The Fiat/Chrysler design and engineering teams have created a new midsize car called the Chrysler 200 as the replacement for the outgoing Chrysler Sebring.
As its name signifies, the Chrysler 200 falls just under the larger Chrysler 300 in size and price, as Chrysler renews its entire product line in order to be more competitive in the marketplace.
The front-wheel-drive Chrysler 200 seats five. It competes with the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry in America's largest market segment, the midsize sedans (collectively 1.6 million sales per year).
The outgoing Sebring was singularly unsuccessful everywhere except in rental fleets, so to improve sales Chrysler made the 200 look much bolder and sportier than previous Sebring models. The doors and center portion of the steel body have been retained to save costs, but the rest of the car has been restyled and improved inside, outside and underneath in a much more sporty and luxurious fashion.
It's a thorough overhaul and Chrysler has done an impressive job of reworking an existing product.
Underneath, nearly everything has been stiffened, reinforced, or otherwise made stronger so that the four corner suspension systems can operate independently and accurately and provide a much better ride, quicker steering, and more responsive handling. There's a redone suspension and an improved braking system. Under its new management, Chrysler accomplished all the changes to make the old Sebring into the new 200 in less than one calendar year, a remarkable achievement all by itself.
More visibly are a new grille, hood, front fenders, headlamps, driving lamps, bumper and air intakes up front, with new chrome mirrors and door handles, new LED taillamps, new 17- and 18-inch wheels, and new exhaust system outlets at the rear.
The Chrysler 200 comes standard with a 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter double-overhead-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing that gives it more flexibility in delivering low-rpm torque (160 foot-pounds) and high-rpm horsepower while delivering good fuel economy.
A new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine is optional, generating 283 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque, with two automatic transmission choices (and no manual transmission).
Chrysler says the four-cylinder version will get 31 mpg on the highway, and the V6 is expected to get 29 mpg Highway.
The base Chrysler 200 LX comes with more standard equipment than the previous Sebring did and the price has been dropped. The LX is designed for companies or families who want basic transportation and good value. Most buyers will opt for the Touring and Limited models and they will be making the correct choice.
After driving both the V6 and four-cylinder versions of the Chrysler 200, we came away impressed with the improvement it represents over the outgoing Sebring. The new 200 is much prettier. The car is more refined than before throughout. It's much quieter underway. The cabin is more modern and the materials are more luxurious in appearance and to the touch. Performance from the V6 is excellent, and the handling is sharp.
The new Chrysler 200 Convertible arrives spring 2011. We expect the Chrysler 200 convertible to be a big improvement over the Sebring convertible, and, if so, it will be very popular. The Sebring, bad as it was, was once the best-selling convertible in the country, and offered both soft-top and steel hardtop versions.
We're also expecting an S version of the 200, with the V6 engine and 6-speed automatic standard, its own front and rear appearance, its own interior design, and an S instrument panel package. Chrysler will also offer the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine combined with a fuel-saving double dry clutch automatic transmission.
The new Chrysler 200 looks like a sedan version of the 2011 Town & Country minivan, with many of the same visual cues in the grille, headlamps, air intakes and front bumper.
Chrysler 200 is much sleeker and more rounded at the nose, but carries about the same aerodynamic drag coefficient as the outgoing Sebring, even though the front end has been lowered 12 millimeters and the rear end six millimeters.
At the rear, there's a cross-car chrome bar between the new LED taillamps and another chrome bar down between the exhaust outlets that serve to widen the look of the car. All Chrysler models will have a new wing logo in brushed metal and blue paint to replace the old traditional wing logo and signify the birth of yet another version of Chrysler.
The roof and doors of the Chrysler 200 came from the Sebring, but the entire nose, decklid, rear fascia, interior and chassis have been replaced with better and more modern stuff, the new car has very large, fully integrated halogen headlamp units that flow around the front corner into the fender, creating a line that goes up over the heavily bulging front fender like other Chryslers and then all the way to the rear of the car through the centerline of the body.
