2016 Chrysler 200 Limited Rental Review - An Appreciation Of An Extraordinary Automobile

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
2016 chrysler 200 limited rental review an appreciation of an extraordinary

A few months ago, my esteemed colleague Ronnie Schreiber found himself in possession of a McLaren 675LT for the week. Not having a tremendous amount of personal experience with supercars, and not in a position to kill $10,000 worth of consumables in a single day at Thunderhill, Ronnie decided not to write a conventional review of the 675LT. Instead, he wrote an “Appreciation” of the Macca, eschewing the world-weary, seen-it-all shtick of the print-rag supercar review for an honest description of what it’s like to be a regular fellow who just happens to be holding the keys to something truly outrageous. Check it out, if you haven’t already read it.

Last week, I had the occasion to put 515 miles on a rented close-to-base-model Chrysler 200 in about a ten-hour period. It’s safe to say that most of you don’t like Chrysler’s entry-luxury take on the Fiat Compact platform. As a matter of fact, the 200 is currently a strong contender for Mr. Stevenson’s reanimated TWAT awards.

I’d like to see if I can change your mind about that.

Let me start by apologizing for the lack of pictures. My plan was to pick the Chrysler up on Thursday afternoon, drive it to Ann Arbor for dinner, return to Columbus that night, drive to work the next day, then make the trip to Watkins Glen for what would turn out to be a star-crossed AER race. At the last minute on Friday, however, fate intervened in the form of a friend’s press loaner that was available for the weekend, so I immediately returned the 200 to Enterprise so I could save $80 in rental fees. I only remembered that I’d forgotten to photograph it when I was about halfway through Pennsylvania on the way to the Glen.

The Chrysler 200 Limited retails for $24,985. Nobody’s going to pay that much for one. That’s good, because the equipment list leaves quite a bit to be desired. You don’t get dual-zone temperature control; that’s an extra $645. You don’t get heated mirrors or an eight-way power seat; that’s $895 extra. In other words, if you equip it like an Accord EX, you’re going to have the same sticker as an Accord EX. Just remember that with modern-day Chryslers, the “Suggested” in the acronym MSRP is to be taken very lightly.

This car has nothing to do with the old Sebring-based 200, except that it has a “Tigershark” variant of the 2.4 “World Engine.” It’s now hooked up to the ZF nine-speed automatic instead of a Mopar four-speed chugger. Both the engine and transmission have come in for quite a bit of criticism lately, some of it well deserved. Around town, the ZF is rarely in the right gear or even the gear that is next to the right gear. A few times when I was driving around Ann Arbor, I put my foot down to make a quick move in traffic only to have precisely nothing happen until the gearbox could get around to swapping into the correct ratio. This never took less than one second.

That being said, if you drive the 200 like you are in a hurry, it will pay attention and keep you in a low gear. In that situation, the Tigershark is equal to the task and you can move with authority. If you are on the freeway, the ZF will select ninth on level ground up to about 80 mph, allowing you to record a 34 mpg freeway rolling average as a result. My mixed-use economy readings over 500 miles were in the 30.5 mpg range. Not bad. I should point out as well that the ZF 9HP transmission, for all its foibles, is not a CVT and it doesn’t do the rubber-band thing. For some people, that’s critically important.

Since this is an “Appreciation,” I want to spend the rest of the article talking about what the Chrysler 200 does well. If you want to know what’s bad about it, you can ask any Internet forum, or read the comments which will appear below. Without further ado, then: The 200 is very quiet, both aerodynamically and mechanically. I can’t stress that enough, because it’s important. Anecdotally, I’d say it’s the quietest car in the class by a long shot. Long trips in the Chrysler are stress-free thanks to that quietness. Shame that the stereo isn’t good enough to take advantage of it, but you can get a better stereo in the higher trim levels if you like. Ride quality shines, both in the “primary” big-bump sense and the “secondary” road-imperfections sense. If you were a blind person sitting in the back of this car for a long trip, you’d think it was at least a Lexus ES350.

All the control efforts are reassuring and well-matched. This car is kinda based on the Dodge Dart, which is kinda based on a much smaller Euro-market Alfa Romeo, but none of that is readily apparent. There’s no shake or rumble in the steering wheel. The brakes are firm. Secondary controls operate with solid clicks. The window wiper control works in a way I’ve long suggested: you rotate upwards for faster intervals and then finally for LO and HI, so that the further you twist the knob the more wiping you get. Most manufacturers like to separate the functions of wiper interval adjustment and wiper rate, with the result that you wind up fussing with two knobs when it’s raining lightly. The Chrysler 200 doesn’t have that problem. It’s the sort of thing you’d stop noticing after a week in the car, but every time you drove something else you’d wonder why it required two different adjustments for what should be a single-motion selection.

