2012 Chrysler 200: Not Great But Maybe Good Enough….

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Thank God it’s not just a name change – because the old Chrysler Sebring was the ultimate Rental Car Special. A car you drove for $25 a day when on vacation or business someplace else – but which you’d probably never drive home. Or pay $300 a month to own.

Well, the Sebring’s gone and the 200’s here.

And it’s a lot more than just a new name for an old also-ran.

Whether it’s enough to help dig Chrysler out of the gopher hole it dug for itself remains to be seen.

WHAT IT IS

The 200 is Chrysler’s mid-sized FWD family car, a step below the RWD/AWD 300 in size, price and power. It’s sold in sedan and two-door (but four real seats) convertible bodystyles.

Prices for the sedan start at $19,245 for an LX with 2.4 liter engine and six speed automatic. A top of the line 200 S equipped with Chrysler’s new, much more powerful (and economical) 3.6 liter V-6 starts at $26,240.

The convertible 200 starts at $26,455 for the base Touring; a top-of-the-range 200 S convertible has an MSRP of $31,940.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012

The 200 was all-new last year so the ’12s remain mostly the same as the 2011s. The biggest change is the addition of a new dual-clutch six-speed automatic to the lineup.

WHAT’S GOOD

Much improved over the old (and obsolete) Sebring.

Least Desirable Car in segment is no longer a Chrysler.

Convertible is affordable and can comfortably carry adults in its back seat.

New 3.6 liter V-6 (optional in all but base LX sedan) gives the 200 almost 300 hp – and almost 30 MPG on the highway.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Base engine is still the same mediocre (power and economy) 2.4 liter engine used in the old Sebring.

Sebring’s former advantage as a value-priced alternative to others is gone – at least as far as the sedan goes. It costs about the same as mid-size segment leaders like the Honda Accord sedan, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata sedans.

Chrysler’s long-term future is still up in the air – and Chrysler’s current quality control is still an unknown that won’t be known for several years at least.

UNDER THE HOOD

Standard equipment in both the sedan and convertible coupe is a 2.4 liter, 173 hp four cylinder – same basic engine as was standard in the 2010 Sebring. The good news is this engine is now teamed up with a six-speed automatic vs. the technologically ancient four-speed automatic used before. Mileage is about the same (20 city, 31 highway now vs. 21 city, 30 highway before) but the car feels (and is) quicker than before, which is good because the old Sebring was a dawg: 0-60 took 9.5-9.6 seconds.

In the 200 with the 2.4 liter engine and six-speed automatic, the car gets to 60 in about 9.2 seconds – an improvement in pick-up you can definitely feel.

Also worth pointing out is that although the 200’s base engine is a carryover it makes more power than what you’d get in a new base model Chevy Malibu (2.4 liters, 169 hp) and for less money, too. A Malibu’s base price of $21,975 is almost $2,800 higher than the base price of the more powerful (and fuel-efficient) Chrysler 200 LX.

So: The dubious honor of Least Desirable Car in the mid-sized segment now falls into Chevrolet’s lap.

That’s something, right?

Optional in the 200 is Chrysler’s new 3.6 liter V-6, an engine that Mopar has been seeding across its product lineup – everything from the new Dodge Durango to the new 200.

Its 283 hp puts it near the top of the mid-sized class. It is more powerful than the optional V-6 engines in the Camry, Accord and Fusion – and 30 hp more powerful than the old 3.5 liter V-6 used in the 2010 Sebring. So equipped, the 200’s zero to 60 time drops to just under 7 seconds vs. close to 8 seconds before. At the same time, it manages to return better gas mileage, too – 19 city, 29 highway vs. 16 city, 27 highway previously.

The six-speed automatic also comes standard with this engine.

ON THE ROAD

Though the 200’s standard engine is the same as the old Sebring’s standard engine, the 200 feels more lively because of the updated transmission and the tighter gear spacing. There’s less RPM drop between each upshift when accelerating – and less abrupt gear changing when the transmission downshifts during passing or deceleration.

That’s the good news.

The problem for Chrysler is that several competitor models – especially the Hyundai Sonata and its corporate cousin, the Kia Optima – give you 200 hp for less ($18,995 in the Optima) and Blue Chip rivals like the Toyota Camry give you about the same power for about the same money – but with much higher resale values and an established reputation for high-quality/reliability.

The upsell in the 200 is the optional 3.6 liter V-6. Unlike the carryover (from 2010 and before) four, this is an all-new engine – and it shows. It’s powerful, smooth and (for its size/power output) very economical, too. So equipped, the 200 accelerates with greater authority than a V-6 Camry and matches moves with a V-6 Accord – while outdoing them both on gas mileage.

On handling and ride:

I was one of the few car journalists who had nice things to say about the old Sebring’s super-cush AARP suspension tuning. It was one of the few new cars you could buy that wasn’t trying to be a BMW. It rode quietly and softly. For the reality of American driving vs. the Car & Driver fantasy (you know, lone driver cutting corners down Mulholland Drive at 20 over the speed limit) this was – my opinion – just the ticket. Unfortunately – my opinion – the American driver has been convinced by Car & Driver (and car commercials) that he must have a car ready and able to tackle the Nurburgring, or at least its facsimile stateside – even though he rarely drives faster than 80 on the highway and usually takes every corner below the posted speed limit.

