The Truth About Cars » chrysler 200 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » chrysler 200 Capsule Review: 2015 Chrysler 200 Wed, 19 Mar 2014 05:06:11 +0000 photo (9)

Calling the 2015 Chrysler 200 an “improvement” would be damning it with faint praise. Rather than condemn it as one of the worst cars to grace our roads, I think it’s safe to say that the outgoing version was rather dated and uncompetitive, even if the 200, and its former Dodge Avenger platform-mate, had a small but vocal following among a subset of TTAC readers.

When the wraps came off the all-new 200 at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, it didn’t look as if Chrysler had gotten their act together. Under the bright lights of Cobo Hall, the 200S that was displayed looked like the gawky,uninspired pastiche that resulted from a Chevrolet Impala had mating with a Dart. The faux-mag wheels and edgy blue color felt like Chrysler was trying a little too hard, and both myself and Juan Barnett were left unimpressed.. If Chrysler botched this, it would be the third consecutive launch gone awry, and strike three for the much touted, Alfa Romeo derived CUSW platform that is set to underpin much of their car and crossover lineup in the future.

Luckily, they didn’t botch it. Far from it. The Dart may have been hampered by its powertrain, and the Cherokee may have been handicapped on-road by its off-road aspirations. The 200 appears to have avoided the kind of fatal compromises present on those cars.

That model you see at the top of the page, dubbed the Limited, is expected to be the volume trim, and I think it looks rather elegant with its muted silver paint and smaller wheels. I still find the added visual drama of the 200S and 200C (which are supposed to be Chrysler’s version of BMW’s Sport and Luxury Line trims, respectively) to be a bit much – mostly the  contrived faux-performance of the 200S. When it comes to family sedans, I like the natural look – give me an Accord EX 6MT over the Sport any day.

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Ironically, the 200S and 200C (above, in silver and black) were what was available on the drive event, and the extra helping of sportiness outside didn’t matter much once inside the car. These versions had the best of what Chrysler has to offer, namely the Pentastar V6 engine and the UConnect 8.4 system, which is undoubtedly the best infotainment system on the market. The big UConnect system seems to have best mastered the balance between touch screen capability while still offering large, easy to manipulate tactile controls that can be operated without having to take your eyes off the road. Just aft of the UConnect center stack is a new, Volvo-style floating console, with a Ram-derived rotating shift knob and trick sliding shelf that hides the USB and auxiliary jacks.

2015 Chrysler 200S

Best of all, the examples on hand exhibited none of the sloppy details or questionable interior pieces that were present on the Cherokee. Everything appeared to be well put together, with high quality materials and exemplary fit and finish. A future review of a rental unit will be the true test of how the 200 holds up, but if Chrysler can maintain this level of quality once production ramps up, it could have a shot at the best interior in the segment.

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This impression was only furthered by the competitive vehicles that Chrysler had on hand – an Accord EX V6 sedan, a 4-cylinder Camry SE, an all-wheel drive Fusion 2.0 EcoBoost SEL and a 2.5L Altima. The last CUSW car I drove got schooled by each of its rivals on the competitive portion of the drive. Not so with the 200.

Back to back with the Camry, Accord and Fusion (there was no time left to drive the Altima), the 200 held its own in most areas. Keen drivers will still prefer the Accord, with its robust VTEC V6, sharp handling and powerful brakes. The 200′s Pentastar motor is similarly sweet, with a melodic growl and torque for days, but the steering suffers from an on-center dead zone and less feedback than the Accord, while exhibiting the soft brake pedal and poor modulation common to the Dart and Cherokee. Chrysler endlessly mentioned the 200′s Alfa-derived platform, but if this is what Alfa is producing these days, no wonder the brand is in the dumps. Against the Camry SE and Fusion, it fared better, though the weak brakes took some of the shine off the car’s otherwise solid dynamics. Any bugs in the 9-speed automatic  that were present on the Cherokee launch appear to be ironed out, and it felt far more advanced than any of the 6-speed units offered on the competitive cars.

Where the 200 truly edges out the Accord – and the rest of the present competition – is the fact that the interior is just a much nicer place to be – if you’re sitting up front. The 200′s modern, easy-to-operate infotainment system and high quality interior is a stark contrast to the Accord’s cabin, which frankly feels cheap and a bit nasty in the way that the 2012 Civic did. Acres of dull plastic and faux wood permeate the cabin, while Honda’s infotainment interface feels stone age next to the slick UConnect system. The story is the same with the Camry SE, which sports similar materials and a slightly toned down driving experience, but nothing nearly as bad as what most enthusiast writers would lead you to believe.

Where the Japanese sedans have the 200 squarely beat is in back seat comfort. Like the “game changer” Fusion, the 200 features a very contemporary roofline that slopes to create a pseudo-coupe profile, cutting rear seat headroom in the process. Combine that with a high rear seat cushion and you have a recipe for compromised headroom in the back, something that won’t sit well with traditional mid-size buyers. On the other hand, Ford moved nearly 300,000 Fusions last year, just behind the Altima, Accord and Camry.

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Rather than going after the Japanese sedans, with their staid styling (but more generous passenger compartments) and antiquated infotainment systems, Chrysler appears to be matching the Fusion shot for shot. Instead of the maligned MyFord Touch, UConnect is being offered up. In place of the Ecoboost engines, two naturally aspirated engines, a 2.4L Tigershark making 184 horsepower (shared with the Dart, and one we regrettably didn’t sample in the 200) and the 295 horsepower Pentastar V6. All-wheel drive is also an option, and the Fusion’s tech is now trumped by the 200′s – how about perpendicular park assist, along with the usual lane departure warning system, blind spot monitoring and active cruise control?

Remarkably, the 200 is not just a better Fusion, but a sedan that is fully competitive with class leaders. It’s not a perfect mid-size sedan, and it requires you to accept certain trade-offs in the name of style and advanced technology. But Detroit finally has a credible mid-size sedan that is competitive with the best of what the segment has to offer.

