If we gave "most improved" awards at these car shows, I'd be slapping one on this Chrysler's hood right now. If it were a Drake song, it'd be "Started from the Bottom (Now We're Here)."
You see, I was never a fan of the old Chrysler 200. My first impression of the model (back when it was still called the Sebring) was a poor one, and it never managed to win me over. Even with many small improvements over the model's lifetime, the 200 always felt like the sort of car that was designed from the ground up as a cheap car with a few nice features, that it was destined to be a rental car.
Today, at the 2014 Detroit auto show, the "200" nameplate gets a new lease on life with the unveiling of the totally redesigned 2015 Chrysler 200S and 200C. The new model looks fantastic and should boast a plethora of performance, technology, and efficiency improvements.
The new 200's chassis is based on an Alfa Romeo chassis, but the American design reminds me of an enlarged variant of the Dodge Dart, another attractive Chrysler Group model that is also based on Italian underpinnings.
The new 200 is more curvaceous and more care has been taken to aerodynamically shape the sedan's profile. The result is a more coupe-like silhouette that is, at the very least, 1,000 percent better looking than the doughy, outgoing model.
Around back, standard LED tail lights wrap around the corners, and up front we have the new corporate face of the Chrysler brand. The wider, redesigned Chrysler wing badge floats over the honeycomb grill which, in turn, flows into the integral headlamps with LED daytime running lights.
If you ask me, this new fascia looks quite a bit like the third-generation Subaru Impreza's face, and and I'm sure some commenters are already poised to point out how profile reminds them of the Volkswagen CC. Nonetheless, the elements work well together to create a cohesive and attractive design. As an indicator of the future of Chrysler vehicle design, the new 200 is exciting.
Two engines, 9 speeds
The new 200 will be available with two engine options. The first is the automaker's Tigershark 2.4-liter four-banger which outputs 184 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque. The other option is the returning 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with a stated output of 295 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.
Both engines will mate with a standard 9-speed automatic transmission, which the driver controls with a rotary E-Shifter knob from the cabin. The sportier 200S will have a specially tuned 'Sport' shifting program that should give it a performance edge over the 200C. The S also benefits from paddle shifters and a sport-tuned suspension to go along with its styling upgrades (gloss black trim, dual exhaust tips, and so on).
In its standard configuration, the 200 sedan is a front-wheel driver, but an optional all-wheel drive system is available. This on-demand system that is able to totally decouple the rear axle driveshaft when traction isn't needed at the rear wheels to reduce parasitic drag and increase fuel economy. When the system detects that it needs rear axle torque, it can instantly and automatically re-engage the rears.
Chrysler estimates 35 mpg (presumably, that's a highway average) for the 2.4-liter, front-drive model. Aerodynamic, transmission, and tuning tweaks should also net the front-driven 3.6-liter model a claimed 7-percent increase, bumping it up to about 31 mpg highway.
Better interior materials
In the cabin, the 200 sees a bump in interior materials and build quality that should elevate the fully-loaded examples presented at the show above the current model's 'rental car' status. We'll have to wait to get one on the road to know for sure how quiet this cabin is, but the dashboard materials and touch points feel significantly improved. 'Premium' is the word that springs to mind to describe the cabin, but not 'luxury.' That may be fine at this price point.
Chrysler points to the move to a rotary E-Shifter to explain how it was able to free up a lot of space in the cabin. For starters, there's no shift lever to reach around, but the nonmechanical shifter also allowed the interior designers to create a device storage space below the floating center console with pass-throughs for connecting to power.
In the center of the dashboard is Chrysler's 8-inch UConnect infotainment system, which will be available with the full compliment of app integration, Wi-Fi hotspot, and 3D navigation features. Ahead of the driver is a 7-inch LCD integrated between the analog gauges of the instrument cluster.
The 200 will also be available with the automaker's full roster of driver aid and safety features, including blind spot and cross traffic alerts, forward collision detection and adaptive cruise control systems that are able to bring the car to a complete stop, and lane-keeping assistance that can actively help keep the car from drifting out of its lane.
Like its distant cousin, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, the new 200 is also available with a one-touch Active Park Assist system that can detect and steer the sedan into an available parallel or perpendicular parking spot.
Chrysler also took the opportunity at the unveiling to highlight a number of manufacturing improvements made possible thanks to a $1 billion investment in the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant where the 200 will be manufactured. Pricing for the new 2015 Chrysler 200 will start at $21,700 when it arrives at dealerships in the second quarter of this year.