The 2012 Chrysler 200 offers a lot for an affordable midsize car. Redesigned and introduced as a 2011 model, the Chrysler 200 comes in sedan and convertible versions, with a choice between two excellent engines, each with a sweet 6-speed manual-automatic transmission.
We found the Chrysler 200 offers good gas mileage, a smooth ride, a solid feel, a quiet cabin and, surprisingly, tight handling.
Because the Chrysler 200 was new for 2011, there are no mechanical, exterior or interior changes for 2012. However, however there is a new model.
A new 2012 Chrysler 200 S joins the LX, Touring and Limited models. Essentially a loaded Chrysler 200 Limited, the Chrysler 200 S comes standard with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Industry watchdog Ward's Automotive named that V6 one of the “10 Best Engines” for 2012.
The V6, optional for the Chrysler 200 Touring and Limited models, standard in the 200 S, makes 283 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque. Even with 110 more horsepower, it gives up little in fuel economy to the four-cylinder, with an EPA-estimated 19/29 mpg City/Highway.
The Chrysler 200 LX, Touring and Limited models come standard with the 2.4-liter World engine that Chrysler shares with Mitsubishi and Hyundai. Rated at 173 horsepower and 166 foot-pounds of torque at 4400 rpm, it's a double-overhead-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing that gives it good power at both low and high rpm. Chrysler 200's 2.4-liter four-cylinder is EPA rated at 20/31 mpg City/Highway.
As its name indicates, the Chrysler 200 falls under the Chrysler 300 in size and price. The front-wheel-drive Chrysler 200 competes with the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and possibly the Lexus ES and Lincoln MKZ. Midsize sedans comprise America's largest market segment for cars, with 1.7 million units sold per year. The Chrysler 200 has an old-school feel all its own that separates it from these other cars.
The Chrysler 200 replaced the much-maligned Chrysler Sebring. It uses the same platform as the Sebring, but engineers changed and strengthened so many things (chassis, engine, transmissions, suspension, brakes, body, interior) that it was almost a new car. It's impressive work, especially considering the changes were made in 12 months, and during a bankruptcy.
If you compare the Chrysler 200 to the old Sebring, you can stretch and call it sleek; it's clearly wider and lower, not to mention prettier. It's not a car that gathers second looks, but its buyers aren't people who care about second looks. They want the most metal for their money, the most affordable size and convenience, and the Chrysler 200 offers that. It's American, well-equipped and inexpensive. Popular options are bargain-priced, among them a cold weather package and media center with touchscreen and 30g music hard drive.
The cabin is one of the quietest in the segment, thanks to new sound absorption materials, as well as an acoustic glass windshield, laminated side glass usually found in higher priced vehicles, and special engine mounting for the I4 engine. The interior offers luxury, with soft seat coverings and trim, and supportive seats. The instrument panel's gray-on-gray graphics are pleasing, and its white accent lighting is wonderful at night, with nice ambient cockpit lighting.
Underway, we were quite impressed by how smooth and solid the 200 feels. It's put together well. Low road noise means a lot, and the quiet Michelin tires and new exhaust system help. Steering and ride are the same smooth and solid, even the convertible, which we drove in Seattle.
The 6-speed manual automatic transmission that comes on Touring, Limited and S models is seamless and not over-programmed. Chrysler calls it AutoStick, a name they've been using for 15 years, because they invented it, and they remain true to its blissful simplicity. A 4-speed automatic comes on the base LX model.
The 200 comes with Chrysler's longstanding 5-year 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Chrysler 200 bears family resemblance to the Town and Country, the minivan sharing visual cues in the grille, headlamps, air intakes and front bumper. The Chrysler 200 front air dam is clean: low, thin, and horizontal. Its halogen headlights appear small from head-on, but flow around the front corners into the bulging fenders, creating a line that widens to the rear of the car. It makes a statement that says, We're bold not fancy. We got slab sides. So what? We like them.
If you compare the 200 to the old Sebring, you can stretch and call it sleek; it's clearly lower and wider. The main thing about the 200 is that it's big, for a midsize car, and it's American (also that it's well-equipped and inexpensive).