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No Fixed Abode: Where were you when the convertible died? Fri, 28 Feb 2014 14:15:21 +0000 granville

Note: I’ve used the title “Avoidable Contact” for years now to denote my editorials in which I’m discussing general automotive issues. With the publication of the new issue of R&T, that title is now in use there. For the foreseeable future, I will be writing two types of editorials here at TTAC. The good-cars-and-bad-women content that has traditionally gone under “Trackday Diaries” will continue to do so, while the stuff that used to be “Avoidable Contact” will now be under “No Fixed Abode”, with a nod of the head to the departed Iain M Banks — JB

The year was 1986 and I, a six-foot-three fourteen-year-old rendered insubstantial by vertical growth and sleepless nights, was chasing my eight-year-old brother through the moonlit woods behind the house of my father’s friends. He, in turn, was pursuing a child somewhere between our ages, who was running after a firefly, or a frog, or perhaps nothing. The noise of a party was fading behind us as we sprinted, hot and sweating in the summer evening, screaming wordlessly ahead, until we burst from the trees into a clearing and fell silent as a group. There was a woman seated in a chromed Everest&Jennings wheelchair, thin, sad-eyed, facing a detached garage and the long, battleship-grey Pontiac parked in front of it.

“Sorry, ma’am,” we chorused, when the woman turned her expressionless face our way. We’d heard about her. She was the wife of my father’s friend, dying from multiple sclerosis at the ripe old age of perhaps thirty-eight, a shy woman who had become almost nonexistent in the social life of our neighborhood as the disease progressed. Back at the big brick house, her husband was drinking and laughing and arguing, but she had been nowhere to be seen. Now we had interrupted her private moment and we all started to back to the woods.

“You,” she said, pointing to me. “Kevin’s boy. Come here. It’s okay,” she reinforced, seeing that I was hesitant. “Do you know what this is?” She pointed to the car. Surely, it was a trick question.

“Ma’am,” I answered, choosing my words carefully, “I believe that’s a nineteen seventy five Pontiac Grand Ville convertible.” There was a trace of a smile on her skeletal face.

“You could say that,” she replied. “It’s my nineteen seventy five Pontiac Grand Ville convertible. But what good could it be to me? You can see me. You can see how it is no good to me. Not anymore. So go tell your father,” and there was a hint of anger in her voice that I wouldn’t understand until I heard it again in the voices of women as they said my name twenty-five years later, “that it can be yours, if he would only ask me.”

Then I was off, sprinting back to the house, the other children confused and scattered in my wake, tripping over roots and tumbling to the dark earth before finally arriving in the circle of men who were standing under a pole-mounted bug light, listening to Dad talk about something sports-related. I waited in the near-darkness for him to notice me. Finally he motioned me forward. I could already imagine myself behind the wheel of that big Pontiac, cruising up and down High Street in front of the university, filling the wide back seat with laughing girls and BMX bicycles, being a genuinely cool guy. There were Porsches and Benzes aplenty in my high school parking lot, but no Grand Ville droptops. “You know Jack,” I imagined Cara, the hottest girl in my class at the time, saying. “The cool guy with the big old convertible.” I was so busy dreaming about my future life I could barely spare the processing power to speak.

“Dad! Mrs. [redacted],” I sputtered, “has a seventy-five Grand Ville convertible, I think it’s the four hundred but, Dad, it could be the four-fifty-five, I don’t know, I didn’t ask, but she said to ask you if I could have it.” There was silence among the men that lasted longer than it should have, longer than I wanted it to, before my father responded.

“You,” he laughed, “don’t want a piece of shit like that. Don’t you want a Datsun 200SX?”

“A Nissan 200SX, yes Dad, but…”

“No,” he clarified, the smile gone from his face and his voice, “you don’t want that car. Some old convertible. Worthless. It’s not even safe, Jack.” When he said I “didn’t want” something, that really meant “can’t have”, so I turned away and trudged back to the other children, who had found a toad and were busy trying to find a container in which to imprison it. As I watched the poor creature jump towards an open spot only to find a set of hands waiting for it every time, I moaned in sympathy. The middle class wasn’t going to let go of me any more readily.

Because make no mistake, in the Eighties the idea of a convertible had a distinct whiff of trash to it. Of course, there was the Mercedes SL, the unimpeachable transportation of bankers and trophy wives. During Upper Arlington’s Fourth of July parade of those years, it wasn’t unusual for every single car in the parade to be an SL. Every single one. More than fifty prom queens, local celebrities, and honorary chairpersons, every one seated on the hardshell tonneau of a 380SL or, where said modern variant was unavailable due to poverty or stubbornness, a 450SL.

But the SL, along with the 911SC Cabriolet, was the exception that proved the rule. Decent people shunned convertibles. With their risk of rollover injuries and their fading canvas tops, they were simply NOKD. Fear of federal regulation had killed two entire generations of American family convertibles; the Cutlass Supreme became America’s best-selling car despite dropping the droptop when it went Colonnade, and the 1978 A-body that replaced it offered an Aeroback in its place. The “final convertible” in the minds of many people was that ’76 Eldorado, the monstrous Las Vegas abomination that verged on self-parody to a middle class that was already changing en masse to the diesel Mercedes and Saab hatchback. Cadillac very smartly changed the El-Dog to a trim, formal-looking coupe in 1979, earning my grandfather’s business back as a consequence.

As a result, most of the convertibles you saw were old cars, and in 1986 a decade-old car wasn’t the sensible proposition it is now. It was a junkyard dog. An old Pontiac convertible? Five strikes: American. Old. Pontiac. Convertible. Gas Guzzler. The fact that I imagined myself as the star of my own movie in the thing mattered not to my father, who had been ahead of the curve in the whole despising-the-convertible thing when he’d traded his Camaro RS 327 in on a Volvo sedan in 1974. (Irony time; he’d eventually buy a Volvo C70 convertible, which to my knowledge had the top dropped perhaps three times in the two years he owned it.)

The impermanent top eventually returned to production with the domestics; the Mustang, in particular, has made a career of being a convertible once again. But it was strictly a specialty-car thing, both for the home team and the imports, whose idea of a convertible was either a Karmann-built Rabbit (often referred to, most recently by Jalopnik, as the “bitch basket” for its spoiled-girl clientele and its sensible rollover bar) or some improbably expensive Saab 900/BMW Three/Mercedes E-Klasse variant. There were third-party aftermarket convertibles, which in their execution and customer base precisely paralleled the higher-end waterbeds, but we all pretended they didn’t exist.

The lone exception to all this was Chrysler. Lee Iacocca, always a man with an eye for a way to extract a publicity-friendly new car from an existing platform, saw that an American convertible capable of seating five would have some sort of market. He had the sense to make sure it hit the market as a LeBaron, not a Reliant, too.