The few drivers who really do drive the way you see in the commercials – or at press events, like the Car & Driver people (and like me) don’t buy cars like the 200 anyway. They buy (wait for it) BMWs… .

Ah well. It’s ridiculous – and wasteful – but it’s also just the way it is.

And it means the 200 is firmer riding than the Sebring – which was accomplished by tweaking/modifying the underthings to deliver a car that feels more confident when pushed and driven faster. So, for example, even base models now come with 17 inch wheels (vs. 16 inch wheels on the 2010 Sebring) with more aggressive tires. Cornering capability and steering response (sharpness) is improved. You will notice it if you drive the car at a faster pace. But if you don’t, you won’t notice much change – except in the form of the firmer ride quality.

It depends what you want, I guess.

I’m just a little sad to see another comfortable cruiser succumb to the silly fad we call “sportiness.” Do we buy “firm-riding” mattresses and TV room furniture? Yeah, I know – they’re just for sitting and sleeping and watching. Well, we mostly do at least two of the former in our cars a lot more than we do corner carving down deserted Mulholland Drives.

But, tell it to Car & Driver… .

AT THE CURB

There’s nothing objectionable-looking about this car and more to the point, it no longer looks like a refugee from the late Clinton years – like the Sebring did. New projector beam headlight assemblies up front and almost-Audi LED tail lights out back punctuate a proportionate, handsome shell. Some of the previous art-deco styling cues (like the winged Chrysler badge) remain but they are more in the background now and fit the car (and the times) better.

Inside, the refit from Sebring to 200 includes higher quality materials and what seems to be better build quality/fitment of the bits and pieces. There are also nice details such as aquamarine backlighting for the gauges and iPod hook-up, which you’ll find at thebottomof the center stack, just ahead of the shifter level.

But the main thing the Sebring offers that other mid-size cars in this price range don’t is the option of going topless – and doing so without giving up the everyday usefulness of four real, adult-friendly seats.

The Malibu and Sonata/Optima only come as sedans. Toyota dropped the Camry Solara. The Accord is available as a two-door coupe – but not as a convertible.

There are other convertibles on the market but they’re either two-seaters, or might-as-well-be-two-seaters with back seats more suitable for groceries than people. But the 200 convertible – like the Sebring – is a genuine four (even five) person ride and that is something you won’t find anywhere else to the left of $30k (or even $40k) and so gives the Chrysler at least one very strong hand to play against the competition.

In fact, if you want a convertible, need four real seats – and don’t want to pay over $30k, the 200 is pretty much your only choice.

Previously, when the 200 was the Sebring, this was the main reason people – as opposed to rental fleets – chose to buy this car. It’s still a solid reason. And now that the car has an excellent optional engine, an updated exterior and interior, it’s an easier choice to make, too.

THE REST

If I were the Chrysler Decider (well, the Fiat Decider), I’d have given the 200 a better standard warranty. The same three year/36,000 mile coverage the old Sebring had carries over to the new 200. Given Chrysler’s less-than-great track record in the past and its who-knows-what’s-going-to-happen prospects down the road, a better warranty would probably help the 200 attract (and convince) more buyers. It’s true that Honda and Toyota aren’t offering better coverage – but the fact is they don’t need to. People trust those brands, based on the record of past performance. The hungry newbies like Kia and Hyundai, meanwhile, understand the case they have to make and offer ten-year, 100,000 mile coverages on their powertrains and five-year, 60,000 mile warranties on the whole car.

On the upside, my bet is you could haggle yourself a helluva deal on a 200 while you’re probably looking at full MSRP sticker for a Toyota or Honda – and maybe even on a Kia or Hyundai, too.

So, maybe it all works out… .

THE BOTTOM LINE

The update will help sell the 200 sedan to other-than-rental-fleets while the convertible 200 still sells itself pretty well, even without the changes – but more so now that it’s actually a pretty nice car, inside and out.

Throw it in the Woods?

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I appreciate the honest review of the Chrysler 200. I liked what I saw in the dealship and after taking one (4 banger/6 spd auto) for a long drive, I took the plunge and bought one. They were offering great incentives and when comparing this 200 to the compition insofar as standard features (Touring), it was the best value.
    So far I am pleased I purchased the car. The thing I find most amusing is for as much as most of the automotive “experts” panned the 200 every owner (including those who own a 2011 model)I’ve talked to absolutely love their car. I myself am quite pleased with it. As for reliability, only time will tell.

    • Hi Rick,

      I try my best to be fair – to put the cars I review in context and to keep my own subjective likes/dislikes out of it (or at least, admit they are my subjective likes/dislikes). I think one of the reasons many car journalists like me pan the car is because we’ve sampled so many others. It’s not that the 200 is a bad car; it’s more that there are so many outstanding ones on the market right now.

      But the important thing is that you’re happy with the car.

      Welcome to the site!

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