2011 Chrysler 200 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 27, 2011

Much improved in the most important ways--power and looks--the 2011 Chrysler 200 sedan and convertible still are stronger values than they are competitors to the best cars in the class.

As Chrysler pulls itself back into post-bankruptcy shape, it's going through a lumpy transition phase. It has some stellar brand-new products, like the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. There are some carryover vehicles with clear sell-by dates stamped on their sides--cars like the Dodge Caliber hatchback.

Then there are the cars in the middle--the ones eventually lined up for replacement, but needing a delicate round of surgery to keep them viable for a few more years while Chrysler and Fiat finish integrating their global product plan.

The 2011 Chrysler 200 and 200 Convertible fit that category. They're the official replacements for the Sebring, which launched in 2007 to unhappy reviews for its overwrought styling, low-buck interiors and stiff ride. Even though Chrysler toned down the Sebring's rib-happy hood, only fleet sales kept it from being a total disaster.

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For the new model year, Chrysler's reskinned and renamed that car, and with its new V-6 drivetrain included, it's earned its new nameplate. The 2011 Chrysler 200 is undoubtedly healthier after its emergency surgery. Its V-6 gives it best-in-class output, and designers have found some lovely workarounds to its unchangeable hard points.

It's still unlikely to trip up the Subaru Legacy, Ford Fusion, the Hyundai Sonata or the Kia Optima on its way out of recovery, but the Chrysler 200 shows signs of healing over the old Sebring's rental-car stigma. Acceleration's much more brisk with the V-6, and the nose job and complete cabin overhaul remove the worst blemishes from the old Sebring's profile. The 200 sedan isn't quite as well equipped as other, newer competitors, and the Convertible still flexes its body more than it does its muscles, but Chrysler's mid-size duo are no longer in the ICU.

7

2011 Chrysler 200

Styling

The 2011 Chrysler 200 covers up many of the Sebring's sins with creative new sheetmetal and a striking new interior.

Most of what's new in the 2011 Chrysler 200 will be recognized right away by your eyeballs and your fingertips. The Sebring's scars and warts are just...gone. Chrysler's altered every body panel, save for the roof and the doors, and as a result, the 200's calmer lines and surfaces let your brain relax long enough to absorb all its well-played details.

The slight changes are very effective. From the nose on, the 200's grille is more appealing and less warlike than the one on the Sebring. From the rear, the new taillights are faired in with casual grace. Compare the sideviews, and you'll recall the Sebring somewhat, though Chrysler's masked the carryover door cutouts with new skins. The single detail that calls attention to the transformation in the least skillful way, in fact, is the plastic "200" badge at the rear door's sail panel. It looks like a very late addition, and it's affixed in a place where a few lines meet in a compromised way.

Of course, the roofline's no problem in the 200 Convertible--until you raise the optional retractable hardtop. With the standard fabric roof, the 200 Convertible doesn't have the complex set of cutlines you get with the metal-hardtop model. Frankly, the folding hardtop doesn't look very good when it's up, but when it's tucked away the Sebring looks almost dashing.

Inside, the 200 proves that interiors are the easiest way to sell--or ruin--a car. The Sebring's multi-grain cockpit lacked any sense of upscale look or feel. In its place, the new 200 dash is a fantastic 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. There's even a rounded clock that mimics the shape of the grille, studded in the center of the dash. Just one or two unwelcome relics reconnect the 200 to the Sebring, tiny but noticeable details like the the green-lit displays that indicate gear choice and trip functions. They're unappealing, and they're located almost out of sight for taller drivers.

7

2011 Chrysler 200

Performance

Six new cylinders and a suspension shake-out give the 2011 Chrysler 200 a new lease on life; the Convertible hasn't gotten any firmer, though.

There's still a 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder in the fleet, but the powertrain of choice in the 2011 Chrysler 200 is the new "Pentastar" 3.6-liter V-6.

