 200 performed well at braking. It needed the shortest distance to go from 60 mph to 0 in just 118 feet. If a potential fender-bender were 119 feet away, all of the competition would have gone the shop and the 200 would have gone home. It also held onto corners well with a 28.1-second time and 0.6 g's in Motor Trend's figure-eight testing.
All told, the numbers are respectable, which is what they needed to be. Better yet, it gets an EPA-rated 23 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, ranking it high on the chart within the segment.
As for the redesign, look for yourself. It blends into the segment like so many other midsize cars at the mall. I drove it for four days in Los Angeles and most people had trouble identifying it. "That's a Chrysler? Really?" they said, sounding impressed.
I too am impressed. All of the exterior changes create a much more elegant vehicle. The design is mature and elegant without being showy. At night, its standard LED taillights give it a distinctive look.
More important, it rides really well. It doesn't handle like a sports car and it isn't soundproof on the road, but that was never my expectation. While testing it, I managed to take my brother and his wife out for dinner and everyone was comfortable. Loud road inputs still sneak into the cabin, but overall the ride was quiet with only the whine of the engine coming into the cabin when my accelerator foot got a little heavy.
The interior improvements are especially noticeable. The design is simple but complete. I was disappointed that my test vehicle didn't come with Chrysler's UConnect system, instead, it had the base stereo and tiny color screen on the center stack. It looked out of place though it still allowed me to connect my phone via Bluetooth and play songs through it. UConnect has proven to be one of the better infotainment systems offered by any carmaker.
There is a simple curve along the dash and the layout on the center stack is easy to understand and use. Chrysler added a rotating gear shifting knob on the center console that frees up additional space and takes only a day to get used to. It's different compared to other vehicles and only a few times did I find myself attempting to shift gears but instead turning up the heat, as there is a knob nearby for that. Even this stripped-down model with a price tag below $26,000 offered plenty of luxury amenities.
Of course, the real secret in the midsize segment is that it is pretty easy to check enough boxes to top $30,000. That makes this car feel like a steal.
During some aggressive driving around Lancaster, the 200 met every corner with enthusiasm, proving the point that it is often more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. This 200, which is based on an Alfa Romeo platform, has a much stiffer frame than the outgoing model. Chrysler also improved the suspension by adding McPherson front struts and a multi-link rear suspension. A raft of improvements were added to the suspension to isolate and limit outside influences.
The electric power steering also has a solid, well-weighted feel, though I would have preferred more snap on its return to center.
The key to this car will be its durability and how well it treats future customers. Overall, Chrysler has created a great package that can withstand the sharp criticism the outgoing model couldn't. I was not particularly fond of that model, which seemed to fill more rental car lots than driveways.
This one, I hope, makes a home with car owners instead of renters and begins to build the 200's reputation in the right direction.
Want more on the 2015 Chrysler 200? Stay tuned -- the midsize sedan competes in a Motor Trend Big Test comparison coming May 19.
|2015 Chrysler 200 Limited|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$25,940|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.4L/184-hp/173-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3439 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||192.3 x 73.6 x 58.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.6 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.6 sec @ 83.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.1 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||23/36/28 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||147/94 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.71 lb/mile|