The rear deck lid looks chopped, with a chrome strip between LED taillamps and another chrome bar between the exhaust outlets that widens the look of the car. It bears a wing logo in brushed metal and blue, replacing the old traditional wing logo, to signify the rebirth of Chrysler.
The Chrysler 200 is not a car that gathers second looks, at least not for its beauty. But its buyers are not the type of people who care about second looks. They want the most metal for their money, the most affordable size and luxury, and the 200 offers that.
The Chrysler 200 cabin is nice, with seat coverings and trim that feel soft and luxurious. The seats feel supportive and should be comfortable for long periods behind the wheel.
Rear legroom measures just 36.2 inches, which is on the short side for a midsize car. Toyota Camry offers 38.3 inches of rear legroom while Ford Fusion has 37.1 inches, although the Chrysler beats the Lexus ES, at 35.9. The rear seat is split 60/40 and folds down for more cargo space, always appreciated.
The instrument panel contains the usual three round gauges, with gray-on-gray graphics that are pleasing to the eye, while its white accent lighting is wonderful at night. The three-spoke steering wheel has a thick leather-wrapped rim and padded hub with controls for the sound system and cruise setting. Armrests are soft, and door pockets roomy. Some models have two USB ports, handy for phone and laptop charging.
The cabin is one of the quietest in the segment, thanks to new sound absorption materials, as well as an acoustic glass windshield, laminated side glass usually found in higher priced vehicles, and new engine mounting for the 2.4-liter engine.
The standard powerplant for the Chrysler 200 is the 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter World engine that Chrysler shares with Mitsubishi and Hyundai. With dual variable valve timing, the power is good at both low and high rpm, and its 166 foot-pounds of torque are sufficient for the demands of its owners. The engine has proven itself reliable, over the years around the world, while delivering good gas mileage.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 20/31 mpg City/Highway with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 6-speed automatic transmission in a Chrysler 200 Touring sedan. That's about what we got during a week of good seat time in the Northwest.
Later, we drove a convertible with the top down on a hot summer day near Seattle, at the event called Run to the Sun by the Northwest Automotive Press Association, and it was a blast. This is the kind of car you can simply enjoy, because there are no worries. It's about what a car like this gives you, not what it is or how impressive it is.
Still, we were way impressed by how smooth and solid the 200 feels. It's put together well. Low road noise contributed a lot to this conclusion, with quiet-running Michelin tires and a retuned exhaust system.
Same with the steering and ride: smooth and solid, even the convertible. The Chrysler 200 corners really well, with little body roll.
The 6-speed manual automatic transmission is beautiful, seamless and not over-programmed. Chrysler calls it AutoStick, a name they've been using for 15 years, because they invented it. That's right, the manual automatic transmission first appeared in the 1997 Chrysler Cirrus Sebring, when it was perfectly programmed; that is, it did nothing without the driver's input. (We might add that its 2.5-liter V6 made less horsepower than today's four-cylinder, and cost more in today's dollars.) The 6-speed automatic is a good reason to step up from the base model, which comes with a 4-speed automatic.
We also got good seat time in a Chrysler 200 Limited, with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that's been around two years and continues to get rave reviews.
The V6 makes a 283 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque, coupled to a 6-speed manual automatic. At highway cruising speeds, there is some wind and tire noise (the price you pay for more aggressive tires), but it's not objectionable.
Using third and fourth gears on the mountain two-lanes, it showed off its class-leading power and acceleration. According to Chrysler, the engine makes more than 90 percent of its peak torque from 1600 rpm all the way up to redline 6400, and our mountain driving supports that, as we had plenty of torque and acceleration coming off slow corners. The engine has a nice, powerful growl when it's working, and you can't hear it when it's not.
The V6 gives up very little to the I4 in fuel mileage, with a strong EPA rating of 19 city/29 highway miles per gallon.
The Chrysler 200 is an affordable midsize car that offers exceptional value. Available in sedan and convertible versions, it's smooth and quiet and feels solid. Two excellent engines coupled to the sweet 6-speed AutoStick automatic both get good gas mileage.
Sam Moses reported on the Chrysler 200 after his test drive through the Columbia River Gorge; Jim McCraw contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report.