Also found in the Grand Cherokee, the new Durango, the updated minivans, the Dodge Avenger and Journey, the new V-6 is to Chrysler what the "VQ" engines are to Nissan--it's a fundamental building block of the company's lineup. In the 200, the V-6 loses the mid-range resonance we've heard and felt in the big SUVs and minivans. It's thrusty and a little thrummy in the middle of its rev range, but with 283 horsepower on tap, with 260 pound-feet of torque, it lights a fire under the 200's heels.

Usually, that would meet with our nod of approval, and it does in the 200, so long as it's aimed in a straight line. If there's the slightest angle to the steering wheel, the application of all that power will send the 200 wobbling left and right as it copes with big gulps of torque steer. At cruising speeds it feels unruffled, at least, and the hydraulic power steering copes well while still delivering some happy old-school road feel--something electric power steering still can't do.

The new six-speed automatic that's hooked up with the Pentastar is less satisfying. There are programming hiccups we'd erase with a new firmware release, if it were our drivetrain department. The six-speed is very slow to lock up its torque converter, which translates sometimes into jerky downshifts. And the tranny's top two gears are so high, you'll want to tap the shift lever--no paddles, it's down on the console--to fourth gear or lower to get to the V-6's usable powerband, which induces a noticeable shift shock. With all that, the new powertrain still has a more fluid, point-and-shoot feel than the doddering old sixes in the Sebring.

In both the sedan and the convertible, the suspension's been massaged for moderate ride-quality improvements. Slightly lower, more so in front than in back, the 200 doesn't smack back at bumps the way the Sebring did. Big 225-series tires move up from 17-inchers to 18-inchers on the upper two trim levels of the sedan, and the brakes are four-wheel discs on all versions. It lacks the sophisticated suspension feel of the new Sonata or the Fusion, but the 200 has upped its handling game.

Opt for the 200 Convertible, and the body changes clearly haven't seeped down into the structure. The convertible still has a wiggle or three in its trick bag. It's certainly improved, mostly through the steering rack, which Chrysler's reinforced with more bushings. When you get the sedan on a decent boil, it shows faint signs of life; the convertible's body flex gets completely in the way of the good time, and can overwhelm the nice steering sensations to the point where you'll calm everything down a few miles per hour for mercy's sake.

Just remember, there's no other convertible of the 200's size at its price point, since the Pontiac G6 convertible creaked out of existence. The Mustang convertible just doesn't have the spread-out room of the 200, and neither does the VW Eos. Removing this much roof, from a car this large, is going to leave some wiggles behind unless it's steeled with hundreds of pounds of reinforcement. 

8

2011 Chrysler 200

Comfort & Quality

There's more interior room than you'd think inside either Chrysler 200; among droptops, the tight-fitting rear seats in the Convertible still have more room than the competition.

In size and value, the 2011 Chrysler 200 sedan stacks up well against the likes of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata on the spec sheet. The 200 has superior headroom numbers and roughly equal legroom figures, once you factor in the Sonata's super-long front-seat travel. The Sonata tops the 200's truck by nearly 3 cubic feet, though.

So why does the 200 feel much smaller? In part, it's the seemingly smaller glass areas, but it's also the tall dash structure, dark interior colors and the big, wide front seats that feel fine, if not overly supportive. It's also a little less easy to slip into the back seats, since the actual door openings are quite a bit smaller than the door skins themselves. The 200's cabin space is there, but visually it reads more confining, not at all airy, and some of the circa-2007 body structure just won't let it be any other way.

Chrysler has stuffed the 200 with more sound deadening than the Sebring, which does the most good to mute out the sins of the past. There's some noise that intrudes through the rear wheel wells, which could make it tougher for a family of four to conduct one conversation, but the laminated windshield drops out the highway-drone frequencies very well.

On the 200 Convertible, it's noticeable how the seats backs are flatter than bottom cushion. Even with the roof lowered, road noise is acceptable--and there's a moderate ruffling when the windscreen is snapped into place behind the front seats. The Convertible's rear seats actually are usable by adults for short trips, but any ride back there of more than an hour should get a doctor's approval. As for trunk space, there's still enough when the top is stacked for a couple of weekend bags.

