So you want your next car to be a cheap drop top that seats four? If you live in America, your options are strangely limited. By my count, only five convertibles are available on our shores that seat four and cost under $30,000. If you cross the “convertible hatchbacks” (Cooper and 500c) off the list you’re left with three options. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, Ford Mustang and the former king of the convertible sales chart: the Chrysler
Sebring 200. Does this re-skinned front driver have what it takes to win back the “best-selling convertible in America” crown?
Convertible sales have been on a downward spiral since 1950. At the rate we’re going, only 1.1 percent of new cars sold in America in 2012 will be drop-tops. What’s to blame? Well, the old Sebring certainly didn’t help.
Since a euthanization just wasn’t in the cards, Chrysler opted for a re-skin. Much like a freakish face transplant from your favorite B-grade movie, the Sebring was nip/tucked everywhere except the doors and the roof. I can almost see the mask being peeled off by Sean Connery. Trouble is, as Mythbusters demonstrated, a new face can’t hide what’s underneath. The awkward hood strakes are gone, replaced by smooth sheetmetal and a new nose sporting Chrysler’s wavy corporate grille. Unfortunately nothing could be done to make the enormous trunk lid disappear, so the 200 still has more booty than a Sir Mix-A-Lot music video. Frankenstein touched off the transformation with new wheels, LED running lamps and bling-tastic 17 and 18 inch wheels. The result is a design that is strangely more cohesive than the original, more of a statement of how wrong the original vehicle was than anything else.
As with the Sebring, shoppers can choose between a traditional canvas top or a trendy three-piece folding hard top for an extra $1,995. Top operation is restricted to speeds under 1MPH and takes 27 seconds to complete with the cloth top and 30 with the hard top, essentially precluding stop light top drops.
Inside our 200 S, the Sebring origins are obvious despite the redesign. How so? It’s all in the shapes. The parts are at least as snazzy as anyone’s, but because Chrysler couldn’t afford to change the car’s hard points, the Sebring’s silhouette is unmistakeable in the strange door handle position and the incredibly tall dashboard. Shapes aside, nobody can fault the materials and workmanship. Gone are the made-like-Rubbermaid plastics, gone are the faux-tortoise-shell accents. Thankfully the “fin” that dominated the dashboard like a veruca has been sliced off. Replacing the strangely shaped (and strangely appointed) rubbery steering wheel is Chrysler’s new corporate tiller from the 300. The same soft leather, chunky rim and audio controls hidden on the back of the wheel are also along for the ride.
Seat comfort is something of a mixed bag. The rear seats are unusual for a convertible: they are sized for normal adults and shaped the way you’d expect a seat to be shaped. Why does that sound amazing? Most “four seat” convertibles have rear seat backs that are either strangely upright or angled forward to get them to fit in the vehicle. Meanwhile the 200 has rear thrones suitable for a 2 hour wine tasting excursion. Sadly the front seats aren’t as comfortable suffering from a firm and “over stuffed” bottom cushion that made me feel like I was perched on a large gumdrop. Or a tuffet. This is a seating position only Ms Muffet would appreciate.
Carrying four people with relative ease is something of a marvel, but asking any convertible to carry four people’s luggage is just a pipe dream. At 13.3 cubes, the 200’s bootilicious rump can easily swallow four roller bags and some hand luggage. Drop the top and the space shrinks to 6.6 cubes, good for a garment bag, one roller bag and a purse. A small purse. Don’t think buying the soft top will improve things, Chrysler designed the roof sections in such a way that the hard and soft tops share some common design elements and occupy the same space in the trunk.
The one interior item not touched in the Sebring-to-200 transformation was the infotainment system. We get the same six-speaker base unit in the 200 Touring with the same CD player and Sirius Radio. If you want to pair your Bluetooth phone, that will set you back $360. The limited model comes with a 6.5-inch head unit that adds standard Bluetooth, USB and iDevice love and a 40GB hard drive based music library. A $475 Boston Acoustics speaker package is available on the 200 Limited and standard on the 200 S. Chrysler’s last-generation nav system is also available for an extra $695 in the upper trims of the 200, but honestly you’d be better off going aftermarket.
Perhaps the biggest change during the 200’s metamorphosis is under the hood. The weaksauce 2.7L and aging 3.5L V6s have been replaced with Chrysler’s new 283HP 3.6L V6 mated to their in-house built 6-speed auto. As a mid-year change, the unloved 2.4L four cylinder also gets some 6-speed love. The extra two cogs on the four-banger mean it is finally the economy choice delivering 20/31 MPG vs 19/29 for the V6. Before you discount the V6 in favor of economy, our real-world figures put them on equal footing and with over 4,000lbs to motivate there is a serious penalty for not checking that $1,795 option box.
The Sebring was horrible on the road. The chassis felt like a wet noodle, the cowl shake was so bad you could have churned butter and the whole car was so unresponsive that steering and throttle input were more suggestions than commands. Despite shedding none of the nearly 4,100lb curb weight, the 200 does offer some rather unexpected improvement. While there is no hiding the fact that the 200 is a heavy front-driver, the 200 proved enough fun on the winding Northern California back roads that I found myself wishing for upgraded brakes. Seriously. Who would have thought?
The 200’s suspension tweaks have finally put the kibosh on wheel hop. When equipped with the V6, front-wheel-peel is easy to achieve and fairly amusing. Drive the 200 back to back with a Mustang however and you’ll forget all about the comfier back seats. You’ll also be painfully aware how overweight the 200 has become. There is no question that however improved the 200’s handling is, it will always play second fiddle to Ford’s topless pony.
How it stacks up
If the Sebring and 200 existed in a vacuum, we would laud the 200 for being a substantial change and the best convertible ever. The problem of course is that shoppers have options and pricing is the ever-present bugbear. In my mind, anything can be forgiven for the right price. Is the Nissan Versa cheap and “plasticky”? Damn right. But it’s the cheapest car in America, so who cares? The Chrysler 200? It has a $26,995 problem. Yes it is cheaper than the Mustang, Camaro, Eclipse, and EOS. But is it cheap enough? Let’s do the math.
First off, nobody should be subjected to the four-cylinder 200, so $27,600 becomes the real base price. The Mustang convertible starts at $27,200, toss in the automatic transmission and you’re at $28,395. For the extra $795, the Ford delivers vastly improved handling, more power, less weight and improved fuel economy. Win: Ford
The Camaro convertible is $32,745 (base with the automatic) and delivers at least $3,500 of standard equipment when compared to the 200 making the true cost of 326HP and a better RWD chassis $1,645. Win: Chevy
The 200 gets some relief when pitted against the ancient and expensive Eclipse Spyder with its old 4-speed automatic and haphazard interior. Mitsubishi wants $27,999 for admission to the four-cylinder, four-speed party and a ticket to the 265HP V6 show will run you an eye-popping $32,828. Win: Chrysler
The 200 delivers a bigger trunk than many mid-size sedans, more rear legroom than Mustang, better visibility than Camaro and better “everythings” than an Eclipse. The 200 is certainly not the best convertible in the segment, but at least Chrysler’s changes mean you don’t have to pretend you’re just renting a summer car anymore. Don’t believe me? Rent one yourself and see. TTAC’s last word? If you want a front-driver, save $1,000 and buy the MINI Cooper convertible.
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Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested:
0-30: 2.7 Seconds
0-60: 7.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.3 Seconds @ 94 MPH
Average fuel economy: 21 over 645 miles