NAPA, Calif.--Ask Ben Winter what he is most proud of on the 2011 Chrysler 200 sedan, and he replies without hesitation.
"It's what we've done with the NVH," said Winter, Chrysler Group vehicle line executive for minivans and midsize vehicles. That's noise, vibration, and harshness--engineer-speak for how quiet a car is.
Winter and his colleagues took the midsize Chrysler Sebring, a car described by Consumer Reports magazine as "noisy and unrefined," and transformed it into a sedan, now called the 200, in which passengers can converse without raising their voices
The Sebring's rebirth as the 200 is a result of a yearlong engineering full-court press at Chrysler to work on its widely criticized current lineup.
The engineering staff reworked parts or all of 16 vehicles, improving suspensions, NVH, and power trains. Designers updated the exteriors and redid interiors in response to critics who had labeled them cheap.
Four on road; more coming
Of the 16, the Jeep Liberty, the Grand Cherokee, the Wrangler, and the Ram HD Chassis Cabs are already on the road. The Jeep Patriot is hitting showrooms this month.
Coming late this year or next year are the Jeep Compass; the Dodge Durango, Charger, Avenger, Grand Caravan, Journey and Challenger; the Chrysler 200, Town and Country and 300; and the Fiat 500.
CEO Sergio Marchionne ordered the changes to tide the automaker over until new vehicles based on Fiat platforms arrive in 2012 and 2013.
For the 200, engineers used 45 sound-deadening techniques to make the new sedan quieter than the Sebring, Winter said in an interview here at the 200 media launch.
The acoustic changes were a small part of the numerous design and engineering modifications to the Sebring. Chrysler changed the car's name to the 200, and hopes it will compete more successfully with the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord.
Through 10 months this year, Toyota sold 275,844 Camrys, while Chrysler sold 35,827 Sebrings.
Measured on an "articulation index" that Chrysler uses to gauge how easy it is to hold a conversation inside the car, the 200 improves 9 percent over the Sebring, Winter said. The measurement includes road, wind, and power train noise, all of which intruded into the Sebring's cabin.
The changes include a new sound-deadening windshield, laminated side glass, new three-point engine mounts to isolate low-end power train growl, a retuned exhaust and sound-absorbing foam throughout.
New V-6, too
The 200 also gets Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6 engine, which is more refined than the previous V-6. Four-cylinder versions of the 200 get a six-speed automatic, which is quieter than the four-speed automatic offered on the Sebring. That four-speed automatic is still available on low-end versions of the 200.
The 200's sibling, the Dodge Avenger, also benefited from the same modifications. The redesign and re-engineering of the Sebring/200 took a year, a very rapid timetable for such a project.
"We knew we could do it," Winter said, "but would anybody notice? We concluded we wanted people to notice."
(Source: Automotive News)