The cars we loved.
The mid-sized family sedan segment is hotter than it’s ever been in America right now. There are so many stellar offerings, that the field is now made up of cars that offer a high level of kit while still supplying the high efficiency, comfort and a level of design mojo formally reserved for top drawer executive sedans.
In this fog of excellence, standing out has become more difficult than ever. Not surprising Chrysler has managed to standout, on the merits of its excellent design heritage with its new (again) 200 sedan. The 200 was supposed to be the companies savior a few years ago when its elaborate ad campaign declared it the new import from Detroit. Anyone who fell for that redesigned 200 from 3 years ago must feel cheated as the current car is a considerable leap in perceived refinement.
This time the tagline has a bit more truth to it as the new improved 200 sedan is built on a stretched version of the same Italian based platform that spawn the Dart. The Dart was a disappointment in the smaller segment for Chrysler, but the mid-sized segment would be its bread and butter so there was little room for messing up here.
On the surface the 200 hits the mark with its sleek design. The flowing C pillar is nearly coupe like and the elegant LED tail and headlight treatments make the new 200 look far more expensive than it it. In addition to having a non turbo version of the 2.4 Multi-Air engine that makes 184 hp, a 3.6 liter V6 with nearly 300 hp is available. With this powertrain a 9 speed automatic can be an all wheel drive system, giving the 200 the ability to punch above its class with Audi in bad weather.
The upmarket feel continues inside, to the extent that Chrysler allows with the basic parts and pieces that resemble the Dart on the surface. The simplistic interior with thin chrome accents is elegant, but the clunky center stack reminds you that Chrysler had to cut some corners somewhere. Even the 200’s LCD scree is smaller than it is on other Chrysler’s and navigation is not standard.
With the top engine the 200 can be quick to 60 mph needing only 6 seconds to reach 60 mph. The more common 2.4 liter versions fall just below the Honda Accord Sport and Mazda 6 in the run to 60, but deliver similar EPA numbers. That is where similarities with its competitors end, because the 200 lacks the unified feel that comes with the Accord or Mazda6. It even trails the Ford Fusion in these respects. Chrysler has addressed some of the 200’s shortcomings with a SEMA showing of a 200 decked out with aero bits and lightweight 19 inch wheels. Many of the parts are already available at your local MOPAR store and may have been used in some combination from dealers wanting to make further profits on run of the mill 200 on the lots.
Of course for enthusiasts the 200 is not likely to be on the shopping list in the first place. It’s too heavy at 3488 lbs in V6 form to be light on its feet and lacks the steering response more likely to be fond on its import competition. That’s unfortunate because the 200 is a distinctive design with more potential than most cars (in or out of its class).
Because of those impressive looks, it’s likely to be a modest seller, even though more mainstream cars aspire to more expensive ones in their overall design (Fusion=Aston Martin, Mazda6=Mazarati etc.). While Chrysler’s own 300 owes much of its appeal to Bentley like lines, the 200 apes no luxury brand in its design aspiration. This is an important short coming for this type of car. Despite being distinctive and attractive in its own right, the 200 is likely to be overlooked because its aspiration appeal is not squarely derived from something more upmarket. Looking like a more expensive car is not always enough, looking like a specific more expensive car is what Chrysler needs in its middle segment. It worked for the 300 and would for more effectively for the 200.
It might be too early to declare the 200 a causality of a tough market. The Dart was a disappointment and the 300 has held its own. Dodge in general seems to be in a holding pattern, making the kind of cars that America thinks it wants (from 30 years ago).
The path for Chrysler and the 200 may not be so clear cut, but the illusion of more value has been something Chrysler has done well in the past and the 200 could be no different. Either way the 200 is a good looking car in a market that demands great to do more than just survive.