First Drive: 2015 Chrysler 200

Chrysler finally gets into the (midsize) game.

by on Mar.20, 2014

Chrysler is looking to make inroads into the competitive midsize market segment with the news 2015 Chrysler 200.

Anyone looking for a midsize car has a wealth of choices from a wide variety of carmakers which have brought some very good options to U.S. showrooms in recent years.

Now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has entered the competition with a very good alternative that could provide an unexpected challenge to such formidable rivals as the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, and Chevrolet Malibu, never mind the midsize segment-leading Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

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For those familiar with the old Chrysler 200 – or worse, the old Sebring – the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 that made its debut at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year is likely to come as a very big surprise. Start with its distinctive exterior styling – which harkens back to the era, two decades ago, when Chrysler routinely set the industry agenda when it came to design.

The Chrysler 200 uses the company's new nine-speed transmission to deliver power and fuel economy.

The 2015 Chrysler 200 isn’t just another aero-swept sedan, but one with a very distinctive look that draws on American icons, such as the Airstream trailer, for its inspiration. It features a strong face – enhanced with LED daytime running lights and LED fog lamps – a nicely shaped and muscular hood and continues to be a standout right through the character lines that run down the sides to the rear quarter panels.

The overall character of the new Chrysler 200 shows through whether it’s in motion or parked at a curb as the light and shadow play over the exterior surfaces and strong silhouette.

Chrysler, of course, has a tradition of interesting designs and no one has questioned the company’s ability to produce stylishly handsome exteriors. Over the years, however, Chrysler has undermined its exteriors by pairing them with boring interiors of relatively poor quality. At times, it seemed Chrysler’s corporate parent had cornered the market on cheap plastic.

Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat Chrysler’s chief executive, set out to change all that a few years back, as we’ve already begun to see on new models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and even the lower-end Dodge Dart. But it’s really apparent on the new Chrysler 200, which has banished the cheap plastic, replacing it with the sort of upscale materials – and elegantly appointed details – one might expect from a more expensive European luxury sedan.

The new Chrysler 200 features several engine variations that improved mileage.

There’s genuine wood veneer and soft touch material used everywhere. The gauges and data screens are not only easy to read and use but a delight to look at, and the controls are strategically placed on the steering wheel or the center stack. Since the 2015 Chrysler 200 doesn’t have paddle shifters redundant volume control buttons are on back of the large steering wheel.

The visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent, the seats are quite comfortable and the cabin is very, very quiet, another notable improvement over midsize Chrysler models of the past. I don’t have the hard data to prove the point, but from a purely subjective opinion it seemed quieter than most every other car in a segment where controlling noise and vibration has been a major objective.

The powertrain in the front-wheel-drive Chrysler 200 is also very sophisticated. The 200 is the first midsize sedan to get a fuel-saving nine-speed automatic transmission, which is combined with the standard 2.4-liter “Tigershark” engine to produce 184 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque. That base package is expected to deliver a combined city and highway driving rating of 35 miles per gallon from the EPA.

The nine speed transmission delayed the launch of Jeep Cherokee, but the teething problems seemed to have been resolved with the introduction of the 200.

The interior of the new Chrysler 200 is a departure from the cheap plastic cabins of the past.

The optional 3.6-liter V-6 Pentastar engine, which produces 295 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, is also paired with the nine-speed. But buyers also can opt for an all-wheel-drive package. The fuel economy penalty for AWD is surprisingly small, in part, due to the use of a slick new system that can reduce frictional losses by disconnecting the driveshaft to the rear wheels when there’s no need to send torque to the back.

The V-6 option will likely please that small niche of midsize buyers who want maximum performance and will give the Chrysler 200 a potential leg up over competing models – such as the Hyundai Sonata – for which the only option is either a normally aspirated or turbocharged four. That said, the 2.4-liter Tigershark, coupled with the smooth-shifting nine-speed had plenty of spunk and adequate power for everyday driving chores. It also had firm grip on the road even without all-wheel-drive.

(BMW strives for 100,000 electric vehicles annually by 2020. For more, Click Here.)

The Chrysler 200 rides on a platform that was originally designed by Alfa-Romeo but widened for American roads and tastes. The ride has been softened some, so it’s not as taut as that found on a European sports sedan, but it feels right here. The electric power-assisted steering  is also very accurate, if a little light. The new 200’s brakes have more than enough stopping power.

The gauges and data screens are not only easy to read and use but stylishly designed.

Passengers are protected with a combination of high-strength steels, as well as eight airbags and active safety features, such as electronic stability control and antilock brakes. In addition there’s an array of optional, active safety features such as adaptive cruise control, full-speed collision warning system, lane departure warning, park assist, blind spot monitoring and the increasingly popular back-up camera.

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The Uconnect system, which is relatively quick and easy to use, is also available on the Chrysler 200 either as an option or as standard equipment on higher trim levels.

Pricing for the 2015 Chrysler 200 starts at $21,700, which is $95 less than the previous generation of the 200, and the base price doesn’t include the $995 shipping charge. The car is available in four different trim levels, the base or LX model with the 2.4-liter engine, the Limited, Chrysler 2002 and the top-of-the line 200C, which starts at $26,995 without the V6 or AWD.

The 200 Limited comes with halogen headlamps, acoustic glass on the front doors, Uconnect, power front driver and passenger seats, as well as 17-inch aluminum wheels, map light and compass.

Up until now, the smallest of the Detroit makers has been largely shut out of the midsize segment, the largest in the American automotive market. But the introduction of the 2015 Chrysler 200 could easily change the dynamics in a piece of the market long ruled by Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

(To see Mazda’s marketing plan for the Miata’s 25th at the New York Auto Show, Click Here.)

The only thing holding back the Chrysler 200 is the lingering skepticism about the car’s quality, reliability and durability, which customers in this segment traditionally take very seriously. The quality of Chrysler vehicles is improving but Rome wasn’t built in a day. The maker will have to prove it can build with the best, something that we’ll be watching for closely in third-party surveys over the next several years.

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4 Responses to “First Drive: 2015 Chrysler 200”

  1. Jorge M. says:

    So we have another Fiat/Alfa chassis with a Chrysler styled exterior shell – just as predicted.

    BTW, I highly doubt that the Airstream trailer design has anything to do with this quirky body styling of the new 200.

    The powertrain is the best part of this vehicle from what I see.

  2. Mike says:

    I like that it is very quiet. I have a 2012 300 and that is my favorite feature.
    EPA rating for highway mileage on my car is 31mpg. Why is it the same on the lighter weight, more aerodynamic 200, when it has the same engine and an extra gear?

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Good question, Mike. We’ll try to get a clear answer.

  3. Jorge M. says:

    The mpg is determined by running the EPA mandated test cycle – which unfortunately isn’t 100% accurate as we have seen with some models being over-rated and some being under-rated. In addition it has been documented that driving styles can alter the mpg as much as 30%.

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