Thus began one of the more curious production runs in American automotive history. For a full thirty-one model years, almost without interruption, Chrysler sold an affordably-priced, mid-sized, non-specialty, family-car-based convertible. Other manufacturers would dip a toe in the waters then run, but Chrysler maintained it from LeBaron to Sebring to 200. For the last thirty years, the Chrysler convertible has been a mainstay of rental fleets, a choice of older women looking for a bit of post-divorce thrill, the used car most often chosen by public-university girls whose parents couldn’t spring for a bitch basket.

I never knew anybody who actually wanted a Chrysler droptop. The desirability of those cars in most quarters was precisely zilch. Yet when it was time to fly to Hawaii or enjoy a Florida work-cation, those same people who would wrinkle their noses when they saw a Sebring convertible parked next to them at the grocery store would fight tooth and nail to get one as a rental. It was America’s temporary pleasure car, the four-wheeled equivalent of a Nevada prostitute. You loved it for a Vegas weekend but if you had one at home your neighbors would magically forget your existence.

Chrysler knew who was buying the things, and so did Polk. In the DaimlerChrysler era, the Sebring convertible was ruthlessly optimized for its disparate and specialized customer bases, with no fewer than three different tops, the most expensive of which was a Car Top Systems hardtop just like what you could get in the majestic but long-out-of-fashion Mercedes SL. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one so equipped, but I’m sure they are out there.

And now they are gone. The Chrysler 200, the less-than-silky purse created from the sow’s-ear Sebring, offered a convincing convertible that combined the interior revisions of the 200 with the superior silhouette of the folding-hardtop Sebring. You could do a lot worse than to buy one, if you wanted that sort of thing.

Yet we’re no longer the sort of country, or even the sort of world, that wants that sort of thing. The family-car buyers of the Fifties and Sixties often found themselves strangely split between the two most expensive variants of the Ford or Chevy they preferred, those variants being station wagon and convertible. A lot of people put their unbelted children in a convertible every day of the week and, as they say, twice on Sundays, once for church and once for ice cream. No longer. Today we will pay any price or bear any burden for safety and security, whether from the terrorists du jour or the rollover accident. And when we say “we”, I mean “we, including Jack Baruth”; I used to drive my son around in my 560SL but I’m no longer so sure about doing that. It would be better to retreat to our fortresses of solitude, our caves of steel, lest the demon return and air-burst our wind-blown faces with the blood of our children.

You could argue that Chrysler had a national responsibility of sorts to continue providing the 200 Convertible, that if they were unwilling to undertake the job themselves then the government should have stepped in. Why not? The G mandated the construction of the B-29, they can sure as hell make the production of domestic droptops a condition of the bailout. Face it: you don’t really want a cramped Mustang or claustrophobic Camaro the next time you step off the plane in Miami or San Diego. You want a flat floor, a big trunk, front-wheel-drive dynamics and no trouble. You want the 200 in that line of rental cars. You need the 200 in that line of rental cars. You’ll miss it when it’s gone, no matter how you disrespected it in the past.

As will we all. The convertible era truly died the minute General Motors and Ford gave up on providing the option in the midsizers, but the death throes lasted a good long time and, frankly speaking, I’m glad they did. The Chrysler convertible was, truly, the working girl of the car biz. But every working girl eventually gets tired of the parade of faces. Eventually it’s time to lay down alone. And so it will be with the Chrysler convertibles. They, like the 380SLs of Upper Arlington on the morning of July fourth, have a long parade ahead, but it’s one that ends, not in the laughter of the final assembly, but in the arms of the crusher, dead and gone, like that woman in the wheelchair from long ago, taking a final night to remember the glories that can never come again.

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Chrysler 200 Convertible Bids Farewell To America’s Rental Lots Mon, 24 Feb 2014 05:32:05 +0000 550x366x2012-Chrysler-200S-Convertible-001-550x366.jpg.pagespeed.ic.YhAR2AJFqV

Along with the Dodge Avenger, the Chrysler 200 convertible won’t be returning to showrooms alongside the upgraded 2015 model.

With sales of the droptop 200 reportedly falling to less than 5 percent of sales, the decision to skip the expensive re-engineering process for a convertible model was made. Chrysler will instead focus their resources on the mid-size market, rather than the niche convertible segment.

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ZF’s 9-Speed 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On The Leash Sun, 09 Feb 2014 03:34:39 +0000 ZF 9HP Transmission, Picture Courtesy of Land RoverIn a week we will post our first full review of the all-new and all-controversial 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The new Jeep isn’t just raising eyebrows for the love-it or hate-it styling. Or the resurrection of the Cherokee badge. Or the constant delays in production. Or the transverse mounted engine. Or the lack of solid axles. None of that laundry list seems to cause as much discussion around the automotive water cooler than ZF’s 9HP 9-speed transmission. Click past the jump for a deep dive into the tranny with more speeds than my bicycle. If you don’t want to explore transmissions in detail, don’t click. You have been warned.

When Derek drove the Cherokee at a launch event he complained about the transmission. When I drove a pre-production model for a very brief hour and a half I was more perplexed than anything. I chalked it up to pre-production programming issues and the fact that the transmission has 50% more speeds than a 6-speed, so I expected 50% more shifting. A month later I was able to sample a different Cherokee with newer software and some of my shifting complaints had been solved but something still felt “wrong.” Now three months later a full production Cherokee landed in my hands and while the shift logic (when and why the transmission would shift up or down) was finally where I thought it should be, the shifts themselves felt different from what I am used to. The reason is all down to clutches, but let’s start at the beginning.

In general terms an engine is most efficient in a somewhat narrow band of RPMs. That exact band varies from engine to engine based on what the designers intended at the time. The longer you can keep the engine in this range of RPMs, the more efficient the car will be. Secondary to this is a desire for improved off-the-line performance, this necessitates ever-lower first gear ratios. The distance between the lowest and the tallest gear in a transmission is called the ratio spread. (You get it by dividing the lowest ratio by the tallest and that gives you a number that represents the delta between first and last.) GM’s venerable 4-speed 4L80 has a spread of 3.3 while their new 6-speed 6L80 has a spread of 6. The deeper first gear and taller 6th allow the 6L80 to deliver better performance and better fuel economy. The reason ZF’s 8-speed 8HP doesn’t have the same delta in performance over the average 6-speed as the 6-speed had over the 4-speed, is easy to explain. The 8HP’s ratio spread is 7, just 1 higher than a 6 speed while the 6-speeds had a 3 point advantage over the 4-speeds. Aisin’s new 8-speed transaxle in Volvo and Lexus models goes a small step further with a 7.59 spread. These can all be seen as progressive improvements. The 9HP is different. With a 4.7:1 first gear and a 0.48:1 ninth gear the overall spread is a whopping 9.8.


