2015 Chrysler 200
Chrysler and Fiat come together to make a world-class American car…and succeed.
By Andrew Fields (aka lovemysantafe)
For the longest time, very few people actively sought a Chrysler 200 for their next car, be it for purchase or even getting stuck with one as a rental. The 200 was originally the Sebring sedan, renamed in 2007 and lightly restyled in 2010 but despite a name similar to the larger and far more popular 300, no amount of tweaking could disguise the fact that the 200 was woefully out of date. The interior was cramped, materials were painfully cheap and the whole car showed the age of a design penned during George W. Bush’s first term. Fiat-Chrysler patched up the original 200 as best they could while working on its replacement that came to market in June of last year. With styling reminiscent of the Chevrolet Impala after a rigorous regimen of P90X and a choice of four cylinder or V6 engines with front or all wheel drive, Chrysler had (and still does have) a lot riding on the 200’s chassis.
My four days with a 2015 200 Limited in Granite Crystal Metallic began in the dark at Baltimore-Washington Airport after two flights from Portland, Oregon had me traveling for twelve hours. I was so tired that the 200 was honestly the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day as it would be the final vehicle take me to my hotel across the state line in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At that point I just wanted to sleep so my initial impressions of the 200 were blurred by exhaustion and the first two hours I spent behind the wheel have been all but forgotten.
The next morning I began my first of three days in Pennsylvania right as the sun rose and after breakfast at Waffle House, I pointed the 200’s winged grille logo west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike towards the railroading town of Altoona. The 200 gobbled up the miles between Harrisburg and Altoona with ease and in that first day, the odometer tucked another 300 miles under its belt. I finished off the first tank of fuel having covered 460 miles but the range to empty display saying I could still do another 140.
One of the major points of concern or contention that owners and potential buyers of the 200 have is the 9-speed automatic transmission. Engineering a transmission with nine cogs is a massive undertaking and while there are some owners and reviewers that have been dissatisfied with its performance, I cannot say I’m one of them. The transmission can be a little slow and dim-witted at times, especially when shifting between drive and reverse. It can also be very hesitant to downshift as it seems programmed towards maximizing efficiency rather than performance. With that being said, I experienced none of the horror stories claimed by others. No slipping shifts, no lurching or grinding and this was in a rental car with 20,000 miles on the odometer. The only problem I had with the 9-speed ‘box the entire time I had it was a rough 3rd-to-4th shift when cold. As soon as the transmission came up to temperature, it was smooth as silk.
Performance from the 2.4 liter ‘Tigershark’ MultiAir four-cylinder engine was acceptable but few would describe it as quick. The engine idles smoothly but some vibration can be felt through the brake pedal when stopped at a red light. I only showed the right pedal the floor on one occasion when I got caught off guard by a short merge ramp ahead of me and a semi coming up fast on my left. The 2.4 revs freely and delivers its power smoothly and though it gets a little raspy towards the higher end of the rev band, it usually goes about its business without drawing any attention to itself. I think I’d sacrifice a few MPGs and have the ultimate sleeper in the 290-horsepower V6 model.
Chrysler interiors have tended to commit the sin of being comfortable and functional but with no effort made to hide where the cost cutting took place. In the 200, you get to have your cake and eat it, too. The 8-way power cloth driver’s seat is supportive where it matters but comfortable all over with four-way power lumbar adjustment being a nice surprise. The armrest is nicely padded but fore-aft adjustment of it would be greatly appreciated. The three-spoke steering wheel is leather wrapped (with optional heating on S and C trim levels) and very comfortable to grip on long freeway runs. All interior materials are of high-quality, feel great and, based on how mine survived its rental car treatment, will take any abuse you and your family can dish out. Driver controls take some getting used to but once you are, you’ll wonder why all cars aren’t laid out this way. I never quite warmed to the rotary dial shift selector, primarily because I missed having somewhere to rest my hand while on the road and less so due to the fact that I would occasionally grab the fan control knob instead of shifting into reverse. If the dial were higher up on the dash, it would be perfect.
On my final evening with the 200, I finally found a way to sum up the car and it was at that point that I began to realize just what a wonderful packaging job Chrysler has done with it. We continually hear that full-size cars are dying in America and cars like the 200 are why. I usually find myself in four or five rental cars per year and the 200 is by far the best highway car I’ve driven, period. When given an open stretch of highway, the 200 feels more in its element than Michael Phelps does at swim practice. It hunkers down and tracks like it’s on rails, gobbling up miles like no other car I’ve ever driven. It’s hardly flustered by ruts, grooved pavement or frost heaves that pockmark the roads of the east coast and if you’re brave enough to take your hands off the wheel, it will continue down the middle of the lane for so long you’ll think it’s autonomous. Not only that but the trunk is enormous, it can do 500+ miles on a tank and I routinely exceeded the EPA highway rating of 36 MPG without trying, sometimes by as much as ten percent. As I returned to my hotel in Harrisburg after dinner with a friend in Allentown, I told myself that if I had to drive all the way home to Oregon instead of fly, the 200 would be my first choice.
Complaints I have about the car are few and, in the grand scheme of things, insignificant for most. The smart key system works great but the only access button for locking and unlocking resides on the driver’s door. Even my Elantra has an access button on the passenger side so there’s no excuse for Chrysler to omit one here. Rear seat access is an absolute joke due the sloping roofline and the position of the rear wheels and the headlights are on the weak side, even when using the high beams. Finally, the center console armrest was starting to develop divots where other renters had used it. You could see but not feel them and as I’m not sure what sort of (mis)use caused the divots, I won’t hold it against the car.
Despite these little niggles, as I dropped the car off in the Hertz return line I found myself missing the gray Chrysler already. I requested the 200 out of curiosity, expecting to be disappointed but now, I find myself fighting the urge to order a 200C in Vivid Blue with the Mocha leather interior and I’ve never considered a Chrysler product…ever. The car is that good. ●
The Good: Excellent road manners, handsome styling inside and out, gargantuan trunk, superb fuel mileage with bladder-bursting range, controls fall easily to hand, excellent value for the money.
The Bad: Rear seat access acceptable only for gymnasts, rotary dial shifter still odd, headlights brought to you by candles.
The Big Picture: A first-class choice for crossing state lines in a single bound, the 200 is proof that America can still make a world-class highway cruiser.