What is it? 2015 Chrysler 200
Price Range: $21,995 - $36,000
Pros: Markedly improved in the looks department over the outgoing model, both inside and out.
Cons: Sluggish gearbox; unless you’re willing to option to the higher “S” trim, the 200 is dynamically inferior to the best in the segment.
Would I buy it with my own money? At the lower price points, the car truly doesn’t drive well at all. It’s only when you step up the options — like adding all-wheel-drive and the 3.6-liter V-6 engine — that the car does some justice to its newly freshened appearance. At over $30,000 to get to that point, however, you’re entering into low-end BMW 3 Series money: Well-equipped 200 or an option-free 3er? You decide.
My first time driving the new 200 arrived during our Yahoo Autos Car of the Year testing almost a year ago. I remember it vividly: A lovely looking midsized sedan, an important car for Detroit, and a promise that Fiat Chrysler was to be a real player in this fiercely competitive segment. I wanted it to be good, but three minutes into my drive — having crested a handful of speed bumps in the parking lot — it was evidently clear that the new 200 was much of the same. I bounced down the road with the suspension refusing to settle. I then tried to accelerate out onto the main road, only the 9-speed automatic gearbox had apparently been bounced into a coma.
This was a relatively base 200, with the lower-rated 2.4-liter engine (something 70 percent of buyers will chose) and front-wheel-drive. I can honestly say I didn’t like it one bit. It felt like an “it’ll do” attitude had been employed; or their entire budget had been spent redesigning the damn thing no money was left over to invest in its driving capability.
I was wrong though. Sort of.
See, last week a shiny new 2015 Chrysler 200S AWD arrived on my driveway. It was fully optioned, stickering for almost $35,000. (That’s low-end BMW 3 Series money.) The big change is the engine: Replacing the 2.4 was the optional 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, good for 295 horsepower, 262 lb.-ft. of torque and a 0-60 mph time of around 6.0 seconds. It’s lovely, producing an angry exhaust note mixed with soft, creamy tones. It’s fast, too. And it pulls well at low revs. And with a “sport” mode on the transmission you can awaken the box from its coma into simply a mild doze.
To my surprise, it all works rather well, and I enjoyed driving the car a lot. The steering doesn’t boast a great deal of feel and the driving dynamics would be a stretch to be described as “sporty,” but it doesn’t bounce uncontrollably like the base model I tested; as if the suspension was so soft for compliance the engineers forgot to add damping to control it. In the 200S AWD, it feels relatively firm and poised — for a 3,811 lb. sedan.
The all-wheel-drive adds to the improved dynamics, although under most conditions it runs front-wheel-drive only, merely driving up to 60 percent of power to the rear wheels when it deems necessary. This helps maintain a city/highway EPA rating of 18/29 mpg.
The vented leather seats are some of the best lookers I’ve seen, and Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system one of the cleanest and simplest to use. I also had all the available tech one could ask for, such as keyless entry, heated steering wheel and blind-spot monitoring.
For a tick above the average new car sales price ($30,000), the 200S AWD is a solid deal. But when you do crest $30k, you’re positioning yourself against entry models from BMW, Mercedes and Audi. And you’d be a fool to consider a 200 over any of those, despite the lack of options you’d receive as standard from Germany without emptying your bank account further.
Yes, the 200 is a mixed bag. It can range from dreadful to decent based on a few key choices. In my eyes, you must option the V-6 and the all-wheel-drive. Which makes it expensive. Which limits its appeal.
However the midsized sedan segment is known for its beige-ness and the buyer’s inability to discern anything about the car beyond whether it looks pretty. In this case the base 200’s deficiencies are a non-issue, but I don’t care how little you know or care about cars — one bounce over a dreaded speed bump and a lower-trimmed 200 will leave you screaming bloody murder.