G. Chambers Williams

All-new Chrysler 200 sedan designed to compete in crowded midsize segment

Completely redesigned for 2015, the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan starts at $21,995, and comes in a variety of trim levels. This is the 200C, which starts at $26,225.
Completely redesigned for 2015, the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan starts at $21,995, and comes in a variety of trim levels. This is the 200C, which starts at $26,225. Submitted photos/Fiat Chrysler Automotive

Chrysler may finally have gotten the midsize sedan right.

After years of creating cars in the most-popular vehicle class that were so dull that they were mostly relegated to rental-car fleets, the automaker now has a credible entry in the segment: the 2015 Chrysler 200.

While many of us have already sung the praises of the big Chrysler sedans – the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger – we’ve been hard-pressed to say much positive about the previous midsize entries from the company, including the 200 (formerly the Sebring) and the Dodge Avenger.

With the complete redesign of the Chrysler 200 for 2015, the automaker dropped the Avenger, although it kept the Charger in the Dodge lineup. The new Fiat Chrysler Automotive’s boss, Sergio Marchionne, wants to differentiate the Chrysler brands, and intends for Dodge to be known for its performance cars. In that respect, the Charger and its first cousin, the Challenger coupe, fit the image, but the Avenger would not.

I’m not sure where that leaves the Dodge Dart, which is a Fiat-based compact car introduced a couple of years ago that’s doing fairly well in the marketplace.

But going forward, at least for now, the Chrysler 200 will be the company’s midsize sedan entry, competing head to head against the likes of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima among the import brands, and the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Focus and Buick Regal among the Detroit competitors.

Prices start at $21,995 (plus $995 freight) for the base LX model. Other trim levels include the Limited ($23,950); S ($25,170) and S All-Wheel-Drive ($29,370; and C ($26,225) and C All-Wheel-Drive ($30,825), the top of the line.

So what’s so great about the new Chrysler 200 that makes it a likely key player in the segment? It’s hard to put a finger on any one aspect, as the entire car has been so carefully crafted and engineered to make the vehicle quite compelling.

But because looks are important, it’s easy to see from first glance that Chrysler’s designers were given a free hand to create an exterior that sets the 200 apart from the cookie-cutter styling of so many of the stalwarts in this class (think Camry, Accord).

While both Toyota and Honda have been stepping up their design efforts lately to give the Camry and Accord more curb appeal, especially with such strong design competition from rivals such as the Altima and Focus, the all-new Chrysler 200 is arguably the nicest-looking car in the pack.

It’s elegant without being ostentatious, looking like a luxury vehicle not from the old-school Detroit vein, but in the context of a Mercedes, BMW or Infiniti.

And it’s not just the exterior; the car is beautiful inside, as well. Chrysler refers to the car’s "understated, simple elegance," and touts its craftsmanship, which is in part achieved through the use of high-quality materials throughout.

There are performance and technology features that help build on the 200’s good looks, though, giving it more than just a great appearance.

For instance, it has the first standard nine-speed automatic transmission in its segment, which allows it to boast EPA ratings of up to 36 mpg from its base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.

Also rare in its class is the available all-wheel-drive system, which comes with an automatic-disconnecting rear axle, which helps to improve fuel economy – something that almost always suffers with all-wheel drive versus two-wheel drive.’

There are two engine choices: the standard 2.4-liter MultiAir2 Tigershark inline four-cylinder, with 184 horsepower and 173 foot-pounds of torque; and the optional 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 – the same one used in the Charger and a variety of other Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge vehicles, with 295 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque.

With the four-cylinder comes the engine stop-start system, a feature pioneered on hybrid cars. It automatically stops the engine when the car comes to a halt at, say, a traffic signal, and restarts seamlessly when the driver takes his foot off the brake. It saves gas but eliminating idling of the engine while paused in traffic.

The car comes with a rotary shifter mounted on the center console just below the heating and air conditioning controls, and right next to the switch for the electronic parking brake.

Speaking of the center console, it’s a cool design that includes a covered charging station for your phones and other gadgets, and two usable cupholders.

I found the front bucket seats to be not only well-crafted, but quite comfortable, even for a long interstate trip. Even the rear-seat passengers can ride in comfort, with plenty of leg- and knee room, especially if only two are riding back there. A drop-down center armrest provides two cupholders for the rear passengers when there is no one riding in the middle.

Our tester was the 200C front-drive model (base price $26,225), which came with a bunch of options that ran the total sticker price to $35,285, including freight.

It came with the beautiful Lunar White Tri-Coat exterior paint ($595 extra), and a black leather interior – part of the Premium Group ($995), which besides leather brought ventilated front seats, luxury door trim panels, a 115-volt power outlet, memory for the external mirrors/driver’s seat/radio, heated two-tone steering wheel, and wood and bronze interior accents.

We also had the Customer Preferred Package ($1,295), which added advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning, blind-spot and cross-path traffic detection, and parallel and perpendicular parking assist.

For $1,395, we got the Navigation and Sound Group, which tacked on a navigation system, premium audio with Alpine 506-watt amplifier and nine speakers, and an 8.4-inch touch screen.

Also included was the upgrade to the V-6 engine ($1,995), which also brought heavy-duty antilock four-wheel disc brakes, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and dual exhaust tips.

A Premium Lighting Group ($795) gave us high-intensity-discharge headlights and LED daytime running lights and fog lights.

And to dress up the exterior, we also had the 19-inch polished-face aluminum wheels ($995).

Power was quite impressive with the V-6 engine – it gave the car more pep than it does in the larger Dodge and Chrysler models because the 200 weighs less. Handling was crisper and more responsive than I expected – it felt more like a Charger than a regular midsize family sedan.

We had the Uconnect multimedia command center as part of the navigation/sound upgrade. It helps keep the passengers connected with information such as fuel prices and movie listings. The system is voice-activated for navigation and other features.

EPA ratings for our V-6 tester were 19 mpg city/32 highway/23 combined. With the optional all-wheel drive, the ratings are 18/29/22. For the four-cylinder engine, the ratings are 23/36/28. All-wheel drive is not available with the four-cylinder engine.

The trunk has 16 cubic feet of cargo space, which is on the high end for the midsize sedan class.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Express-News since 2000. Contact him at chambers@auto-writer.com.

2015 Chrysler 200

The package: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, four- or six-cylinder, gasoline-powered, front- or all-wheel-drive sedan.

Highlights: Completely redesigned for 2015, this is Chrysler’s compelling new midsize sedan, which comes with a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines and a class-exclusive nine-speed automatic transmission. It’s a roomy, comfortable and well-designed car that should compete effectively in this important segment.

Negatives: Can get pricey with all the extras.

Engine: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder; 3.6-liter V-6 (optional.

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 184 HP./173 foot-pounds (I-4); 295 HP./262 foot-pounds (V-6).

Length: 192.3 inches.

Curb weight (base): 3,473 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock, all models.

Trunk volume: 16.0 cubic feet.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted, roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows, standard.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Fuel capacity/type: 15.8 gallons/unleaded regular.

EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city/36 highway/28 combined (I-4); 19/32/23 (V-6, front drive); 18/29/22 (V-6, AWD).

Major competitors: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Volkswagen Passat, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Volvo S60.

Base price range: $21,995-$30,825, plus $995 freight.

Price as tested: $35,285, including freight and options (C model, V-6, front drive).

On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.