The rotary transmission shifter in my rental example was wobbly, but I’ve rented two other 200s and they didn’t suffer from that problem, so it might be a case of some moron yanking on the thing repeatedly. The seats, although they’re not upholstered in anything expensive-looking, are supportive and firm, much like the seats you used to get in a Peugeot or Saab. All the controls fall readily to hand, as they say, with the sole exception of the penalty-box miniature uConnect screen. The dashboard is laid out logically and legibly, although the ridiculous “TACHOMETER” and “SPEEDOMETER” labels stamped into the faux-chrome dial surrounds are embarrassingly tacky. The LCD between those dials conveys useful information and is easy to configure.

This is a very easy car to get used to. It makes no demands on the driver. In that respect, it’s the perfect rental car. But it would also be a good car for people who don’t require all sorts of obvious character defects to enjoy an automobile. If you wanted to take four people on a road trip, this would be one of the top choices in the class. If you wanted all your passengers to be able to converse normally on the freeway without having to raise their voices or lean in towards their companions, it might be the best choice.

Trunk space is good. The headlights are bright. Cops don’t notice the car on the road. I popped the hood and confirmed that there’s a lot of space around the engine for easy DIY work; that might be important to whoever owns it in 15 years. The paint was laid on thick and with very little orange peel. Most of the exterior details were nicely done.

If you want to spend a little more on a Chrysler 200, you can get some very nice things. The Pentastar V6 is a $1,995 option that turns this unassuming car into a bit of a dragster. The 200C Premium has real wood and metal on the inside. There’s a dual-pane sunroof to be had, and a lane-keep system that will let you roll down the freeway totally hands-off. Top trim levels have a 506-watt Alpine sound system. Basically, you can build this car into an Acura TLX V6 competitor for a price slightly below that of a comparably-equipped Acura TLX four-cylinder.

I wouldn’t second-guess anyone’s decision to buy a Chrysler 200. I wouldn’t buy one personally, because there’s no stick-shift available. But that brings me to the last thing I want to mention about this car. Most mid-size cars have big, thick consoles with nothing inside them. The purpose of the console is to create some sort of impression that you’re in the kind of sporting vehicle that has a transmission and a physical shifter in there. That’s hogwash, of course; at the most you have a few cables, like in my stick-shift Accord, but normally it’s just wires to a transmission selector and a bunch of wasted space surrounding it.

The 200 has a rotary transmission selector that requires no mechanical linkage. So the space beneath it is open and free for storage of everything from cellphones to drinks to laptops. The center console between driver and passenger looks perfectly normal, with the usual pair of elbow-level cupholders, but a press of a button opens up enough space below those cupholders to hide your tablets or purse or a couple of Skorpion machine pistols. It’s thoughtful, it’s honest, and it’s effective without being flashy. The car that surrounds the console is all of those things as well. It might not be the best car for you, but it’s not the worst car out there. Not by a long shot.

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2 of 180 comments
  • Olddavid Olddavid on Feb 08, 2023

    Fast forward to 2023. The demographic has changed so dramatically that this car failed and rates no mention by any auto scribe when in fact it should have sold like hotcakes. What time has shown me is that had I been forced to continue in the auto business past my retirement date, they would have been forced to drum me out. This car, with the Pentastar was absolutely the equal of any other car in its price range and better than most. Crickets

  • Tonycd Tonycd on Feb 14, 2023

    No. I'll let Consumer Reports' 2016 Auto Issue issue the death blow: "Reliability has been much below average." As for me, I always thought this was a pretty car. But the first impression it made on me at the auto show was literally an impression: I still distinctly remember BASHING my head in on the top of the too-low rear door opening. A people hauler has to be able to fit people.

  • Pig_Iron You can buy a focus sedan right in the USA. It's called a maverick. 😒
  • Pig_Iron Brown bag a ploughman's lunch. 💼
  • Pig_Iron I thought IBOC was supposed to bring about a renaissance in terrestrial radio? Too bad the FCC went with a proprietary standard. I listen to AM every day because it offers superior geopolitical current affairs news and analysis, and because it offers non-English language programming also. EVs and less choice make driving drudgery. 😔
  • Irvingklaws Gas station coffee (which is usually pretty good these days) and a small bag of chips/nuts/pretzels to help stay alert. Sometimes bring a Gatorade because it doesn't seem to make me need to use the restroom as much as water or soda. Maybe stop McD's or BK for something to-go if I actually get hungry. Nothing fancy. I'll eat better when I get where I'm going 🙂
  • Legacygt There is nothing "trapezoidish" about that grill.