On closer inspection you’ll notice something interesting about the 9HP’s ratios. Fifth is the 1:1 ratio where the output shaft of the transmission is spinning at the same rate as the engine meaning there four overdrive ratios. In contrast both ZF and Aisin’s 8-speed transmissions have just two overdrive ratios with 6th gear being the direct-drive (1:1) ratio. As a result the 9HP’s lower gears are farther apart, especially first and second gear. When you look deeper at the numbers you’ll also notice that the 9HP is geared much taller at the top end with 7th gear being approximately equal to 8th in the Aisin or ZF 8-speed units. Many reviewers of the Cherokee noted they never experienced 9th gear during their test drive and I now know why. At 0.48:1 with the 3.2L V6 (3.251 final drive) you have to be going faster than 80 MPH to engage 9th because at 80 your engine loafs around at 1,460 RPM. (The 2.4L four-cylinder in the Cherokee Trailhawk would be going about 1,810 RPM at 80.) According to ZF this results in an impressive 12-16% improvement in fuel economy versus the same final drive ratio and their own 6-speed automatic and 11-15% when compared to their 8-speed.

OK, so the 9HP has plenty of gears, but why does it shift the way that it does? It’s all down to the clutches. While a traditional automatic uses friction clutches in the form of either band clutches or multi-plate friction clutches, the 9HP blends friction clutches and dog clutches in the same transmission case. Dog clutches are “interference” clutches more commonly found in manual transmissions and transfer cases. Friction clutches work by pressing two plates together. The friction between them allows the transfer of energy and it allows one plate to spin faster than the other or “slip.” Think of slipping the clutch in a manual car, it is the same action. Automatic transmissions use this clutch type to their advantage because changing gear doesn’t always require engine power to drop, the transmission simply disconnects one clutch as it engages another, they slip and engage and you’re in another gear. Dog clutches however are different. If you look at the illustration below you can see a dog clutch on the right. Power is transmitted by the tooth of one side pressing on the tooth of the other. This type of clutch cannot slip so it is either engaged or disengaged. This is the type of clutch used inside manual transmissions. When you move the shifter to a different gear, you are physically disengaging and engaging dog clutches. This style of clutch is used because it suffers little parasitic loss and it is simple and compact. The use of a dog clutch in an “automatic” transmission isn’t new, dual clutch robotized manuals use this style of clutch internally as well, but it is the key to understanding why the 9HP shifts the way it does.


Because dog clutches can’t slip, their engagement must be controlled and precise. Going back to the manual transmission example, this is why modern manual transmissions have “synchros” or synchromesh. A Synchro is a mechanism that aligns the dog teeth prior to engagement. Without them you get that distinct gear grinding noise. Synchros work well in a manual transmission because when you are changing gear you are disconnecting the engine with the clutch (a friction clutch), then engaging a dog clutch for your gear selection. Because one end of the transmission is “free” the synchro synchronizes the two sides and then allows the toothed gear to engage. There is a “pause” in power when a shift occurs. If you look at an acceleration chart of a car with a good manual driver and an automatic you will see pauses in acceleration in the manual while most autos just have “reductions” in acceleration. That’s down to the pause required to engage a dog clutch vs a friction clutch that slips and engages without much reduction in power.

Let’s digress for a moment and talk about the DSG. The reason dual clutch gearboxes exist is because of the dog clutch. As I said engaging a dog clutch takes time and precision. This is part of the reason single-clutch robotic manuals like the one in the Smart ForTwo and the RAM ProMaster (and other Euro sedans) have such exaggerated shifts. Double clutch gearboxes get around this by having two gears engaged at all times. DSG style gearboxes are really two manual transmissions in the same case. 1st gear is engaged via the first transmission and 2nd is engaged but not active on the second. Changing gears simply involves swapping (via a friction clutch) from transmission A to transmission B. Once that is accomplished, the transmission A disengages and engages the dog clutches to select the next gear. Going from 2nd to 3rd involves swapping back from transmission B to the already shifted transmission A.

Let’s put it all together now. To save space and increase efficiency, the 9HP uses two multi-plate clutch elements, two friction brakes and two electronically synchronized dog clutches. (The 8HP uses two brakes and three multi-plate clutches.) The way the gearsets are arranged inside the case, shifts from 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4 involve only the traditional friction brake and clutch elements. As you would expect, aside from 1st being fairly low and somewhat distant from 2nd, these shifts feel perfectly “normal.” Under hard acceleration there is a momentary reduction in engine torque (courtesy of the computer to reduce clutch wear) and the shift occurs quickly and smoothly. The shift from 4-5 however is different. The transmission has to disengage dog clutch “A” in addition to engaging a friction clutch. This shift takes slightly longer than the 3-4 shift and the car’s computer makes a drastic reduction in torque to prevent wear of the dog teeth. Shifts 5-6 and 6-7 again happen with the only the friction elements at which point we need to disconnect the final dog clutch for gears 8 and 9 so we get the same kind of torque reduction in those shifts. The result is a transmission that has two distinct “feels” to its shifts, one that has only a slight torque reduction (1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 6-7, 8-9) and one that has a more “manual transmission” feel where torque is cut severely (4-5 and 7-8).

2014 Jeep Cherokee Instrument Cluster

Because of the positioning of the two dog clutches in the shift pattern, the torque reduction isn’t objectionable in upshifts. Hard acceleration from a stop didn’t involve 5th gear even in the 1/4 mile. However, once you let off the gas the transmission will shift upwards rapidly for fuel economy settling in 6th or 7th in the 60-65 MPH range and 8th in the 70-75 MPH range.

