Chrysler trumpets Motown's resilience in a commercial featuring the 200. Then, Detroit News critic Scott Burgess resigns after editors asked him, at an advertiser's request, to tone down his scathing review of the car. (The paper apologized; he returned.) A city's image? A newspaper's reputation? That's a lot of baggage for one midsize sedan.
Appearance: The 200 is a reboot of the much-maligned Sebring, so it's not an entirely new car. Still, it's an improvement over that car and its ribbed hood. Elsewhere, the 200 looks more like a mash-up of everyone else's midsize ride: a little Accord here, a dash of Sonata there. It's not that the 200 is a bad-looking car — it's just that it feels like a stop-gap effort to exorcise the ghosts of Sebrings past. (We do like its sharp, elongated LED headlights, which are worth keeping when an all-new successor rolls out.)
Performance: Our tester was the Touring model, which came, thankfully, with Chrysler's new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. (The base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder comes with a four-speed. Who even uses four speeds any more?) The six-cylinder has a spirited 283-horsepower. The front-wheel drive 200's ride is comfortable and the handling composed — we didn't notice much in the way of torque steer. Our tester had stability control and traction control, as well as ABS. Overall, the driving feel is one of competence, if not excitement.
Interior: Like some other recent Chrysler vehicles we've driven, the 200 shows a real improvement in the cabin, especially in fit, finish and materials. (We didn't see any loose panels or jutting trims.) Lyra liked the elegant lines of the soft-touch dash, although we both found some controls — like the AC dials — plasticky. Peter liked the placement of the mp3 connection and 12-volt outlet beneath those climate controls, as well as the layout of the center console, which is anchored by a 6.5-inch touchscreen. (The console has a shiny black finish, which is a fingerprint magnet.) Our Touring tester had cloth seats, which were comfortable, if on the firm side. The light interior colors made the cabin bright and airy. We also found it to be quiet; Chrysler obviously has worked to improve the interior's sound-deadening materials. Peter had adequate head and legroom, and his teenage passengers found the same in the rear seats, which fold down for pass-through storage. The 200 also has a decent-sized trunk.
Our 3 favorites
Wheels: The 17-inch alloys provide a dash of sportiness.
Console: The layout is simple and intuitive.
Badging: I like the redesigned Chrysler badge; too bad it kind of gets lost on the grille.
Ambient lighting: Blue, my favorite color.
Seats: Firm and comfortable. Not mushy.
Armrest: Slides forward to accommodate shorter drivers who need to move up the driver's seat.
The bottom line: We weren't wowed by the 200. Lyra thought it would make a good rental car, while Peter allows that it's just a first step to Chrysler (and its Fiat overlords) one day having a real competitor in the midsize sedan class.