I have always rooted for the underdog, except when (for no apparent reason) the guy decides to start punching himself in the face. And so it was with Chrysler’s final Sebring. When the Cirrus burst forth along with the LH sedans almost 20 years ago, they were extremely competitive in style and price. While reliability hasn’t been Chrysler’s forte, you could always justify buying a Cirrus on the basis of America-first-ism, or style, or something. By the time the end drew near for the old Chrysler the Sebring was just a bruised mess from years of self-abuse.
The “New Chrysler” decided to send the Sebring out to pasture, but budgets being what they were, a euthanization just wasn’t in the cards. Instead, much like a freakish face transplant from your favorite B-grade movie, Chrysler spent a few hundred million to nip/tuck the Sebring into the Chrysler 200. I can almost see the mask being peeled off by Sean Connery. Trouble is, as Mythbusters demonstrated , a new face can’t always hide what’s underneath. Michael Karesh’s review back in April piqued my interest in some twisted way and with Chrysler willing to part with the more mass-market 200 “Touring” for a week, a Take Two Review was born.
Outside the 200, the old Sebring’s profile is the only real problem at hand. The tall roofline with somewhat ungainly C-pillar just doesn’t seem to jive with the new curvy schnoz. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder however, and my informal lunch-group-opinion-poll revealed that some liked the 200′s looks, some disliked them, but surprisingly few people loved or hated the form. This lack of polarizing opinion is a shame; some of Chrysler’s best products elicited strangely deep passion because of their daring design. I can’t imagine anyone having the same reaction to a 200. However, I can’t imagine anyone getting hot and heavy over a Camry or Accord either.
Inside our Touring tester (MK got his hands on a Limited), the budget theme is obvious despite the better trappings. How so? It’s all down to the shapes involved. The parts are all at least as snazzy as anyones (possibly excepting Hyundai’s latest high-quality wares), but the shapes constrained by the original Sebring’s silhouette are hard to avoid, like the door handle position, the high dash, etc. If on the other-hand you like the shape of things, nobody can fault the materials and workmanship anymore. Gone is the made-like-Rubbermaid dashboard, gone are the faux-tortoise-shell accents, and thankfully the “fin” that dominated the dashboard has been sliced from exorcised from the design studio. Replacing the strangely shaped, strangely appointed rubbery steering wheel is Chrysler’s new corporate tiller from the 300 and Grand Cherokee. The same soft leather, chunky rim and audio controls hidden on the back of the wheel are also along for the ride. So that’s the interior sorted, while not class leading it is certainly middle-of-the-pack.
What’s the 200 like to drive? Consider this probably the least important aspect of this review. Before you start the flaming in the comment section, hear me out. When was the last time you heard of a mid-size mass-market sedan (read: FWD) being the pinnacle of driving perfection? I’ll tell you: the 12th of Never, that’s when. Out on the road the 200 yet again delivers a middle-of-the-pack experience, which I have to say is exactly what I want from my mid-size people schleper. The former Sebring felt like a wet noodle on the highway, steering the Sebring felt like you were merely suggesting a change in direction rather than commanding it. The 200 on the other hand feels more direct (but till very isolated from the road thanks to the electric power steering) and while unengaging, is entirely acceptable for the segment. The ride is fairly smooth and does a decent job of soaking up the potholes now frequent on California highways and Chrysler did an admirable job of quelling road noise with new sound deadening materials in the 200’s cabin.
When the going gets twisty the 200 starts behaving more like a Toyota Camry than a Mazda 6, but then again that’s about par for this course. Out tester wore some fairly hard rubber in a 225/55R17, this no doubt contributes to the questionable corner holding ability of the 200 when pushed. Some softer rubber would make a marked change in the 200’s character on mountain highways. In that respect, I might even say getting the base LX with the steel rims so you can bling your 200 out Eminem-style aftermarket. Fortunately the suspension tweaks wrought to make the 200 have put the kibosh on wheel hop, so when equipped with the V6, front-wheel-peel extremely easy to achieve and fairly amusing as well.