8

2011 Chrysler 200

Safety

No crash tests have been performed on the 2011 Chrysler 200 as of yet, but it's performed well in the past. A rearview camera would be nice, though.

With its newest minivans and SUVs, Chrysler's set a benchmark for standard features and new tech options. Many of them don't make the 200's list.

All 2011 Chrysler 200 sedans have dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; active headrests; and tire-pressure monitors. Blind-spot detection and parking sensors are missing from the options list, and so is a rearview camera.

The 200 Convertible lacks the curtain airbags of the sedan, but sports all the other safety equipment.

Since both 200s are new this year--and more to the point, since both safety agencies have changed their ratings systems for the 2011 model year--these Chryslers have yet to be crash-tested. We'll update this review when results are published.

7

2011 Chrysler 200

Features

It's better equipped than in the past, but the base Chrysler 200 sedan isn't quite up the newest, toughest competitors when it comes to standard features.

Both the 2011 Chrysler 200 sedan and the Convertible are significantly better values than the Sebring was, particularly with their upgraded safety and entertainment features--so long as you opt for non-base cars. Some entertainment features go absent on some 200s as well, leaving Chrysler without a response to vehicles like the Fusion, the Optima and the Sonata.

The $19,995 Chrysler 200 LX sedan has air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, telescoping/tilting steering wheel with audio controls, AM/FM/CD player, and the four-cylinder/four-speed powertrain. Bluetooth is an option here, while it's standard on the $19,995 Hyundai Sonata--and this 200 doesn't offer satellite radio or a USB port at all, though it does come with an auxiliary audio jack, all of which are standard on the Hyundai.

The $21,995 200 Touring sedan adds automatic climate control, a Homelink garage door opener, a power driver seat, and satellite radio. A sunroof is an option, as is Bluetooth and a DVD/hard-drive audio system with 28GB of storage. The powertrain is the four-cylinder teamed with the six-speed automatic, with the V-6/six-speed automatic an option.

The $24,995 Limited sedan gets the same powertrains standard and optional, with a new dual-clutch gearbox coming to its options list late in the model year. It also adds on 18-inch wheels and tires, Bluetooth with voice commands for audio and phone, a USB port, leather seating, heated front seats, and makes the hard-drive audio system standard. A navigation system grafts on it as an option; Boston Acoustics speakers are offered separately.

There's a 200 S sedan with nearly every feature offered, but pricing has not been revealed. It bundles almost all these premium features (except the dual-clutch transmission) in as standard equipment, though the sunroof remains an option.

As for the Convertible, the base four-cylinder Touring model has a base price of $26,445 not including a $750 destination charge. It comes with a power-folding fabric roof; the usual power features; a CD player and Sirius satellite radio; and cloth interior. Options include Bluetooth with voice command capability, a USB port, and heated seats.

The Limited convertible is prices from $31,240 before destination. It has standard leather seating; a DVD disc player and a 30GB music hard drive; and 18-inch wheels. The folding-metal hardtop is an option on the Limited, as are Boston Acoustics speakers, heated seats and a navigation system.

Chrysler no longer offers a vinyl convertible roof on the 200 Convertible.

7

2011 Chrysler 200

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is improved across the Chrysler 200 lineup, versus the Sebring, but it's still mid-pack at best.

Though it's not yet been rated by the EPA for its fuel economy, the new Chrysler 200 series has improved on the old Sebring's numbers, according to the company's estimates.

It's still far from a class leader, however. The 200 V-6, for example, gets an estimated 19/29 mpg from its six-cylinder, six-speed automatic powertrain. A Hyundai Sonata 2.0T will clock in at 23/34 mpg, about the same as a Honda Accord four-cylinder automatic--while the base Sonata six-speed manual will hit 35 mpg on the highway.

The four-cylinder model manages just 2 mpg more than the V-6 in highway fuel economy, leaving it primarily as a low-cost option for buyers.

We'll update this review when official gas mileage ratings for the 2011 Chrysler 200 are published.

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