You can choose from two different powertrains in the 2012 Chrysler 200: A 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder, or Chrysler's new "Pentastar" 3.6-liter V-6, making 283 hp. And just as their 110-horsepower difference hints, there's a world of difference in the performance you get--as well as how it's delivered.
Of these two engines, the new V-6 is our clear favorite. It's strong and smooth, and Chrysler is installing it on many of its products, ranging from the Jeep Grand Cherokee to the Dodge Challenger, and even the Jeep Wrangler. In the 200, 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 makes the 200 feel unexpectedly quick--especially when you open the throttle all the way for a pass.
On the other hand, we're not so fond of the 2.4-liter four. It's not that it's gutless; this base engine seems to give the 200 just as much scoot as other four-cylinder mid-size sedans, if not more, but it does so with a raspy, raucous tone that smashes all of the 200's almost-luxury pretenses. What hasn't changed--though it's less bothersome with the new six-speed automatic--is that the engine has a flat spot in the mid-rpm range; what that means is that you end up ordering up downshifts more than in other vehicles.
While the 200 feels solid and unruffled on straight highways, with the hydraulic power steering delivering nice weighting and actually some road feel, it's not as enjoyable on a curvy road; send too much torque from the V-6 through those front wheels when the wheel isn't quite straight ahead and torque steer leaves it flustered.With either engine, the new six-speed automatic transmission upshifts smoothly, and seems to deal especially well (shifting crisply) with full-throttle launches; but its downshifts can be especially lumpy under partial throttle. 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 either engine's usable powerband, which induces a noticeable shift shock..
Overall, the 200 is sorely lacking the suspension sophistication over bumps and around corners that we appreciate in vehicles like the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Mazda6. Go around a corner that's imperfectly surfaced and the front end will hop and bound unexpectedly.
If performance is important, 200 Convertible models are still best left to the Florida rental-car fleets that they're known to inhabit. Chrysler has reinforced the steering rack with more bushings, but there's still way too much wiggle and shake in the body; you'll want to calm everything down a few miles per hour for mercy's sake.