Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chrysler's 200 is a player in crowded segment

This review originally appeared in the August 2011 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California -- mg

Sacramento, California -- Chrysler has been dealing with an identity problem for some time now.

Here’s the hard-luck list: Too many trucks and SUVs. Not enough quality, affordable passenger car offerings. The lingering bad taste of accepting a government bailout. And despite those gritty TV commercials you’ve been seeing about Chrysler’s hard roots as an American car company, Fiat is now the automaker’s majority owner.

It’s a lot of baggage to carry. But the load is a little lighter thanks to the new 2011 Chrysler 200 midsize sedan.

The 200 can be had as a pricier droptop, but my tester was the reasonable (starting price of $21,245) Touring sedan. Ordinarily this model gets a 2.4-liter in-line 4 with nearly 175 ponies. However, my tester had the beefier 3.6-liter V-6 with 283 horsepower. That power plant was one of the extras that swelled the bottom line on my car to $24,770.

First things first: This 200 is attractive, with a clean and sexy exterior look. Fit and finish from the glittering, flush headlights to the trunklid are top-notch. My tester was Batmobile black, and I was surprised by the number of folks who walked up to me and wanted to know about that beauty I was driving.

The interior look is likewise clean and attractive, with leather appointments and a center-mounted dash clock that looks like something you’d expect to see in a top-tier Lexus. I know the clock was made to look more valuable than it actually is, but hey, whoever did that job did a good one.

Safety features are plentiful to the point of making this car a deal-maker in the midsize sedan segment.

Chrysler appeared to save money on the center stack/dash, with is very Spartan and very basic. You can hear tunes and control your climate. Beyond that, not much happening.

I was somewhat disappointed that the V-6 did not produce more oomph. I really had to sink my foot into the accelerator to get top-end performance, and it took a little while for the revs to get up there. The V-6 also gets so-so mileage ratings of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

Cabin quietness, however, was pretty impressive.

So, the good news in all this is that Chrysler, no matter who’s running the store, has a midsize sedan offering that’s truly competitive. And that’s saying something at a time when the competition for American customers in the segment is ferocious.

I’m not sure the 200 has enough to lure the entrenched Honda, Toyota, Ford and GM crowd of midsize buyers, but it’s certainly in the conversation now. That in itself is a good thing for too-long-beleaguered Chrysler.

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