Downshifts are where the 9HP truly feels different. Because of the design, if you’re in 8th gear and want to pass, the transmission will often need to drop 4 or 5 gears to get to a suitable ratio. (Remember that 4th gear is the first ratio going back down the scale that is lower than 1:1.) To do this the transmission has to accomplish the harder task of engaging two dog clutches. To do this the transmission doesn’t use cone synchros like a manual (too bulky) it uses software. Engaging dog clutches requires a longer and yet more severe reduction in torque than the disengagement because the transmission has to align the clutch and then engage it. In most automatics when you floor the car you get an instant feeling of acceleration that improves as the transmission downshifts. Although there would be moments of power reduction (depending on the programming) during this time, the engine is always providing some force forward. The 9HP’s software on the other hand responds by cutting power initially, then diving as far down the gear-ladder as it can, engaging the dog clutches and then reinstating your throttle command. The result is a somewhat odd delay between the pedal on the floor and the car taking off like a bat out of hell. According to Volvo’s powertrain guys, this shift behavior is one of the main reasons they chose the Aisin 8-speed (shared with the Lexus RX F-Sport) over the ZF 9-speed used by Land Rover and Chrysler.

All of a sudden the “odd” shift feel made perfect sense. In the march toward ever-improving fuel economy the automotive public will continually be introduced to cars that feel different from the “good old days.” Electric power steering numbs the wheel-feel but steer-by-wire promises to artificiality resurrect it. Dual clutch robotized manuals have a particular feel that was accepted by performance enthusiasts but has been a source of complaint for Focus and Fiesta shoppers. For me, understanding why the transmission is doing what it is doing is key to my like or dislike of a car’s road manners. Once I understood what the Cherokee’s automatic was up to, I was able to focus on the rest of the car. What about you? Are you willing to “sacrifice” shift quality at the altar of fuel economy? Be sure to let me know.

Have an automotive technology question? Want to see a deep-dive on another powertrain component?

Let us know by using the contact form at the top of the page!

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A Long Last Dance With The Chrysler 200 Tue, 04 Feb 2014 15:04:34 +0000 200-5

I was shivering, I think, because I was low on blood. Ten days of internal bleeding, of cauterization, of six vials a day donated to the unworthy cause of redundant testing, of the dark brown surge through the catheter, of the bright red bloom in the water of the toilet bowl. Your blood keeps you warm. You don’t realize it, but it does. Low on blood, low on heat, shivering in my shearling and cashmere Gimo’s coat, backing my walker towards the open door of my rental.

There was an ugly whirr from the starter. A prehistoric noise, one that reminded me of the M-body Gran Fury my boss owned when I worked at a two-screen theater in 1989. The kind of scrape-and-moan that has long since been banished from modern cars. And it didn’t catch. A new car, in the Year Of Our Lord 2014, that doesn’t start. But when it did catch, on the second crank, the temperature display showed a nice round zero. Zero degrees. I can forgive that. I can forgive being a bit hesitant to start after days on the rental lot, at a temperature not so far above that at which Ketel One freezes.

“You and me, little guy,” I said, patting the soft-touch dash, “we have some work to do, so let’s get going.” And we did.

I didn’t want to return to driving. Not for a long time. I had it in mind that I would wait until spring, perhaps. At the very least, I’d wait until the bones stopped grinding in a way that I could hear and feel in my teeth, until I was healed up enough to survive an unlucky second crash, should one arrive. But the rest of the world wasn’t inclined to work at my schedule. I had doctors who insisted that I drive thirty miles to see them, an employer whose actions regarding my crash and the resulting downtime oscillated between simply bizarre and definitely threatening, and a lonely friend suffering in a hospital on the other side of the city. It was time to drive.


What can I tell you about my Chrysler 200? Well, it was a configuration that I can’t make on the Chrysler site, even when I select model year 2013. Four cylinder. Four-speed auto, but much better-behaved than the one in the Avenger SE I tested last year. No automatic headlights. Cloth seats. Oddly bling-tastic wheels. It was clearly some sort of leftover-parts special tossed to the rental fleet. You couldn’t buy a retail 200 this poorly equipped in 2013, and the 2014 transition models appear to either be V6es or loaded fours. Easier to list what the car has than what it doesn’t have: windows, locks, cruise, CD player, A/C. At a dealer, if you found it new, after the incentives, maybe seventeen grand. At an Enterprise Used Car lot for $13,999, more or less. They say the price is no-haggle. I’d haggle, I think.


For two weeks the 200 and I trundled down unplowed roads, through low-visibility snowfall, into crowded parking garages dripping with dirty snow that melted into brown stalagmites to catch a walker or stall a wheelchair. The Eagle LS tires weren’t comfortable at the sub-sub-freezing temperatures and the nose would occasionally slide without warning on the freeway. Not a problem; my son was safe at home and the passenger seat stayed empty. If the Chrysler never gripped with authority, it was also harmless in the way it let go of the road, just continuing along in the same direction until some trustworthy surface appeared beneath its paws.

I have yet to get out of the driver’s seat without significant pain, but I’ll call that an effect of the three cracked lumbar vertebrae. The Avenger’s seat, when I put hundreds of miles on it in a day, was fine, and the seat in the 200 is nominally better, featuring some adjustable support. The interior fabric showed no appreciable wear after 24,000 uncaring miles in random hands. The dashboard, too, looked brand-new. When they did the interior refresh on these cars, they didn’t skimp. Five years from now, these ex-rental cars will impress people with how they’re lasting.

The “World Engine” four-cylinder, on the other hand, is simply depressing. I’m tempted to write a children’s book about it, calling it “The Little Engine That Doesn’t Want To”:

Chug, chug!
Is that a tractor?
Is that a tow truck?
Is that a Tempo?
It’s the World Engine!
Listen to it mooooooaaaaannnn on the hills!
Feel it vibrate at the stoplight!
Chug, chug, World Engine!
You’re so sad and lonely!
Waiting for the red light
We hear you chug, chug!

In the winter, the 2.4 is supremely reluctant to do anything and it shakes the 200 lightly at rest while idling in a most unsteady fashion. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it sucks in precisely the same way that the Pentastar does not. Earlier this year, I had the chance to drive a V6-powered 200 across Ohio, and it was a genuine pleasure in most respects. But the World Engine? Chug, chug!


Last week, I added an occasional passenger to my trips. She requires a wheelchair, for the same reason I’m leaning on a cane, and we keep her in the back seat for safety’s sake. Nontrivial bravery, to get in a car with someone knowing that you’ve done it before and ended the day taking an eighteen thousand dollar helicopter ride to an emergency CT scan. “What’s it like back there?” I asked.

