2015 Chrysler 200 sedan — new entry in the dog-eat-car midsize market. – SFGate (blog)

Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014

Let’s hear it for Chrysler, leader of the Glass-is-Full School of Auto Marketing. They’ve swept the design slate clean and have come up with a new entry for the most fiercely competitive segment of the car industry, the midsize sedan.

Apparently undaunted by this prospect, Chrysler has given us a car that has to compete on all levels – looks, comfort, engineering, reliability, appearance of cachet, flair, and, for dessert, whatever it is that makes people buy Car A over Car B.

This new boy in town is the Chrysler 200, a sedan that comes in four flavors – in ascending order, they are the 200LX, 200 Limited, 200S and 200C. We had a silver 200C for a week and had to decide whether we would want to spend 33,420 retail dollars on this car or, well, hunt around for something else. The somethings else came to mind.

A lot of competitors

It’s not so much the Chrysler itself, but the fact that there really are many, many other cars that not only fit the bill, but fit it better. Here’s a sampling of four-door sedans that are all in the roughly $21,000 to $34,000 range, depending on trim level and options: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and Chevrolet Malibu.

Camry, Altima and Accord are the perennial best sellers and it appears there’s a reason for that – they are quiet, economical, well built, comfortable, roomy enough and affordable (if you can call an average new-car price of about $31,000 affordable.)

So the Chrysler 200 line has to have something to say for itself, other than the fact that it comes from a storied history – I saw a beautiful 1961 Chrysler 300G convertible the other day and today’s offerings pale beside it. What is it about the 200 that should get me into Chrysler’s store, rather than the dozen other marques’?

First, there’s the design. It is fluid and it is markedly better looking than the Dart, from which it derives some of its parentage. Reminds me a bit of the Ford Fusion, particularly in the rear, with the smooth tail light and trunk lid treatment. It works as a car of the 21st century. But there are other cars that look fine, too.

Teamed up with Fiat

Second, it’s clear that getting married to Fiat may be a better choice than Chrysler’s last fling with international team-building, its disastrous union with Daimler-Benz. The new 200 is based on Chrysler-Fiat “Compact U.S. Wide” platform architecture, also shared with the Jeep Cherokee.

Inside, the 200 has an upgraded feel of fit and finish, but there are some nits to pick in a car that had fewer than 2,700 miles on the odometer when I started driving it.

For most of the week I had the car, there was an on-again, off-again buzzing from inside the center stack, which holds the HVAC controls and the 8.4-inch touchscreen for navigation and audio. The remote key fob, which should transmit signals to tell the car it’s okay to start, was mute and powerless when covered by a cell phone in one of the cup holders.

There were printed labels – Speedometer and Tachometer – on each of the two primary instruments, instruments, I might add, that have been lodged in cars’ dashboards for half a century or more. What’s going on here? Re-education camp?

The weirdness of backing up

And now a word about the most disconcerting event of the week. When backing out of a driveway that had a hedge on one side and the side of a porch on the other, the car went backwards a few feet, then suddenly there was a loud crunching noise from the rear and the car slammed to a stop. I got out and checked to see if I’d run over a lawn mower or something. Nothing there. Tried it again. Wham! Car stops abruptly. Then I noticed a dashboard warning flashing that I’d hit the brakes. Really?

Turns out, a Chrysler spokesman said when I called to find out what was going on, that this was likely the Parksense® system riding to the rescue. In essence, it’s a system that thinks you’re about to hit something so it stops the car long before you can even think about it. Safe, yes, but jarring. Fortunately, you can switch off this Safety Nanny gizmo on the dashboard.

All that aside, riding around in the 200C was much like riding around in many of the car’s competitors. (There were a few glitches – from time to time, the car did not want to shift from first to second gear for a while, and then would suddenly make the abrupt gear change as the engine crested 4,000 rpm.)

The 3.6-liter, 295-horsepower V6 was clearly up to the task of keeping up with California freeway traffic (a 2.4-liter, 184-horse four-banger is in the base model), and mileage figures are 19/32 mpg, city/highway.

The car now sports a nine-speed (nine?!) automatic transmission. Why do we need nine speeds? Is this, once again, a marketing ploy?

On the road, the steering did not feel very quick, and the ride itself was kind of bouncy, particularly when we hit some potholes. The car is quiet inside, and there’s enough room in the back seat for three passengers, as long as they don’t plan to spend 500 non-stop miles together.

The question, then, is whether to buy this car or one of its competitors. Frankly, I think Chrysler has an uphill struggle with this one. The company has some well-known brands that have achieved a reputation in one niche or another – the Dodge Challenger in the factory hot rod category; or the Jeep Grand Cherokee in SUV circles. But their current sedans, with the possible exception of a hotted-up 300, haven’t exactly retired the Accord or Camry.

So good luck out there on the hustings, Chrysler. You’ll need it.

For more consumer information on cars, check these Web sites:

Safety data can be found at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)  and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Reliability information can be seen in the  dependability studies conducted by J.D. Power; and at Consumer Reports.

Fuel mileage figures are available at this site, maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy.

For trivia lovers: the sticker you see on the window of every new car for sale in the United States is known in the auto industry as the “Monroney.” It is named for U.S. Senator Almer Stilwell (Mike) Monroney, the Oklahoma Democrat who sponsored the Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958, which required all new cars to have labels that detail the price of the car and its options.





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