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.
Things are different with the new 2015 Chrysler 200C. The new model makes a great first impression with its slick, updated look. It continues to wow both drivers and passengers with a plethora of cool convenience features like available automatic parallel and perpendicular parking, while bringing to the table a healthy amount of well-thought-out dashboard tech.
The new 200's chassis is based on one from Alfa Romeo, 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. The profile reminds me of the Volkswagen CC, and its curves evoke those of the Hyundai Elantra. 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 pretty exciting.
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 grille, which, in turn, flows into the integral headlamps with LED daytime running lights.
Better interior, better tech
In the cabin, the 200 sees a bump in interior materials and build quality that should elevate fully loaded examples above the previous model's "rental car" status. 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 mid-20s to low-30s price point.
The seats of our top tier model's are 8-way power adjustable seats are comfortable for cruising and longer trips, but lacked much lateral support when cornering. This is our first indicator that, despite its sporty looks, the 200C may not be a particularly sporty car, but we'll get back to that.
One of the most interesting changes for the 2015 model year is the change to a rotary E-Shifter for the transmission. This twistable knob -- similar to that of the Jaguar XF, but without the motorized drama -- was designed to free up 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 the power and USB ports within.
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 on 200 "C" models is a 7-inch LCD integrated between the analog gauges of the instrument cluster. We've enjoyed similar tech in the Chrysler 300 and the new Jeep Cherokee, and it's just as good here.
Interestingly, our 200C's 8.4-inch UConnect system lacked a CD player, instead doubling down on USB ports, Bluetooth features, and app integration. Some drivers may lament the lack of physical media, but I honestly didn't even notice the drive was missing until the last day of my testing.
Standout features include the excellent Garmin-powered navigation software that is both well-organized and features great voice input for destinations. I liked saving time by just blurting out the entire address -- like "navigate to fifty-ninety-eight Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, California" -- in one go.
The optional Alpine 10-speaker, 506-watt premium audio system is also noteworthy for its power. Clarity is good, but the bass is almost too powerful and pronounced. This is the only car stereo in recent memory where I've actually had to turn the bass down when listening to hip-hop or electronica. For fans of the bump and the boom, this could be a very good thing.
The dashboard tech improvements are good, but the 200's crowd-pleasing feature is its ability to automatically park itself. 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.
After touching a dashboard button to activate the park sensing feature, the driver simply drives forward slowly while the 200 uses its sonar sensors to scan the vehicles along the side of the road, looking for a space between them into which it can fit. When a space is found, a graphic on the digital instrument cluster notifies the driver to stop the car, let go of the steering wheel, and shift the transmission into reverse. At this point, the car's computers take over the electric power steering while you control the throttle and brakes and the car is guided into the space automatically. It's all very cool.
Tapping the "OK" button on the steering wheel toggles the Active Park Assist feature between its parallel and perpendicular parking modes, allowing it to back into more common side-by-side spaces in parking lots. I found that the parallel parking system worked better and faster than the perpendicular mode, but both systems got the job done without incident.
The Active Park Assist comes as part of a SafetyTec package that also includes the automaker's full roster of driver-aid and safety features, including blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, full speed range adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance that uses the electric power steering to actively help keep the car from drifting out of its lane, and precollision braking system. The precollision system automatically grabs the brakes when the system detects that an imminent forward collision or, when reversing, engages the brakes when crossing traffic is detected or a pedestrian walks into the vehicle's path.
Two engines, nine 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, and which I wasn't able to test. The other option, featured on our example, is the returning 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with a stated output of 295 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque -- that's up 2 pound-feet of torque and 12 horsepower from last year's. It's a meager upgrade, but still a reasonable amount of power for the midsize sedan.
Both engines will mate with a standard 9-speed automatic transmission, which the driver controls with a rotary E-Shifter knob from the cabin, but their gear ratios are different. Aerodynamic, transmission, and tuning tweaks for this 2015 Chrysler 200C should net this front-driven 3.6-liter model a claimed 19 city, 32 highway, and 23 combined mpg. I managed an average of 21.5 mpg over the course of my shared testing with my fellow editors and crew.
Our model also features metal paddle shifters for manual shifting and a Sport program that improves performance by limiting the gearbox to the lower five or six ratios, allowing the engine to more aggressively rev, and loosening stability control system's reins. Even so, our top-tier 200C feels better suited for the boulevard than its sporty looks and optional 19-inch wheels seem to indicate. The combination of wide seats that lack lateral support and a fairly soft suspension tune conspire to rob the 200C of any cornering fun and the too-many-speeds automatic transmission tends to sap the rest during daily driving.
In its standard configuration, the 200 sedan is a front-wheel-driver, but an optional all-wheel-drive system will soon be available. This on-demand system will be able to totally decouple the rear axle driveshaft when traction isn't needed at the rear wheels to reduce parasitic drag and fuel economy losses. When the system detects that it needs rear-axle torque, it can instantly and automatically re-engage the rears.
Pricing for the new 2015 Chrysler 200 will start at $21,700 for the base LX model, but our top-tier 200C starts at $25,995, adding upgrades to the interior, exterior, and amenities along the way. Our example includes $1,950 to upgrade to the larger 3.6-liter engine, $1,395 for the 8.4-inch UConnect system and Alpine audio, $995 for 19-inch wheels, and $795 for HID headlamps with LED fogs and DRLs. We've also got $1,295 for the SafetyTec package, which adds all of the driver aid features and automatic parking in one go and is an absolute tech bargain.
That brings us to an as-tested price of $33,420 -- not bad at all.
It's better looking, better equipped, and a much more premium passenger car, but it's not perfect. I'm probably nitpicking here, but the trunk never closed on the first attempt; I always had to slam it again -- hard. And despite its new 9-speed automatic transmission, the 3.6-liter engine behind it is starting to show its age. I really wish Chrysler would give us a new, sporty four-cylinder turbo to go with the sedan's new, sporty looks rather than continuing to revise and patch up the old V-6. Even so, the 2015 Chrysler 200C is a dramatic improvement for this nameplate.
The 2015 200C isn't going to steal any potential drivers from the likes of the Audi or Mercedes-Benz, but at that price, it also doesn't really directly compete. Instead, it's theand that need to keep a close eye on what Chrysler's doing. The ILX is probably a better driver than the 200C with its Honda Civic Si underpinnings and handling, but the 200C is packing some serious tech and amenities that blow away the competition.
The 2015 Chrysler 200C is, so far, available in only in the US.
|Model||2015 Chrysler 200 sedan|
|Powertrain||3.6-liter V-6, 9-speed automatic transmission, FWD|
|EPA fuel economy||19 city, 32 highway, 23 city mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||21.5 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional 8.4 UConnect infotainment with voice command and traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with messaging|
|Digital audio sources||2x USB ports with iPod connectivity, HD Radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, UConnect apps|
|Audio system||10-speaker Alpine premium audio (optional)|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear camera with cross-traffic alert, precollision braking, automatic parallel and perpendicular parking, front and rear proximity parking aids|
|Price as tested||$33,420|