“Not great… but not terrible, either. The armrest is good.” So, a 5’8″ woman can sit behind a 6’2″ man in this thing. The rap on this generation of Chrysler midsizers has always been that the back seat room is below-par. That’s true if you’re coming from a Camry or Accord, but when you compare it to, say, any of the other sub-twenty-thousand-dollar sedans, the 200 makes a solid case for itself. And there’s room in the trunk for a wheelchair.

Every once in a while, you come up against the fact that this is fundamentally a generation older than the competition. Somehow, today, I locked the keys in the 200 while it was running. However, the trunk was open because I was about to load a wheelchair into said trunk. No problem, right? Just pull the handle in the trunk and drop the rear seat. Except for the fact that the Chrysler doesn’t have those handles, because they weren’t yet popular when the Sebring was released. The solution: use my cane to bash the center pass-through open. Climb into trunk, banging all fractured bones in the course of doing so. Reach through center pass-through, grab fabric loop that releases fold-down seat, unlock rear door, climb back out of trunk, take all remaining Tylenol in the bottle, take a nap, make note not to tell TTAC readers about stupid adventure.

What’s it like at full pace, on a racetrack, at the limit of the tires? I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t exceeded seventy-three miles per hour in the 200. It’s been a lot of poking around in bad weather at low speeds. A lot of drab commutes with the surprisingly excellent heater battling the polar-vortex cold. A fair amount of chug-chug idling in phamarcy drive-thrus.

Under these conditions, the Chrysler has shown virtue. The controls are simple and easy to use. The stereo is weak but clear. Road noise is about what you’d expect from a Camry. As previously noted, the interior materials are definitely up to par, even if they are applied to an interior that is narrower and less exciting than what you’d find in the competition. If the 200 fails to excite, it also fails to annoy or disappoint at the price.

No, it can’t hold its own against a modern Camcord or Sonatoptima. But it isn’t priced against them. It’s priced against Corollas and Civics and Fortes. Hell, I’m pretty sure you can get a run-out 2014 V6 model for twenty grand. That’s not a bad idea, really. It’s more car than the compacts offer and if you are price-conscious it is worth considering.

A week from Thursday I’ll turn this car in and go buy something for myself. That will mark four rental weeks together. Viewed in the context of many of my short-term relationships, it’s been better than most. Frill-free but faithful and fit for purpose, the 200 has been reliable enough, capable enough. Good enough. It’s tempting in this business sometimes to forget that ninety percent of buyers simply want good enough. The new 200 will have more of what people want and none of that awkward turtletop Sebring legacy hanging over its head. But if you want good enough, right now, this will do.

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How Much, If Any, of This Chrysler 200 Ad’s Copy Did Bob Dylan Write? Mon, 03 Feb 2014 08:00:21 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Chrysler marketeer Olivier Francois has been a master at getting enormous buzz from Chrysler’s Super Bowl commercials. Two years ago, they launched the memorable Imported From Detroit ad for the Chrysler 200, using music by Detroit area rapper Eminem. That ad was said by many to be more memorable than the 2011 200, a warmed over Sebring, every car writer’s favorite whipping boy. Chrysler has an all-new 200 that it just revealed at the Detroit auto show less than a month ago and to get the buzz going on the new car, Francois has tweeked the 200′s tagline to “American Import” and instead of hiring someone contemporary like Mr. Mathers, Chrysler’s Global Hue ad agency went old school and engaged Bob Dylan to appear in, provide music and perform the voiceover for the Chrysler 200′s new Super Bowl spot. I’m also wondering if Bob didn’t also write some of the ad copy.

Chrysler’s press release about the commercial calls the voiceover an apologue. An apologue or apolog (from the Greek ἀπόλογος, a “statement” or “account”) is a brief fable or allegorical story with pointed or exaggerated details meant to teach a moral lesson. In his voiceover, Dylan intones:

Is there anything more American than America?
‘Cause you can’t import original.
You can’t fake true cool.
You can’t duplicate legacy.
Because what Detroit created was a first
and became an inspiration to the… rest of the world.
Yeah…Detroit made cars. And cars made America.
Making the best, making the finest, takes conviction.
And you can’t import, the heart and soul, of every man and woman working on the line.
You can search the world over for the finer things,
but you won’t find a match for the American road
and the creatures that live on it.
Because we believe in the zoom,
and the roar, and the thrust.
And when it’s made here, it’s made with the one thing
you can’t import from anywhere else. American…Pride.
So let Germany brew your beer,
Let Switzerland make your watch,
Let Asia assemble your phone.
We…will build…your car.

Now some of that was undoubtedly written by an ad agency employee (“so let Germany brew your beer”) but I’ve been a fairly serious fan of Bob Dylan’s for about a half century and some of those lines sound authentically Dylanesque to me. The passage, “You can search the world over for the finer things, but you won’t find a match for the American road and the creatures that live on it. Because we believe in the zoom, and the roar, and the thrust,” sounds to my ears and brain as if it could have been on an episode of Dylan’s satellite radio disc jockey show. “The creatures that live on it”, the word creatures, would seem odd if anyone else said it, but it sounds naturally awkward in Dylan’s voice. “We believe in the zoom, and the roar, and the thrust”, in its invocative echo of The Lord’s Prayer’s “kingdom, power, and glory” is again, something I’d expect to hear from Dylan.

So what do the Dylanologists among TTAC’s Best & Brightest think? Was Bob just reading a script, or do you think he lent his considerable poetic hand to the selling of Chrysler’s?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Analysis: Defining Success For The New Chrysler 200 Thu, 16 Jan 2014 17:27:10 +0000 200 intro

Please welcome Juan Barnett to TTAC.

While sitting in a Mossy Oak Ram, a very-real and very-camouflaged version of Ram’s 1500, I watched the all-new Chrysler 200 roll on to the stage in Detroit. After crowning the 200 as Chrysler’s flagship sedan (Sorry 300!) in his speech, the Chrysler executive went on to tell the crowd that they were likely familiar with the 200′s platform, because of cars like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

What about the Dodge Dart or Jeep Cherokee? They too share the same platform and are American offerings. Even though Chrysler made it a point to refrain from mentioning the Dodge Dart during the reveal, the 200 can’t hide its similarities to its C-segment sibling thanks to their shared CUSW platform.