Interestingly, there is no decklid badging on any of the 200s to indicate which model is which. Alloy wheels distinguish the Touring model from the base LX, which comes with steel wheels and wheel covers. The Touring is distinguished by different wheels by its slightly larger alloy wheels, fog lights, and chrome trim, though options on the Touring can obfuscate these observations.
The Chrysler 200 instrument panel, seat trim, door panels and door pockets have all been redesigned for more comfort and utility. The instrument panel, center stack, switches and controls have all been redone for the 2011 models.
Although the seat coverings have been redesigned for a more luxurious feel and appearance, the interior cube is the same as the outgoing Sebring, just over 100 cubic feet.
As for storage, the rated cargo capacity of the Chrysler 200 is 13.6 cubic feet.
The instrument panel contains the usual three-round-gauge package, and is much more pleasing to the eye after the 2011 redesign, with gray-on-gray graphics and white accent lighting that is brilliantly legible at night when the display remains gray on gray. The center portion of the instrument panel has also been modernized and treated to just enough chrome accents, as has the console and shifter portion lower down than before. On some models, it is possible to have two USB ports, which can be quite handy for phone and laptop charging. The cheap rental-car interior has been banished forever.
The three-spoke steering wheel has a nice, thick leather-wrapped rim and a thickly padded three-sided hub flanked by redundant switches for the sound system on the left and the cruise control system on the right.
All the materials in the seats, door trim panels, headliner and instrument panel are softer, more luxurious and more pleasing to the eye, and the seats feel much more supportive and long-drive comfortable than before.
The standard engine for the new Chrysler 200 is the 173-horsepower, 166 foot-pounds 2.4-liter world engine that Chrysler shares with two other car companies. Three old V6 engines, the 3.3, the 3.8, and the 4.0-liter, have been retired and replaced by the new corporate 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, which puts out 283 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque, coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission. With the four-cylinder, there is a new three-point engine mounting system that transmits far less vibration into the cabin.
To make the car handle better, the engineers widened the rear track one inch, and retuned nearly every piece, part and system in the front and rear suspensions. They revalved all the shock absorbers, stiffened the front springs by 15 percent, added a rear stabilizer bar where there was none on the previous model, and stiffened the front and rear subframe mounts by 400 and 70 percent, respectively, and the front subframe about 200 percent vertically. The tires have been upgraded to the new quiet-running Michelin Primacy and upsized from 215 to 225 size. The 200 has much-improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) behavior, with a new acoustic windshield, laminated side glass, reshaped mirrors, and a retuned exhaust system.
We spent some time in a four-cylinder, 6-speed automatic Touring model and were very impressed with its overall behavior, acceleration, road noise, but we spent the majority of our seat time in a Limited V6 version.
We were genuinely surprised by the new and much higher handling limits of the Chrysler 200 chassis. With 26 of the 30 suspension and subframe bushing replaced, upgraded springs, shock absorbers, stabilizer bars and tires, the 200 took to some of our favorite Northern California driving roads like a cheetah chasing down a gazelle, changing pace, shifting its weight, gripping the ground, and staying on its line.
The 283-horsepower V6 engine is a brand new design that will power many future products, and in this application, coupled to the 6-speed but working manually in third and fourth gears through the mountain two-laners, it showed class-leading power and acceleration, not something we ever have said about the Sebring's old engines. It generates almost 1.3 horsepower per cubic inch, and has every one of the latest technologies except for direct fuel injection. Chrysler says the new V6 generates more than 90 percent of its peak torque from 1600 up to 6400 rpm, and our mountain driving showed that it always had plenty of torque coming off of slow corners. The engine has a nice, powerful growl when it's working, and you can't hear it when it's not.
At highway cruising speeds, there is some wind and tire noise (the price you pay for aggressive, sticky Goodyear tires), but it's not objectionable.
We were genuinely surprised and pleased at the advancements made in the transition from Sebring to 200. It's prettier by far, the interior is more modern and the materials more luxurious, the cabin is quieter, the engine performance in the V6 is excellent, and the crisp, sharp handling was the biggest and most pleasant surprise of all, although a highway mileage rating of 29 mpg was a nice surprise, too.
Jim McCraw filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Chrysler 200 around Napa Valley, California.