2011 Chrysler 200 Limited: First Drive

November 14, 2010

No more drama, please.

It's not just us making the request. It's the folks at Chrysler, too, we're sure. The last three years have played out in Auburn Hills like a season of ER, with divorce, a near-death experience or two, and a non-stop triage running in the background. 

There are signs the storyline is changing. The car surgeons are still in the weeds, but at the post-Cerberus, post-bankruptcy Chrysler, healthy patients like the new Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee are now checking out with good prognoses.

Delicate trauma cases like the Chrysler Sebring sedan have required a little more intensive care, however. The Sebring launched in 2007 to unhappy reviews for its overwrought styling, low-buck interiors and stiff ride. A walk-back of its more effusive sheetmetal ribs after two years hardly stopped the bleeding. Fleet sales saved it from total disaster, but just barely.

Now that it's extensively reskinned, with a new drivetrain horned into place, Chrysler's decided the Sebring name deserves a good, deep burial. It's easier to start over than to rehab a brand, which is why the resulting 2011 Chrysler 200 wears numbers, not letters, on its rear-door flags.

Most of what's new in the 2011 200 connects directly with your eyeballs and your fingertips. All the old Sebring surface scars are gone. With every body panel altered except the roof and the doors, the 200 lets your eyeballs relax, finally, to absorb all the well-underplayed details and the slight but very effective changes. Compare the old Sebring's nose and grille to the 200's, and you'll be down with the difference between boughetto and bourgeois. The shared pieces are way more obvious when you compare the sideviews, since the doors are the same, spiffed up only with what appears to be a late-in-the-program "200" decal, stuck to a black sail panel.

Inside, the 200 proves our theory that private equity doesn't know a damn about car design. That regime was responsible for the Sebring's underfunded cabin, which has been swapped out for a richly detailed environment. The 200 dash is a great mix of tight, low-gloss plastic that gives to the touch, and thin metallic highlights that ring the major driver-control areas simply and subtly. (Rounded analog clock? Check.) Just one or two unwelcome relics reconnect the 200 to the Sebring from the inside out--namely, the green fluorescent displays on the lower corners of the gauges, for gear selections and trip functions. They're unappealing, and sit almost out of sight for taller drivers.

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