The cars we loved.
Chrysler seems to be on a roll lately. The new full-sized Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 have wooed the critics while the new Dart shows promise in the competitive compact car market. So what’s up with the mid-sized range of cars from Chrysler? The guys in Auburn Hills could be excused for skipping over its middleweight pair had they not waited so long for a true replacement. The Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 are more or less warmed over re-skins of older technology. These cars represent the very reasons Chrysler found itself in trouble in the first place: uncompetitive offerings. The JA platform Chrysler Sebring was a sales hit when it was released back in the 90’s. The Dodge Avenger not so much, but offered Diamond Star coupe fans the option of a real trunk with a familiar interior. These cars did not age well, but the Sebring did find a half-life as a popular convertible rental .
The Odd Pair Out
While the 200 tries and mostly succeeds to recall the 300, the Avenger looks more out-of-place in the current Dodge lineup. Many of the criticisms to the more expensive 200 apply to the slightly older Avenger. That premium gets you a better interior and a convertible model, but neither car matches the standards set by its smaller and bigger relatives.
When the time came to replace the JA platform twins, Chrysler was short on cash. It’s new owner Fiat was about to impose its will on the company, but not before Chrysler squeezed out the excellent 300 and Charger sedans. The Sebring would be re-christened the 200 as to suggest some relation to the trend setting 300. The differences could not be further apart.
The 200 came in sedan or two door convertible trim, on a revised version of the GS platform called JS. The GS platform dates back to Chrysler’s days with Mercedes and Mitsubishi. Although the associations should have produced world-class cars, it spawned a fleet of vehicles that trailed the market in most respects. So much for the concept of good genes.
The 200 did have some good attributes. In its high-end S trim, it could be had with a potent 3.0L V6 good for 283 hp. That was plenty of power to move the nearly two ton car to 60 mph in under 7 seconds. A less powerful and more common 2.4L with 173 hp was under the hood of most 200’s. Forward momentum (with the V6) was never the 200’s problem. The fact that it was saddled with an old soft riding chassis and suspension was. The S trim adds larger 18′ wheels and design touches that suggest aggressive performance, but it’s as un-composed over bumps and corners as the regular models.
It wouldn’t take much to make the 200 a real sports sedan. A few well placed suspension items and subtle ground effects would do the trick. Chrysler has shown sportier concept versions of the 200, suggesting that a special trim line above the S might come to market. As of 2013, no such model has surfaced, but the potential of the 200 (and maybe the Avenger) has been acknowledged enough to keep potential buyers interested…until they buy the Altima or Malibu instead. As is, the upper trims of the 200 are not unattractive. From some angles, it’s rather upmarket in appearance. The front looks distinctive with the Chrysler winged logo while the rear with its big diffuser looks down right sporting on the S model. Only the side view betrays any notion of flowing and agreeable lines. The thick and awkward looking C pillar alone spoils what could have been a pleasing and sporting profile. It looks like they were trying to channel the circular machined look of the unloved 2002-04 Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Chrysler never made a hardtop coupe from the GS platform like it once did with the old Avenger. Such a model with a tuned suspension and all the trimmings of the S model could have been a step up and replacement for the Sebring/Talon. The 200 is clearly going in a different direction. The Avenger, to some extent may be closer in spirit to the old Avenger coupe, but it’s no Altima or Accord.
Although improved over the Sebring in nearly every way, it like its platform mate, the Avenger manages to be slightly behind in technology and refinement. Inside was not much better. The materials were of better quality than what would have been found in any Sebring, but the mid-size sedan class never sat still longer enough for Chrysler to catch up. The 300 and Charger were much more modern in their execution, but the 200 and Avenger were hopelessly outdated at introduction.
Chrysler has to hold out for another year or so until the 200 and Avenger are replaced with some Fiat based yet to be released car. The Fiat infusion has done wonders for the Neon replacement, the Dart. In the meantime the Sterling Heights Michigan built car is sent to Europe for sale as the
Lancia Flavia. Admittedly, its attractive in its convertible form, but is saddled with the smaller four-cylinder engine. As a convertible only car with left hand drive, it’s not sold in the UK and other places in the world where the steering wheel is on the “wrong” side. The Flavia (and US convertibles) compete with cars like VW’s Eos. While the 200 undercuts the VW’s price, it lacks the refinement of the German competitor.
A Restart On the Way?
A case could be made for throwing out the 200 and Avenger names and pulling out one from Chrysler’s archives. If it’s as good as the new Dart, it might make us forget that the Avenger and 200 were so mediocre. That strategy may eventually to be working for the Dart in its quest to wipe the memory of the Neon from our consciousness. Lets keep our fingers crossed that Fiat skips its immediate stable of cars and go directly to Alfa for a Giulietta inspired replacement.