2015 Chrysler 200: A contender is born – The Detroit News

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014

Historic Hermitage Farms outside Louisville, Ky.is a thoroughbred nursery where experienced horse hands raise promising foals into sleek, athletic stallions. These yearlings are the product of expensive bets by racing enthusiasts that the right partnership of mare and stallion will breed the next Kentucky Derby champion.

How appropriate that Chrysler chose Hermitage to launch its all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 this spring.

The offspring of Chrysler design and Alfa Romeo engineering, this thoroughbred is Chrysler’s hope for glory in the highly competitive midsize sedan segment. A winner would reward shareholders who have patiently waited for a worthy midsize car to bring more customers to Chrysler showrooms.

Is the 200 worthy? I strapped myself into its stirrups, grabbed the reins of its 3.6 liter, V-6 Pentastar engine and held on for dear life. Actually, I dialed the dual climate control to 70, turned on the Sirius XM Radio, and sipped soda from the sliding cup holder while blitzing the Kentucky countryside. When I was done, the 200 parked itself into a perpendicular parking space.

While the previous-generation stallion is headed for the glue factory, the new 200 runs with the classs best studs. Galloping over twisty roads, the Sterling Heights-manufactured car instantly exhibited its Italian DNA. This Chrysler is built on the athletic Alfa Giulietta skeleton what Chrysler calls its CUS-wide architecture made of 65 percent high strength steel. With a best-in-class 295 horsepower, coupe-like styling and all-wheel drive, the premium 200c edition signals the brands intent of becoming a performance leader. Let the Toyota Camry win the science fair for best sewing machine, the 200 wants to win the Derby.

Though shy of the class-leading Mazda6 and the Ford Fusion, the 200s handling is above average putting it neck-and-neck with the Honda Accord. And with more ponies than the others, the Pentastar will outrun them down the back stretch.

This stallion is not only fast it is comfortable, fuel efficient, and easy to use.

The midsize 200 carries a lot of brand responsibility on its back. Unlike crosstown rivals Chevy and Ford, the 200 doesnt benefit from entry-level compact sedans. Like your peppy Ford Fiesta or Focus? Let me show you the gorgeous Fusion or Taurus under the same dealer roof.

Chryslers menu, meanwhile, is a dogs breakfast. Fiat does subcompacts; Dodge the Dart compact; and Jeep makes SUVs. The 200 is Chryslers midsize hauler and entry-level sedan all wrapped in one. Ranging in price from $22,695 to the mid-$30,000s, the 200 is a one-car buffet of sandwich options.

From the front-wheel-drive LX to the all-wheel-drive C, the 200 offers two engines, four trim levels, and an army of safety features (the tenacious lane departure-correcting system is particularly noteworthy).

This car is a vital piece, says Chrysler CEO Al Gardner. Its our first touch point. The first connection to the brand.

Please, Papa Marchionne, you can hear Chrysler marketers begging, can we build a compact 100? Have an Espresso and Ill get back to you. Meantime, the 200 must wow cost-conscious, youngsters as well as performance-hungry elders. Thats pressure.

It makes its sales pitch with an elegant exterior hailed as the new face of Chrysler. By contrast, the 200s big brother 300 loudly arrived on Americas doorstep last decade with a Rolls Royce mug and ripped muscles like a warrior in the movie that shares its name. Its masculine pose has made it an icon among rappers and pro ballplayers. Will the 300 follow the 200s new softer design direction? Chryslers designers are mum.

If the 300 was Rolls Lite, then the pretty 200 and Lincoln MKZ appear separated at birth. Like the Ford luxury brand, its thin, swept front grille is inspired by the wings in its company logo. Its rhythmic, organic lines ripple across the cars flanks, tapering into a stepped rear end that is very MKZ.

But just as the MKZ shrinks in the shadow of an Audi A6, the 200 may get lost amid the bold stylings of the Ford Fusion or Hyundai Sonata. They light up the stage with big pouty lips and grinning grilles. Chrysler wants the sexy new 200 to rock your world, but she comes on like Sade, not Beyonce.

Form follows function, however, and the 200s slippery lines give it a best-in-class .26 drag coefficient part of Chryslers comprehensive theme of power and fuel economy. To save fuel, the 200 boasts an innovative 9-speed transmission and AWD system that engages only when needed.

But where this thoroughbred really shines is in the saddle.

Like Chryslers legendary minivans, the 200 brings innovation, style, and meticulous attention to detail to the cockpit. At its center is a rotary e-dial shifter and electronic parking brake. With no linkage to house, the center console is liberated as a multi-use piece of furniture with huge storage space (decorated with Detroit skyline artwork) under the shifter perfect for my wifes stuffed purse. Sliding cup holders reveal a pass-through to more space behind the shifter where she can recharge the smart phone in her purse via a USB port.

Her smartphone effortlessly syncs with Chryslers Uconnect touchscreen, the planets best infotainment system. It anchors a sweeping, two-toned dashboard that is as elegantly designed as the cars exterior. Its intuitive display and climate dials are a refreshing contrast to the Accords madhouse stack of screens and buttons. Its high-grade buttons shame the Fusions rubberized controls.

The 200s backseat is less friendly. For a 6-foot 5-inch freak like myself, rear seat entry is a calisthenics class of deep neck bends and leg tucks. So scarce is knee-room that Chrysler designers carved recesses into the back of the front seats. This is by design. Chrysler marketers calculate that 80 percent of rear, midsize passengers are kids. Got teens? Buy a Chrysler minivan. The 200s marketing sweet spot is 35-year-olds with no kids who crave the 200s sporty, coupe-like lines.

I asked 200 marketing chief and unreformed motorhead Andy Love if Chrysler would entertain an SRT performance version. His answer: With Subaru WRX-like all-wheel drive and horsepower, the 200 is already there.

The pairing of a Chrysler mare and Alfa stallion has bred a promising foal. Raised by 1,000 shiny new robots in Chryslers historic, revamped Sterling Heights assembly plant call it Pentastar Farms this stallion deserves a look in the midsize Derby.


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