- Neat, balanced look inside and out
- Strong, smooth V-6
- Quiet interior, smooth highway ride
- Up to snuff in tech and entertainment features
- Coarse base engine
- Torque steer in V-6 models
- Standard equipment lags competition
- Body flex in Convertible models
- Unimpressive gas mileage (4-cyl)
The 2012 Chrysler 200 sedan and Convertible models are comfortable, stylish, and a decent value; but they're still far from best in class.
Just a year after its introduction, the Chrysler 200 mid-size lineup is arguably already better-established than the longtime Sebring models they replaced--thanks to a well-implemented ad campaign, and Eminem. But as fresh as the marketing was, the actual car is strictly a holdover, bridging the gap between the somewhat disastrous Sebring and this sedan's Lancia-based replacement that's probably due sometime next year.
The 2012 Chrysler 200 and 200 Convertible do carry over with the Sebring's bones, but they do away with its overwrought styling, low-buck interiors and stiff ride. Only fleet sales kept the Sebring from being a total disaster, but the reformulated 200 is the better-realized car that Chrysler should have first put on sale four years ago; it's not perfect, but it's a good match for a style-conscious, comfort-oriented buyer.
One of the most important parts of the 200's emergency transplant was its interior; Chrysler gave the 200 an all-new, beautifully sculpted interior that feels up to Volkswagen standards and includes materials and finishes that are a world better than the old hard plastics. Likewise, Chrysler has doubled up on insulation to make the 200's interior a very quiet place (except for the coarse four-cylinder engine's note), and softened the ride. Factor in the newly available 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission, and the 200 no longer feels a step behind.
While the 2012 Chrysler 200 is mostly up to the standards of comfort, space, and safety that you'd find in models like the Hyundai Sonata or Toyota Camry, it's still missing some of the standard features, like Bluetooth connectivity, that all shoppers are expecting. Likewise, look past the sheen of the brightwork and consider that the base 200 still only has a four-speed automatic--and fuel economy is still lackluster--and it's fair to say that this model isn't quite in the top tier...but almost.
2012 Chrysler 200
The 2012 Chrysler 200 is a tastefully styled, nicely detailed sedan, but it still bears too much likeness to its ungainly Sebring predecessor.
Last year Chrysler gave the Sebring a new name, and a new look. It altered every body panel (except for the roof and doors) just a little bit, with the result being a calmer, more sophisticated appearance.
While the changes were quite subtle, they were effective in giving the former Sebring some street presence. The 200's nose could be mistaken for that of a luxury car (a Mercedes-Benz, perhaps) at quick glance, and the grille is more soft and sophisticated than the previous look. Also, the new taillights are faired in with casual grace.
What remains is much of the Sebring's old side profile and roofline, though. And 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.
The 200 Convertible comes in two different configurations: retractable hardtop or cloth soft top. It looks almost dashing with the top down, but in either case the abbreviated roofline in convertibles looks a bit ungainly, and with the soft top you give up the complex set of cutlines you get with the metal-hardtop model.
Take a look inside, and there's no need to wince; while the Sebring's interior was a point of embarrassment, the 200 shows that a good interior can completely change the ambiance in a vehicle. The new 200 dash has a fantastic mix of tight, low-gloss plastic that gives to the touch, and thin metallic highlights (a bit too common, nevertheless tasteful here) 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. But the black-plastic facing material tends to gather fingerprints, we've noticed, and Chrysler's instrument clusters haven't been updated with the rest--including some aged green-lit displays.
2012 Chrysler 200
The 2012 Chrysler 200 is no performance delight in any form, but the stronger, smoother V-6 does make it a confident highway cruiser.
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.
2012 Chrysler 200
Comfort & Quality
The Chrysler 200 sedan is surprisingly spacious, quiet, and comfortable; meanwhile, the tight-fitting rear seats in the Convertible offer a bit more space than the competition.
Go by official cabin dimensions, and the 2012 Chrysler 200 stacks up really well against segment leaders like the Hyundai Sonata. The 200 has superior headroom numbers and roughly equal legroom figures, once you factor in the Sonata's super-long front-seat travel.
Somehow, as many might find, the 200's interior can impress as smaller or tighter than most other sedans in this class, even if it isn't; that's likely because of the tall dash, big/wide front seats, narrower glass areas, and wide rear pillar. Front seats are a little odd to get into and out of. The seats themselves have huge lower cushions and are very wide, but they lack much support and our backs were feeling it after just a few hours on the highway. In back, the seats are quite easy to get into, and there's enough headroom and legroom for a couple of adults--though again, the high beltline results in a somewhat more claustrophobic experience.
While ride quality isn't anything remarkable--the 200 tends to bound over pavement irregularities, especially in the V-6 when cornering--the 200's cabin is a remarkably civilized place. Chrysler has stuffed the 200 with more sound deadening than the former Sebring, which does the most good to mute out most road noise and wind noise. Four-cylinder models seem to ride even better, but there you get the still-unmasked drone (and vibration) of the raspy four-cylinder engine, which is often calling for higher revs and downshifts on even modest highway grades.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 (and a chiropractic appointment). As for trunk space, there's still enough when the top is stacked for a couple of weekend bags.
Trunk space is one weakness for all versions of the 200; in the sedan, it's several cubic feet smaller than most of the mid-size rivals.
2012 Chrysler 200
The Chrysler 200 lineup promises good occupant protection, even though its feature list is no standout.
Dual front, side and curtain airbags are standard on all 2012 Chrysler 200 models, as are anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and active headrests. Rearward visibility tends to be an issue in the sedan, given the thick rear pillars and rather high beltline, but you won't find a rearview camera or blind-spot detection on the options list.
Overall, the 200 Convertible lacks the curtain airbags of the sedan, but it does include all the other safety equipment from the sedan.
While the federal government still hasn't tested the Chrysler 200--and it probably won't, as Chrysler will replace it with an all-new model next year--the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given it top 'good' scores in all areas--and thus, its Top Safety Pick designation.
2012 Chrysler 200
The 2012 Chrysler 200 lacks a few standard items, like Bluetooth, but well-equipped Touring and Limited models are strong values.
Last year, when Chrysler repackaged its Sebring lineup as the 200 sedan and Convertible, both models became much better values, thanks to upgraded safety and entertainment features. But some features, like Bluetooth connectivity, aren't included in all 200 trims.
For 2012, Chrysler has dropped the price on its entry-level 200 sedan; the $18,995 Chrysler 200 LX sedan comes with standard air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, telescoping/tilting steering wheel with audio controls, an AM/FM/CD player. Bluetooth is an option here, while it's standard on somewhat more expensive 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. It's also worth noting that the base LX comes with a four-speed automatic (the rest of the line includes a six-speed). Touring sedans 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. On these models, the V-6 is optional.
The $24,995 Limited sedan can also be had with either powertrain, and it adds 18-inch wheels and tires, Bluetooth with voice commands for audio and phone, a USB port, leather seating, and heated front seats. The hard-drive audio system also comes standard. A navigation system grafts into it as an option, while Boston Acoustics sound is a separate upgrade.
2012 Chrysler 200
Among mid-size sedans, the 2012 Chrysler 200 lineup is at the back of the pack.
Last year, Chrysler made some slight improvements to the 200's gas mileage numbers, but the truth of the matter is that it still lags at the back of the pack. At just 30 or 31 mpg on the highway, its EPA figures trail rival models (like the new 2012 Toyota Camry) by up to 5 mpg. At 19 mpg city, 29 highway, the new V-6 is closer to par for the class, although it's still far from the best.