Batting 200 with Chrysler’s rebadged fleet queen
summit daily auto writer
At this point in America’s economic turbulence, everyone’s got an opinion on Chrysler and its vacillating fortunes: the bankruptcy, the bailout, the Fiat deal and the company’s subsequent rebranding and reinvention of many of its core products.
With a major makeover for six of its automobiles, and more on the way, the proof oughta be in the pudding, right? Has this beleaguered Detroit gang of hard-knock kids massaged their occasionally messy catalog of vehicles into truly world-class offerings?
You gotta start at the bottom of the totem pole, and in the case of the all-new Chrysler 200 – the new monicker for the eminently forgettable Sebring mid-size sedan, a number that evidently rides the coattails of the more successful 300 – the changes are many and the results not so bad.
Sebring, if you hadn’t noticed it before (since almost the only ones you see in Colorado are rental cars or the moderately pleasant convertible variation), had not exactly set the world on fire in recent years.
But the 2011 redo is significant, mostly successful and – while it still won’t be a big mover in the High Country as it’s only available in front-wheel drive – Midwesterners are gonna love it.
From the genuinely BMW and Audi-inspired trunk and tail to the new, shiny wheels and vastly upgraded interior, 200 is a (in Limited version) $25,000+ machine that’s certainly been given new life. Mostly.
Both the chrome buttress of a grill and more attractive front fascia are blended into an up-front look that’s vaguely Camry-esque; the indented cheese-grater hood is also gone, replaced with a smooth, flat slab.
A long, sweeping body line and less clods of chrome elsewhere make things much more contemporary; the cheesy “200” emblems on the rear window uprights, not so much, however.
The driving experience is also a little Velveeta, though admittedly considerably improved from the previous iteration. Your base powerplant, the 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder “World Gas Engine” thrums a little ingraciously and tractor-like at times, but yields up to 31 mpg on the highway. And it will get you going.
My tester had the new six-speed automatic transmission and shifted in the most unusual and unpredictable ways, burping off little hiccuppy gear changes at low speeds but settling down on the highway. A more rudimentary four-speed is also available, with a dual-clutch system also on its way.
Alternately, you can upgrade to the 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar engine, producing 283 HP, though … that frankly seems like a little too much juice for this setup.
Chrysler says that much work went into improving the suspension, widening the track and reducing the Sebring’s legendary body roll, but it’s still painfully rudimentary compared to the import competition.
The suspension is exceptionally bouncy over potholed pavement, steering feel is light and the brakes a little wispy, so I don’t know if an extra 110 HP would really feel right.
The good news is that the interior treatment really is quite impressive, with hide grain-styled plastic on the dash and door tops, improved leather quality elsewhere (part of a prominent two-tone color scheme) and even prestige bits such as an analog clock and the piano black around the Media Center touchscreen.
A new steering wheel features the same audio and trip computer controls as the Grand Cherokee; that media setup is comprehensive, complete with a burnable 30 GB hard drive, satellite radio, USB inputs and Garmin-branded navigation.
Seating is better though the seat bottoms still feel a little short. Rear passengers get their own comfortable thrones and decent foot space.
Ultimately, if you absolutely feel compelled to buy American in your sedan search, the 200 is not the worst of all worlds. The new convertible version is also slated for showrooms later this spring, starting at just over $27,000.
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