Unlike the very bold, dare I say striking, Jeep Cherokee, the 200 shares many design elements found on other vehicles today. While this homogeneous design is more attractive than the previous 200, I don’t believe aesthetics will be the major factor for buyers.  Instead they be more keen to look at total brand, price, driving dyanmics and fuel economy, not in any particular order.

Rather than provide a critique of the 200 based on objective measures, like design, which amounts to a circular debate of vanilla-vs-chocolate, I want to delve into the data. We’ll look at previous volume for the 200, see where it sits in the terms of competitor volume and fuel economy.

What does success look like for the 200?  – It’s a question many people at the show were discussing. If the 200 moves one more car than it did before the redesign, is that success? Is Chrysler shooting for 20% volume growth, with goals of stealing market from its American rivals, Malibu and Fusion? Now that the car is part of a larger shared platform, can volumes be lower?

The 200: 2010-2013


This graph represents sales of the 200 from 2010-2013. Spring is either the season for peak car buying,  incentive spending, or fleet turnover as 200 sales, especially 2012 and 2013, spike between March-June.

In 2013 Chrysler sold 124,493 200s , which is impressive seeing that the automaker only moved 40,495 units in 2010.

The Midsize Picture

Midsized Car Volume

Camry, Accord and Altima dominate the U.S. midsize sedan market. Based on this graph, the 200 should take aim at models like Optima, Fusion, Sonata and Malibu – but is that what Chrysler intends to do?

During the show I overheard someone on the floor say that with the addition of all wheel drive and improved looks the 200 could rival the Audi A4. I pray executives don’t have or ever get similar ideas. The 200 is not a luxury car. All that glows (LED) does not glitter (luxury).

Fuel Economy

Fuel Economy

The nine-speed automatic is standard in the 200 and when combined with the 2.4L I-4 the car is expected to achieve an EPA-estimated 35 MPG on the highway while the 3.5 V6 will get closer to 31MPG on the highway. The all-wheel-drive system is only available on V6-equipped cars. I expected a larger gain in fuel efficiency from the nine-speed transmission and based on comments by Sergio, so did he.

Chrysler tells me 35MPG is “very competitive” for the midsized sedan segment. According to the graph above the most fuel-efficient 200 will compete well against a Subaru Legacy or Dodge Avenger.


Plenty of unknowns remain for the 200 such as driving dynamics, appearance of base model, fleet volume and fuel economy. But the new 200 is a leap forward from the previous car in terms of technology and interior materials. Having just spent 3 days in a base model 200 I can say with certainty the new 200 is better and Chrysler raised the bar. Then again the bar was so low it was lying in a puddle of mud at the local car rental lot.

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Mo’ Better Blue Chrysler 200 Pictures Thu, 09 Jan 2014 13:00:01 +0000 001-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1


More shots of the next Chrysler 200 have leaked out, and the resemblance between the 200 and the Dart is definitely evident. There’s no escaping common hard points.



001-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 002-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 003-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 004-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 005-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 009-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 010-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 011-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 012-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 013-2015-chrysler-200-leak-1 ]]> 128
2015 Chrysler 200: Not Big Enough To Succeed? Mon, 06 Jan 2014 12:30:04 +0000 200

Even when manufacturers restrict access to events, press fleets and product previews, TTAC manages to get the juicy details, thanks to an overlooked segment of the automotive industry. Our network of supplier sources is far and wide, spanning all tiers and market segments, and our latest bit of information comes from one source, who raised an interesting question about the Chrysler 200.

According to our source, the 200 is a pretty impressive looking car. The leaked photos that appeared at the end of 2013 are accurate, and the interior is just as striking. Along with the corporate 2.4L 4-cylinder and 3.6L Pentastar engine will be a 9-speed transmission, along with lots of other technology designed to save fuel.

But according to our source, there’s one big problem. “It might not be big enough”. Our source expressed concerns that the 200 suffered from the same fate as the Chevrolet Malibu, in that the passenger compartment, and the rear seat area, would be too small for American consumers.

The Malibu, as many will recall, was hung out to dry by the press, including our own Jack Baruth, for being an awful car. I happen to agree with Michael Karesh’s view that the 2.0T is a pretty good car, a victim of an overzealous press that chose the Malibu as a low-risk whipping boy for their Two-Minutes Hate.

Having already botched the launch of the Dart and the Cherokee, the 200 is one that they must get right. A poor model mix and unfortunate pricing (the larger, more powerful Avenger can be had for cheaper in some instances) hampered the Dart’s success, and Chrysler has used up their goodwill on the Cherokee launch – they won’t be able to take the courageous step of delaying the launch of the 200 without looking incompetent. A refresh 18 months in, like GM did with the Malibu, is not an option. We’ll know next week if Chrysler has a hit on their hands or not.

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2015 Chrysler 200 Revealed Fri, 13 Dec 2013 16:15:00 +0000 200-night


The folks at Allpar have discovered an undisguised Chrysler 200 driving around sans camo. Looking like a cross between a Dart and a Chevrolet Impala, the 200 will use the same CUSW architecture as the Dart and Jeep Cherokee, along with the 2.4L 4-cylinder and Pentastar V6 engines.

KGP-side-view KGP-pfile KGP-taillights KGP-headlights 200-night KGP-rear-profile KGP-detroit ]]> 114
QOTD: What Is The Most Misunderstood Vehicle On The Market? Fri, 26 Apr 2013 15:19:12 +0000  

Reader Summicron manages to both praise Jack’s review of the Dodge Avenger while also bringing up a very interesting point. Summicron writes

Baruth does the best job I’ve ever seen of answering the question:

“What does this hardware actually do?”
“What will snobs think of me if I buy it?”

This immediately made me wonder what vehicle is most unfairly maligned by the auto press and popular opinion?

The Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger are most frequently singled out by the automotive media and armchair auto execs as some of the biggest stinkers for sale right now, but as Jack’s review shows, they really don’t deserve the bum rap they get.

My own nomination is “any crossover”. The amount of hate that this segment gets is, in my opinion, totally unjustified. I was at a launch event not too long ago where I overheard a fairly prominent journalist (in terms of access and audience, not necessarily talent) bragging that they “did not review crossovers, because who gives a fuck”. When I published a fairly positive review of the Infiniti JX35, which is guilty of being a CUV with a CVT, there were legions of negative comments decrying my fairly positive assessment. Such a vehicle was evidently a capital crime against all that car guys stand for. Meanwhile, the notion that some people want a CUV for any sort of rational reason seems to dumbfound a very vocal minority. Clearly, millions of consumers each year continue to make the wrong choice and must be re-educated. I still think the CR-V is brilliant (but boring to drive, yes).

