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2011 Chrysler 200 Performance

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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.

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.
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. 

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