2015 Chrysler 200: All-New Family Sedan for a Brand in Need – Forbes
The Chrysler Group has been tearing up the sales charts for over 4 years. May was the automaker’s 50th consecutive month of sales growth. Much of that growth has been driven by two very strong divisions within the automaker: Jeep and Ram. Jeep actually had its best single month of sales ever last month, while Ram sales in May were the best since 2005. Even Fiat, which has struggled to establish consistent growth since launching in the U.S. 3 years ago, also just had its best month ever. Dodge was up in May as well, and had its best sales month since 2007.
If you’ve noticed a conspicuous absence in sales accolades above, you’re on the right track. The one division within Chrysler Group LLC that has consistently failed to contribute to the automaker’s sales growth happens to be the same one the automotive group is named for — Chrysler. This reflects both a reduction in model count over the past few years as well as a lack of new, compelling product. Ten years ago Chrysler offered 7 models for sale. In 2015 the brand will have just three: 200, 300 and Town & Country.
However, things are looking up for Chrysler with the introduction of the all-new 200 family sedan. The 200 marks the first full collaboration between Fiat and Chrysler in the midsize sedan segment. It will also be the sole representative in this role, as its Dodge Avenger stablemate dies in 2014 and won’t be resurrected. This is part of Sergio Marchionne’s plan to make Chrysler the volume brand and Dodge the performance brand. The Chrysler 200 won’t have to go it alone for long. It will be joined by an all-new Chrysler 100 in 2016 to compete in the high-volume economy sedan segment against the likes of Honda’s Civic and Toyota’s Corolla. And an updated Town and Country, 300 and all-new large SUV will arrive in 2017 or 2018.
But for now the future of Chrysler division’s growth rests on this all-new 200, which began arriving in showrooms last month. That’s a lot of pressure to put on one model, especially in this most competitive of segments. In the last two years nearly every midsize sedan has been either redesigned or refreshed, leaving a phalanx of fresh family models ready to defend against upstarts. Can an all-new sedan with a checkered past succeed in this environment?
Without an aggressive awareness campaign, one that gets potential buyers into the new sedan so they can experience first-hand how much the 200 has improved, the answer would likely be “no.” The 2015 Chrysler 200 is undeniably attractive (I refer to it as a “Baby Audi Audi A7″), but those sleek body lines alone won’t get Accord, Altima, Camry and Fusion intenders to jump ship. People need to get inside and see the LED interior lighting, touch the supple dash and door panel materials, and feel the capable 4- and 6-cylinder engines mated to a responsive 9-speed transmission. The new 200 is so far removed from the outgoing model it will be difficult for shoppers to accept the car’s comprehensive transformation.
Chrysler is addressing this issue with a campaign called “Born Makers” that stresses the 200′s domestic origins alongside its advanced features. This follows on the Super Bowl commercial with the same theme, and after driving the 2015 Chrysler 200 it feels good to say there’s genuine substance beneath these commercials’ sizzle. Of course I’m not blind to the irony that this Chrysler 200, with its Fiat-sourced platform, comes from a very non-American origin (just as the current 300′s platform started in Europe under a Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz E-Class). But while cynics might fixate on this issue I’ve always focused more on the final execution versus getting caught up in platform lineage. In the new 200′s — and existing 300′s — case the cars offer excellent ride and handling traits, so thank you Fiat and Mercedes!
The “why buy” list of features for the all-new 200 goes beyond its sleek bodywork and high-quality interior materials, though either or both might be the most welcome upgrades. Standard features on the 200 LX, like push-button start, keyless entry and a 9-speed transmission with electronic rotary shifter, feel like high value in a $22,695 vehicle. That price includes a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 184 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque and fuel mileage ratings of 23 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. Stepping up through the 200 Limited ($24,250), the 200S ($25,490) and 200C ($26,900) adds increasing luxury and technology features, including an optional 3.6-liter V6 (295 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque) and all-wheel drive.
Some of the more impressive technologies offered on the new 200 include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, forward collision warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist, ventilated and heated seats, HID headlamps, an 8.4-inch touchscreen with voice-activated navigation and a 506-watt audio system with 10 speakers. My 200C test car, with the 2.4-liter engine, had all of these features for $31,470. Some reports suggest the rear seat is cramped, though it wasn’t a problem for me or my family of four (with two teen-agers rivaling their parents’ height). I did think my test car’s suspension was a tad soft, even by family car standards, but I’ve also driven the sportier 200S and know that model’s suspension tuning would suit me fine.
Given where the Chrysler 200 was a year ago I remain amazed that my biggest complaint about the new model is slightly soft suspension tuning (except in the 200S). Chrysler couldn’t be entering a tougher vehicle segment, yet it’s produced a model with several class leading features (9-speed transmission, 295 horsepower V6, 8.4-inch touchscreen) housed in an attractive shape featuring high-quality interior materials and advanced technology features.
Some would argue it’s well past time this brand contributed to the automaker’s 50-month streak of sales growth. If Chrysler can get a critical mass of people to give the new 200 a chance, it will.