But my real nomination will come as a shocker to many of you who insist that TTAC is nothing more than a propaganda arm for a nefarious anti-GM conspiracy. Are you ready for it? It’s the Chevrolet Malibu. I had the chance to drive the 2LTZ with the 2.0T engine and, well, it wasn’t bad. I wouldn’t say it’s top of the class, but there’s no way that it deserves the absolute dog-piling that the critics gleefully participated in. The 2.0T powertrain was quite powerful and dare I say smoother than in the Cadillac ATS, MyLink was simple to operate and it made a comfortable cruiser along I-95. The back seat was a bit small, but not enough to upset my brother, who is 6 feet tall and wears a size 48 suit jacket. And the trunk was certainly generous. I generally concurred with Michael Karesh in thinking that it was a pretty good car. It seems like the Malibu just became the unfortunate whipping boy for a journalistic corps that couldn’t tell human excrement from Swiss chocolate. The again, I haven’t driven the other versions, and Karesh was none too impressed with the eAssist. But who cares what I think? Let me know in the comments.

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A Snapshot Of What Sub-Prime Buyers Are Driving Wed, 24 Apr 2013 15:30:33 +0000

Sub-prime finance has attracted a bit of interest (no pun intended) over at TTAC lately, and the segment itself has experienced phenomenal growth in the post-bailout era.

Auto lending site released a list of the top 10 most popular new and used vehicles as purchased by sub-prime buyers over the last six months. While it’s not the most complete list by any means, it does give us a glimpse into the choices of sub-prime buyers. As far as we know, no such list has ever been compiled prior to this.

Top 10 New Cars for sub-prime buyers according to (from October to March 2013)

1. Dodge Avenger

2. Kia Forte

3. Kia Optima

4. Chrysler 200

5. Dodge Journey

6. Ford Focus

7. Ram 1500

8. Nissan Sentra

9. Nissan Versa

10. Kia Sorento

A few things jump out here. First off, this list has almost no crossover with the usual top 10 selling new vehicles in America. Only the Ram 1500 appears on both lists. Second, Chrysler products make four appearances on this list, with the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 well know among the B&B for being very aggressively priced, to the point where it makes buying a Dodge Dart seem nonsensical. Chrysler has also been ramping up their own sub-prime lending program, through Santander and was the leader in sub-prime lending last year.

Also interesting are the relative dominance of Nissan and Kia. The latest Sentra and Versa have also been priced with a view to undercutting the competition, and the Versa has had success in the sub-compact market with its extremely cheap offerings (nonwithstanding the loss leader $9,995 Versa S, which is meant to get people in the showrooms and little else). Kia comes as a bit of a surprise, as very little is ever heard about them in connection with sub-prime purchasing. Any commenters with information or data that can help provide a better picture, please feel free to contribute.


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Chrysler 200 “8 Mile Edition” On The Way Thu, 11 Oct 2012 17:02:13 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

(NSFW Language)

Chrysler is launching a series of “buzz cars”, a fancy name for special edition package that will ostensibly maintain consumer interest in their cars as they progress over the model cycle.

Bloomberg reports that the first buzz car will harken back to the 8 Mile-themed commercial staring Detroit native Eminem

The next phase of Chrysler’s “Imported From Detroit” campaign, which debuted with Eminem in a two-minute Super Bowl commercial in 2011, includes an 8 Mile edition of the Chrysler 200 sedan to mark the movie’s 10-year anniversary, said Olivier Francois, the automaker’s chief marketing officer. It’s also introducing a 300 Motown sedan that will be tied to Broadway’s new show “Motown: The Musical” Francois said in an interview.

The “buzz packages” such as the Gucci edition Fiat 500 and the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Altitude, will help shore up consumer interest in between refreshes and re-designed. The 300 Glacier edition, which is “designed for all weather markets such as Denver” will feature will feature “…an active transfer case and front-axle-disconnect system that allows the car to transition between rear-wheel drive and all- wheel drive without any action by the driver”. Sounds a little like conventional all-wheel drive systems doesn’t it? Perhaps someone caught a bit too much of a buzz…

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Review: 2012 Chrysler 200 S Convertible Sat, 08 Sep 2012 13:00:27 +0000

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?

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

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Dodge Dart Platform Will Underpin Chrysler 200, Jeep Compass Replacement Wed, 25 Jan 2012 16:16:49 +0000

A USA Today interview with Sergio Marchionne revealed some interesting details about Chrysler’s future product plans – among them, a wider adoption of the Dodge Dart/Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform, a possible small hatch dubbed the “Chrysler 100″ and Alfa Romeos built on American soil.

The upcoming replacements for the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 will ride on a version of the Dodge Dart platform, though nothing was said about earlier reports of the Avenger being axed. The Jeep Compass and Patriot will also use these underpinnings, with Marchionne stating “It’s gonna be a trail-rated, full-blooded Jeep that has its origins in the architecture of a sports car.”

A compact hatchback, dubbed the Chrysler 100 is being considered, and if approved, the car would be badged as a Lancia in Europe. Alfa Romeo’s on-and-off plans to come to America are still in motion with a planned 2013 debut, with American built Alfas being exported to Europe eventually. Marchionne also talked of new, lightweight vehicles and a 1.8L 4-cylinder motor with a turbocharger than can produce as much as 300 horsepower.

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Dodge Avenger Headed For Death Row? Thu, 12 Jan 2012 21:51:44 +0000

Chrysler is facing a dilemma straight out of “Sophie’s Choice” – whether or not it should kill the wretched Dodge Avenger to help the marginally better Chrysler 200 thrive. But words straight from the mouth of Dodge boss Reid Bigland made it seem like it’s all but a done deal.

Stating that “…Chrysler Group will likely consolidate around one midsize car in the future,” Bigland essentially signed the Avenger’s death warrant while speaking to the media at the Detroit Auto Show. The introduction of the Dodge Dart, more appealing in practically every way than the Avenger, should expedite the process. Dodge sold 64,000 Avengers in 2011 while the 200 managed to shift roughly 89,000. Both models lagged far behind the #1 selling Toyota Camry, which sold 308,510 examples in 2011.

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