Speaking of that V6, this is the one area where the 200 goes from average to class leading ( if you check the option box). Call it a desire to attract those with a need for speed (or perhaps more likely that Chrysler couldn’t afford to spend the money de-tuning an engine for 200 duty), the new 3.6L “Pentastar” V6 puts out the same 260 lb-ft of twist as it does in the Grand Cherokee and 300 with only a slight reduction in HP (283 vs 290) probably owing only to exhaust changes. The new V6 is smooth and quiet and a damn sight faster than the rough 2.4L four-banger. The six-pot easily served up a TTAC verified 5.5 second run to 60 time after time. If this wasn’t enough of a reason to make the $1,795 leap (available on Touring and Limited, standard on S), the fuel economy toll will surprise you. The EPA claims the V6 achieves 1 city MPG and 2 highway MPGs lower than the 2.4L four-cylinder with the 6-speed auto. If that were the truth, the extra 110HP you net from the upgrade would already be worth it, however our real-world fuel economy tests indicated the 3.6L V6 matched the 2.4L in our informal city and highway driving runs. Even when you factor in the optimistic trip computer and do the fill-drive-fill method of calculation and my handy OBDII trip computer, we still ended up with a very respectable 31.4 MPG highway average (27.2 overall for the week). (Our real-world numbers with the 200 compare relatively favorably to the Kia Optima’s 22/34 from Kia’s 274HP turbo four.)
While the new V6 is an all-new high for Chrysler, the new 6-speed FWD “auto-stick” transaxle is far from a perfect dance partner. Chrysler says their in-house developed sextuplet cog-swapper: “allows clutchless manual or automatic gear selection for an exciting driving experience”. Problem is: it doesn’t. I don’t really need row-your-own feature in a mass market car, but if a manufacturer feels like including it, I’d like it to actually do my bidding. For some reason, Chrysler chose not to allow downshifts that would cause the tach to rev past some 4,000RPM, and you can’t select 1st gear until you’re practically stopped. At least the 6 speeds seem well suited to the V6 when accelerating at full throttle, at other throttle positions however the transmission is economy oriented with fast and furious up-shifts whether you want it to or not.
Shoppers will find four 200 trim-lines waiting for them at local dealers: LX, Touring, Limited and S. The base LX model gets you four wheels for $19,245 and seems to be on the lineup to give rental agencies something to buy and Chrysler a low price point to advertise. A step up to the Touring gets you the new 6-speed auto (instead of the 4-speed the LX is saddled with), a headliner that’s worth looking at, map lights, auto climate control, auto headlamps, the chunky leather wrapped steering wheel, XM Radio, 6 speakers (instead of the base 4), power driver’s seat, center armrest, and alloy wheels for a somewhat reasonable $2,295 premium over the LX. Stepping up to the Limited adds: fog lamps, remote start, heated seats, Bluetooth, leather trimmed seats and 18-inch wheels for an eye-popping $2405 over the Touring model. Premium 200 shoppers will no doubt select the “200 S” for a $2,295 premium over the Limited to get their hands on bright exhaust tips, black grille, bigger alternator, 6.5” touch-screen radio with Boston Acoustics speakers, a larger alternator, black headliner, faux-suede seat inserts and some snazzy polished/painted wheels.
The astute shoppers will notice Bluetooth is conspicuously absent from Touring and LX models, in an era where even the cheapest car in America (the new Nissan Versa) comes standard with Bluetooth, this should be a standard feature in the 200. I’d gladly give up the snazzier headliner for a Bluetooth speaker phone since most states outlaw hand-held phone calls. You also need to step up the trim ladder (Touring or higher) to get the V6 or the sunroof. Want Nav? You have to climb up to the Limited or S in order to get Chrysler’s integrated touch-screen navigation system by Garmin. Our tester was the Touring model with the V6 upgrade, the touch screen radio and the cold weather group and the 18”wheels bringing final price up to a moderate $23,065. Glancing at the options lists, unless you have a real passion for cowhide, I’d stop at the Touring trim and get an aftermarket Nav/Radio. This is the other area where the 200 shines: price. As long as Chrysler keeps the stickers low, shoppers might give them another chance.
At the end of the day Chrysler has managed to do a bit more than put lipstick on the pig, they changed enough of what made the old Sebring terrible making the 200 a decent competitor for the Altima or Malibu, in other words, strongly middle-of-the-pack. Yet, is this enough? Tell us ino the comment section below. Strong initial sales backed by a heavy advertising campaign may indicate people are willing to give the mid-size Detroit scamp a second chance, but what about that competition? This is a crowded segment, and by my estimation there are 13 competitors to the 200 sedan in the form of the Accord, Altima, Camry, Fusion, Sonata, Malibu, Passat, Optima, Galant, Legacy, Mazda 6, Regal, and even the 200’s alter ego the Avenger. Supposedly Chrysler’s warranty claims are down, and their long powertrain warranty is certainly enticing, but I can’t help thinking if I was shopping I would end up at the Hyundai dealer in the end. Chrysler has created a solid contender in this segment, but for me, the high-output V6 just isn’t enough of a draw to keep me from going Korean. How about you?
Chrysler provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.
Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.26 Seconds
0-60: 5.5 Seconds
¼ Mile: 14 Seconds @ 102MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 27.2
Miles Driven: 825