Ad Radar

2015 Chrysler 200 First Drive

Chrysler gets competitive in the hot-selling midsize segment

What It Is
Chrysler's new—and now only—midsize sedan.
Best Thing
High-class style, in and out, for mainstream prices.
Worst Thing
Smallish back seat, preproduction driveline needs some fine-tuning.
Snap Judgment
For the first time since 2001 or so, Chrysler has a legitimate contender in the family sedan segment.


"I'd give my left kidney to drive that car."

A slightly paraphrased, yet very emphatic, statement if ever there were one, it was posted by one of my Instagram followers upon seeing a picture I uploaded of the 2015 Chrysler 200 staged in Louisville, Kentucky, with its LED running lamps aglow. Indeed, the new Chrysler 200 is quite the looker—perhaps even the best-looking sedan that Chrysler has produced since the 1960s. It's undoubtedly far more photogenic than its predecessor, a car that came out to lackluster reviews in 2008 amid the chaos that preceded Chrysler's bankruptcy. That car, the Sebring, was rechristened the Chrysler 200 in 2011 after Fiat's takeover of Chrysler and received a major refresh. But it still sold mostly on its cut-rate pricing and the fact that if it was good enough for rapper Eminem, Detroit's Selected of God gospel choir, and the Super Bowl, it ought to be good enough for you.

But now, Fiat has been able to employ all of its might in creating the 2015 Chrysler 200, starting from the ground up to blur the lines between midsize sedan and four-door coupe; mainstream and premium car. We've experienced the car in all manner of flavors, from the somewhat basic Limited model to the posh 200C to a sportier V-6, all-wheel-drive 200S. And all the while, no donation of any body parts was required, thankfully.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Walkaround

Not too long ago, all midsize sedans were fairly upright, boxy things that were designed with as little charisma as possible. Who in his or her right mind would want something, perhaps, stylish for $20,000 or more? Right? That malaise of inspiration died in the 2010s and hopefully won't ever come back. The 2015 Chrysler 200 is further substantiation of that. It oozes with curb appeal, with soft lines and smooth curves drawing inspiration from the past with a focus on the future.

The first car to come from Chrysler's new design language, the 2015 200 carries a winged grille that stretches across the front of the car and LED headlights and tail lights that mimic the winged-badge theme. With big wheels, the 200 looks like a stunner. With bigger wheels, it's street-smart and wickedly cool. From the rear, we thought it had a bit of Audi in its design. Most would agree that's not a bad thing.

No matter which model is selected, there's an understated badge treatment. This isn't like the Ram 1500 that's smattered with signage like the Las Vegas Strip. The Chrysler 200 instead has a small pair of wings on the grille and on the trunk and a "200" badge. If you want to know what engine it has or whether or not it's an all-wheel-drive model, you're not going to find it anywhere on the outside of the car. Ask the person driving it.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Sitting Down

At Chrysler's walkaround, the 200's head interior designer, Klaus Busse, said a journalist recently came up to him and said "Your interiors in 2008 were $#!+. Now, they're the $#!+."

Back in 2008, Chrysler had just come off from the ownership of the succubus known as Cerberus, bleeding money and reeling from years of mismanagement. Thanks, Bob Eaton and Bob Nardelli. Now, with a cash infusion, Chrysler has enough money to bless its only midsize sedan with a host of high-quality features in a stylish package.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

In 200C models, for instance, where you see wood, it's real stuff, curved around the dashboard and highlighting the throngs of technology that it accents on either side. Want an 8.4-inch Uconnect navigation/infotainment system? It's available. Same with active cruise control, lane-departure warning, blind spot monitoring, heated and ventilated seats, selectable drive modes in the 200S model, a rotary-dial shifter, a massive cubby between the front seats, and more. The car is as stylish on the inside as it is on the outside, awash in high-quality, soft-touch materials. Perhaps its biggest flaw comes at the expense of that style, though.

To give the 2015 Chrysler 200 that raked roofline and coupe-like proportions, there's a little ducking necessary to get into the back seat. Leg room falls a tad short back there, too, but it's by no means the least-accommodating vehicle in its class. Fine for five passengers and an improvement versus the outgoing model, anyone needing the gargantuan space of an Accord or Passat might want to look elsewhere.

Driving

The 2015 Chrysler 200 is a Jekyll and Hyde sort of sedan, providing two vastly different experiences based on what equipment package is selected. The base 200 LX, mid-level Limited, and high-end 200C models come with a softly sprung suspension that's more designed for coddling the driver than keeping him or her entertained. Steering feel is slow and plodding, and the car drives like a much larger vehicle than it is. Fortunately, it's among the quieter cars in its class that we've driven. Partly responsible is gobs of sound deadening that we think may pack on some pounds to its not-insubstantial 3,500-pound weight. With the 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine, the Chrysler 200 is hardly the speediest vehicle out there. Not yet rated for fuel economy, we recorded about 27 mpg through mixed driving conditions in the four-cylinder. The whole experience isn't too unlike a Toyota Camry. Mind you, Toyota sells 400,000 Camrys a year, so it has to be doing something right.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

All of that changes in the Chrysler 200S. Our tester was a 295-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 model, equipped with all-wheel drive. Flipped into Sport mode, the 200S exhibits far more exuberance and confidence, building heavier, more direct steering into its experience, albeit providing no more road feel. Its suspension is far tauter, lending itself to more spirited driving. With better-bolstered seats and paddles behind the steering wheel, we were able to make better use of the nine-speed automatic transmission that comes as standard with both engines, letting loose its might on Kentucky's backroads. In four-cylinder models, we noticed a hard shift from second to third gear. And while both cars' brake pedals left something to be desired, the four-cylinder's had a sticking point in addition to lazy activation, not immediately providing full stopping power. We drove multiple four-cylinder cars to see whether or not this was the case on all of them; it was. We were told that some preproduction teething is still occurring, and our issues will be rectified by the time the cars go on sale in the spring. We hope so, because this car ought to have the driving manners to match the rest of the car's look and feel.

Summary

If a midsize car had the absolute objective of being a transportation appliance, it would look like a Toyota Camry: Staid, bland, comfortable, and overall dictated by perameters and not by living, breathing people. It wouldn't be the Chrysler 200.

We're glad that variety exists in the market for precisely that reason.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

For many, bland is all right. Thoughtless, simple decisions are easier. Something like the Chrysler 200 would never fly with them because it is a little less practical than most midsizers—immediately more reminiscent of the Buick Regal and Volkswagen CC than an Accord. But it makes up the difference in pizzazz and presence. It's also cheaper than comparably equipped cars from Ford, Chevrolet, and much of anyone else.

Pending Chrysler fixes some small issues with the 200's driving behavior, we think it could have a hit on its hands. At minimum, however, Chrysler finally has a midsize sedan than anyone should want to be seen in, much less drive. In non-200S form, it's comfortable, quiet, and luxurious. With the sports package, it's all of that plus some fun. While we wouldn't give up any body parts to buy one, we're definitely eager to get back into the car. We hope the finished product takes a bigger chunk of sales out of the midsize sedan market than the cars it's replacing.

Basic Specs

2.4-liter inline four-cylinder or 3.6-liter V-6, 9-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive (front- or all-wheel drive for V-6), 184-hp or 295-hp, $22,695-$36,265, fuel economy not yet rated

close