Chrysler was in a tight spot after the government bailout and bankruptcy. Among other troubles, the company's vehicle fleet was aging and becoming antiquated. Quality problems had been an issue for a long time, too, and public perception of Chrysler products fell far short of what it had been during the corporation's heyday, decades earlier.
Introducing a full fleet of all-new vehicles is obviously an expensive proposition, especially for a company that's just gone through a financial debacle. The only solution had to be some hurry-up freshenings and almost-redesigns of those existing vehicles. Do it right, and customer reaction might be favorable rather than suspicious.
Among the vehicles in need of a major makeover was the midsize Chrysler Sebring, offered for the previous decade-and-a-half in both sedan and convertible form. In most cases, the Chrysler and Dodge brands stuck with the model names that had been used previously. Not for the Sebring, though. That model metamorphosed into the 2011 Chrysler 200, again produced in both sedan and convertible body styles.
According to Chrysler, the Sebring-to-200 sedan was redesigned "from the ground up." Chrysler claims that virtually every suspension component was re-engineered or redesigned for 2011. Track width grew by an inch. The Chrysler 200 was lowered nearly half an inch in front and half that much in the rear "for a lower, wider, more substantial stance," though the difference is obviously less than dramatic.
Driving a six-speed automatic transmission, the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 generates 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Safety features include electronic stability control, six airbags, and traction control.
A series of "S" models joined during the 2011 model year, first seen at the New York Auto Show in April. S models have an "entirely different appearance and attitude," according to Chrysler.
All told, then, four sedan trim levels are offered: LX, Touring, Limited, and S. Convertibles come in Touring and Limited trim.
A 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with four-speed automatic transmission is standard on the LX sedan. Touring and Limited models get that 2.4-liter engine, but with a six-speed automatic. S sedans and Limited convertibles contain a 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 260 pound-feet of torque and is optional on Touring and Limited sedans. The V-6 pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel-economy estimates don't vary much among the three powertrain combinations. The EPA estimates 21 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. With a six-speed automatic, the four-cylinder estimates changes to 20-mpg city/31-mpg highway. A Chrysler 200 with the V-6 earns an EPA estimate of 19-mpg city/29-mpg highway.
Behind the wheel, it becomes evident that Chrysler has added a substantial level of refinement to a car that wasn't as flawed as some evaluators had claimed, but didn't meet the midsize norm, either. Now, the Sebring's classier 200 successor reaches past that norm. No, it's not likely to stun anyone with its wonderfulness, as Chrysler spokespersons have suggested. But it's become a car that can make a valid claim for consideration.
A V-6 sedan accelerates energetically to pass or merge, after a brief delay to downshift. Drivers need not worry about performance at midrange speeds, though operation of the six-speed automatic transmission isn't as refined as most units are these days.
Some tire patter is noticeable on certain pavements, and a trifling bit of driveline whir might be heard; but otherwise, the 200 rides quite smoothly and quietly. There's nothing startling about handling, but the 200 maneuvers about as well as any rivals, with satisfactory steering feel.
Simple gauges are easy enough to read. Though small, the information screen sits relatively high. The analog clock is a classy touch. Windshields on the Chrysler 200 sedan reach far ahead, exposing a deep, fairly low cowl.
One glaring flaw is the excess space between the brake and gas pedals - enough to fit a whole foot, which means it's not uncommon to "miss" the accelerator pedal when coming off the brake. That could be dangerous.
Except for slight driver's elbow limitation, occupants get plenty of front-seat space. Headroom is well above average, though the driver's right knee might hit the center console. Comfortable seats offer good back support.
Visibility is trouble-free. The center armrest on our test 200 sedan came off suddenly; and even when we figured out how to remount it, the armrest slid forward and back without latching into any midrange position.
Plenty of space is available in the rear-seat side positions. The center spot would be tolerable, but for a hard back and a sizable floor tunnel to straddle. Trunk space is good-sized, except for some wheelwell intrusion into the space.
All told, there might not be a lot to get thrilled about in a Chrysler 200 sedan, but it's a car that can now compete properly. Slight hints of the old assembly quality problems turn up at times. But only a hint, with no evidence of looseness or imperfections. This sedan doesn't feel quite as solid as some competitors - but close.
Chrysler led the return to convertibles way back in 1982, after soft-tops had disappeared for several years from the American marketplace. That original boxy LeBaron transitioned into a more curvy successor, which evolved into the Sebring in 1996. More than any domestic automaker, and most import brands, Chrysler has helped keep the convertible body style afloat.
Today, however, the 2011 200 convertible doesn't seem nearly as improved as other Chrysler products, compared to its Sebring soft-top predecessor. Though adequate, the convertible simply lacks the feel and sense of quality that should be present in a vehicle that's said to be redesigned to the point of being "all-new."
Convertibles seat four, versus five in the sedans. A retractable hardtop is optional for the Limited convertible, which otherwise has a power-operated fabric roof. Four-cylinder convertibles get a lower fuel-economy estimate than sedans from the EPA: 29/20 mpg with four-speed automatic and 18/29 mpg with the six-speed unit.
Sedan prices start at $19,995 (including destination charge) for the LX model. A Touring convertible stickers for $27,195.
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