Chrysler never had a world-class mid-size sedan. Period. If you wish to differ, we can argue the fine points of the K-Car-derived LeBaron, cab-forward Cirrus, or dud Sebring (both generations). After merging with Fiat, the Chrysler team fixed most quirks to evolve the second-gen Sebring into the quite decent 200. An all-new 200 for 2015 proves Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is finally serious.
Most of those cars were unworthy to suck a Honda’s tail fumes, but they weren’t ugly. OK, the LeBaron bordered on Baroque, but the Cirrus won acclaim two decades ago. And, the last 200S was rather handsome as a sporty starting point. But, the new 200 is sculpted and preened in ways no Chrysler has been since the Airflow.
While Chrysler will have you thinking the 200 is an American take on the modern sport sedan, it is actually an American-Italian take on trends started by BMW a decade ago and taken to their recent zenith by the Ford Fusion. As a sculpture, it’s beautiful with pinched nose, broad shoulders, and high streamlined rump—all finessed for fuel-saving aerodynamics.
Planted under those shoulders are 19-inch Hyper Black alloy wheels. I didn’t care for the narrow grille and headlamps at first, but they’re growing on me. Adding in LED running lamps helped. From the rear, she’s gorgeous. I’m a big fan of the light claytastic Ceramic Blue Clear Coat paint on our test car.
I’d also check the heated and cooled blue leather sport seats in our test car. I mean, when was the last time you saw an American family car with blue leather seats? Love them. I’m also a big fan of Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen that has large icons for each function and is easy enough for a blind daffodil to command.
The 200’s fly-bridge center console puts redundant audio/climate controls and rotary gear selector in a pod beneath the dashboard a la Jaguar. Dash and doors were accented with blue metalgrain. Slide the cupholders back to reveal a deep console with pass-through for USB connections. It’s as functional as a mini-van and elegant as a pretentious Brit.
Powertrains are somewhere between. Base 200s come with a 2.4 L 4-cylinder engine that delivers 185 hp and 36 mpg hwy, but our test car came with the much more spirited 3.6 L V6 that kicks it with 295 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Paired with AWD (recommended, unless you like riding wild stallions), fuel economy is rated 18/29 mpg city/hwy.
That’s partly due to the smooth body, but more from the paddle-shifted 9-speed automatic transmission and automatically-disconnecting rear axle (removes friction, improves MPGs). Stomp on it often to feel the brisk power and to hear exhaust that seduces ears like a trio of tenors.
Those engines route power through a chassis that leaves the old 200 feeling sad. The basic vehicle architecture is shared with other mid-size Fiat and Alfa Romeo products, heavily based on the Jeep Cherokee and Fiat 500L platforms.
The car feels European if still a little clunky. Rough pavement is dispensed with a hushed rumble. Twist the gear selector to “S” for firmer steering and more aggressive settings for the throttle, transmission, stability control, and AWD.
Despite a plethora of Fiat engineering, the 200 will truly be “Imported from Detroit”. Chrysler invested $1 billion in its Sterling Heights, Michigan, assembly plant for a state-of-the-art paint shop, robotic body shop, and other upgrades.
This should allow the 200 to be a much better-looking and better-fitting sedan. Beyond offering an exquisite finish, the paint shop is also environmentally-friendly.
Let’s just be honest; it wasn’t difficult to create a better car than the last-generation Chrysler 200. The Sebring it was based upon was hampered by a herd of Daimler engineers and cost cutters who knew nothing about building a sedan below $30,000. Doors wouldn’t fit and the interior was too cheap to get arrested. It was never bound to be a great car.
But the new 200? It has the chops to clobber all comers.
A base price of $21,995 or $35,140 as-tested puts the 200S against the Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, and VW Passat. None offer the 200’s combination of American swagger, Italian pedigree, and globe-spanning engineering.
2015 Chrysler 200S
Five-passenger, FWD Sedan
Powertrain: 295 hp 3.6 L V6, 9-spd auto trans
Suspension fr/rr: Ind/Ind
Wheels: 19-inch/19-inch alloy fr/rr
Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr
Must-have features: Style, performance
Fuel economy: 18/29 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Sterling Heights, Mich.
Base/as-tested price: $21,995/$35,140