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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chrysler 200

As a mid-size sedan that has its roots in the vastly inferior and unloved Chrysler Sebring, the Chrysler 200 faces tough competition from the rest of the major players, including the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry as well as the Hyundai Sonata.

The Sebring name was so tarnished by the 2007-2010 models that it was retired and replaced with a new name--Chrysler 200--for the largely redone 2011 model that's now in its third model year. The current Chrysler 200 is not only a four-door sedan but also a convertible, with two doors and the choice of a retractable hard top or a folding cloth roof.

The 200 faces tough competition from ever-more-competent mid-size sedans from the rest of the major players, including the . In many ways, the 200 is really the car that the Sebring ought to have been during its four grim years. While the Chrysler 200 is far from perfect, it will suit some style-conscious buyers who value comfort more than crisp handling.

Chrysler for 2012 offered a sporty 200S package, but for 2013 the special appearance was offered as a package for any of the three trims in sedan form. The Limited model also added Boston Acoustics speakers and 17-inch alloy wheels as standard for 2013.

The Chrysler 200 is most at home on straight highways, where its hydraulic power steering provides nice weighting and some actual road feel. It's not so enjoyable on rough surfaces or curvy roads; if you send too much power through those front wheels on a turn, its tendency to torque-steer--to pull to one side or the other--leaves the 200 flustered.

The 200 convertible can be ordered with a cloth roof or a folding hardtop, but that model's body rigidity isn't as good as other convertibles. There's considerable body flex, and handling is even less sporty as a result. The back-seat room suffers from the top's packaging, though the 200 Convertible still has more back-seat room than any four-seat convertible in its price range.

The interior was a particularly weak spot for the previous Sebring, and this was a key area of improvement for the 200. The cabin of the 200 features such niceties as soft-touch arm rests and dash surfaces, premium leather or cloth upholstery, and a modern-looking instrument panel and center stack with discreet LED accent lighting. The seats were revised, with more cushioning material and revised spring geometry to improve comfort.

The 200 offers a choice of two engines: a base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with either a four- or six-speed automatic, or a Pentastar V-6 displacing 3.6 liters and available only with the six-speed auto. The 2.4-liter engine produces a feeble 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque but manages a respectable gas mileage of 20 mpg in the city and up to 31 mpg on the highway, while the V-6 delivers a healthy 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque with a fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The six-speed automatic does a great job of getting the most out of either engine, but the four-speeder used for the smaller engine feels downright archaic against the competition.

This mid-size Chrysler has a good record with respect to safety--but it's not quite top-tier, as the federal government awards it four stars overall, with four-star scores for frontal impact and three stars for side impact. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given it top 'good' scores in all areas, earning Top Safety Pick status. And in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test, it performed well enough ('acceptable') to qualify for the new IIHS Top Safety Pick+ accolade.

The 200 was intended to be a stopgap measure until an all-new mid-size sedan could be created off a new platform shared with Fiat. Now, however, it appears the Chrysler 200 may remain in its current form through 2014, possibly as long as 2015--at which point it would be essentially nine years old, by far the oldest competitor in the category. Its next-oldest competitor, the Hyundai Sonata, was launched in 2010.

At some point soon, the Chrysler 200 is due to be replaced by an all-new family of sedans, built on a lengthened version of the platform that underpins the 2013 Dodge Dart. You can read our most recent driving impression of a V-6 Chrysler 200 as well as the full review linked above.

The mid-size sedan segment is now more competitive than ever, but the 200 has many of its own virtues and is worth a close look if you’re in the market for a mid-size sedan or convertible that blends American styling, a splash of luxury, and a powerful engine (in V-6 trim, at least). In fact, Chrysler even manages to offer a version of the 200 Convertible in style-conscious Europe, where it's badged as an Italian Lancia.

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