2011 Chrysler 200
One of the enduring realities in the automobile business is the hype that accompanies a new model, along with the opprobrium heaped upon its pitiable predecessor.
The new car always is described as the greatest vehicle ever to come down the pike, while the previous model gets derided for its shortcomings or, at most, is condescendingly described as okay for its time but certainly not up to snuff.
That happened when Chrysler introduced its new Sebring sedan back in the summer of 2000. It replaced the previous Chrysler Cirrus and was described as, if not the be all and end all of Chrysler’s products, at least nearly the summit of engineering and design achievement.Sad to say, the Sebring flopped. It achieved only a fraction of the sales of competitors like the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion. In 2010, the Fusion outsold the Sebring by five to one and the Malibu bested it by four to one.
Now we’re hearing some of the same things about its replacement, the 2011 Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan, but likely this time with more justification.
With refashioned exterior styling and a classy new interior, the newly-named 200 bears little resemblance to its predecessor. However, it still competes in the largest and most competitive class in the industry: the mid-size family sedan, against the likes of the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen’s new mid-size sedan.
That’s tough company, especially because those brands have not been sitting around rusting. But the folks at Chrysler are convinced that the new 200 has the steel to run with the pack and perhaps pass some of the competition.
At its introduction, the 200 was one of just three nameplates in the Chrysler lineup. The others are the large 300 sedan and the new Town and Country minivan, which also has been the subject of substantial revamping. As the company settles in with its new owner, Fiat of Italy, other new vehicles are on the way.
The 2011 200 sports fresh styling, bumper to bumper, identified on the new grille by a winged badge that has been redesigned for a modern look. Styling, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But there’s little question that the 200 has a more upscale visage than last year’s Sebring.It also boasts a brand-new interior. This is part of a general trend in the industry as designers—and even the bean counters—have come to realize that customers spend more time experiencing their surroundings inside than gazing at the outside. The exterior is still important because nobody buys a car he or she thinks is ugly, but the interior looms ever larger in buying decisions.
On the 200, the driver and passengers are surrounded by soft-touch materials on the dash and doors, including armrests that cushion the elbows. The tilt-and-telescope steering wheel incorporates remote controls for the audio system, telephone and cruise control. Instruments are large, easy to read and set off by chrome bezels.
Redesigned front bucket seats delivered comfort with good back support for long-distance touring. On the test car, they were covered in a durable-looking and cozy cloth. Leather is available as an option. In back, adult-sized passengers in the outboard positions have plenty of knee and head room. As is usual in most cars, the center position, with its hard cushion and big floor hump, seems designed more for punishment.
The designers and engineers put a great deal of effort into minimizing noise in the passenger compartment by using acoustic glass and sound deadening materials. Despite that, the test car exhibited wind noise around the front doors at highway speeds. In fairness, the car was a pre-production model.
There are four versions of the 200: LX, Touring, Limited and S. All come with full safety equipment, including stability and traction control, side air bags and side-curtain air bags, antilock brakes, brake assist, active head restraints and tire-pressure monitoring.The test car was a Touring model with a starting price of $22,220, including the destination charge. It covered automatic climate control, satellite radio, 17-inch wheels, power driver’s seat, garage-door opener, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a trip computer. Options included the 283-horsepower V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode, Bluetooth voice command connectivity and a motorized glass sunroof, which brought the delivered price up to $26,140.
The V6, a new engine, has enough power to induce a bit of torque steer, that tugging at the steering wheel under hard acceleration around corners. Despite that, it delivers an EPA city/highway rating of 19/29 miles to the gallon of mid-grade 89-octane gasoline. The base engine, not driven for this test, is Chrysler’s familiar 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder.
With the V6 and an array of suspension system modifications, the new 200 delivered a fair tradeoff between good handling and a decent ride. The steering had heft and a solid straight-line feel. In corners, the 200 exhibited some under-steer, as might be expected in a front-drive car, but was controlled even at extra-legal speeds.