Midsize sedans are among the most popular vehicles on the road, and every major mainstream car company offers its own version of what is essentially the same recipe: three-box design, four wheels, five seats. Of them, the Honda Accord is the best-selling model to people like you and me, the car other automakers must beat in more ways than sheer popularity.
Chrysler’s redesigned 2015 200 is hoping for a piece of the Accord’s action, and considering that last year’s version of the car essentially rolled off assembly lines and into rental car company parking lots, it will be deemed successful even if it merely nudges the sales needle. This new 200 is a far better car than the old 200. But does it have what it takes to woo Accord buyers?
This match-up is a bit lop-sided in that our Accord is the lightly equipped Sport model, priced at $25,455, while our 200C test vehicle is equipped with all the upgrades and a window sticker of $36,865. We tried to keep this disparity in mind while assessing both cars, but in the end, it didn’t matter.
Styling and Design
Sleek, svelte, and a little small, the Chrysler 200 is attractive in somewhat bland and anonymous fashion. Whether that’s forced by aerodynamic considerations, its basis on the same platform as the Dodge Dart, its assignment to debut a new look for Chrysler, or all three, it looks rather plain and derivative.
Inside, circular themes and rounded seams make the cabin look overinflated, and the Chrysler feels smaller than it is. The 200C model’s bronze trim pieces appear tarnished and dated instead of upscale, but the quality of the materials and how they are assembled is excellent. It’s too bad the doors don’t sound solid when you slam them shut.
Contrast these observations with the Accord, which is more conservatively styled but also has a creased and tailored appearance with upscale detailing that makes the price tag look like a genuine bargain. Honda’s mistake is offering the Sport model’s upgrades only with what is essentially the base-level interior setup.
Though lightly equipped in comparison to the 200C, the Accord Sport impresses with quality, thoughtfulness, and tasteful details. This Honda looks and feels roomy inside, and the materials exude long-lasting quality. The contrast between textures and surfaces is subtle, too, except for the clumsily executed door panels. What Chrysler supplies, though, is a greater sense of quality. In the Honda, you’re getting exactly what you paid for, and nothing more.
Comfort and Controls
Chrysler adopts an unusual approach with the 200’s interior, placing the center controls and the transmission’s rotary shift knob on an angled console with multiple storage compartments. This design, in combination with Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and our 200C test car’s configurable instrumentation, represents a sophisticated and user-friendly control layout.
The Accord Sport’s interior was comparatively simplistic, but this approach has its own merits. Worried about distracted driving? This version of the Accord creates almost none. From the giant, unadorned speedometer to the big buttons and knobs with large, clear markings, the Accord Sport’s cabin is refreshing in its simplicity.
A 10-way power driver’s seat is standard in all versions of the Accord except for the base model, and it is very comfortable. This is a roomy car with excellent outward visibility, and adults riding in the rear seat have so much legroom that they can cross their legs without contacting the front seatbacks. All that’s missing here are rear air vents and a front passenger’s seat height adjuster.
The Chrysler is comfortable too, but is far more intimate in terms of how the space is configured. Thicker roof pillars inhibit visibility and add to the closed feeling of the Chrysler’s cabin, and the rear seat cannot be described as anything but snug. The seats are quite comfortable front and rear, but the 200 feels more like a compact car than it does a midsize car.
Features and Technology
While it is true that our Chrysler 200C test car was fully stocked with technological goodness and that our Accord Sport was not, we’ve got enough experience with the dual-screen infotainment systems in fancier Accords to tell you that we find Chrysler’s Uconnect technology better in just about every way.
Chrysler groups all functions together in a single touchscreen on the center of the 200’s dashboard, with corresponding knobs and buttons falling readily to hand on the angled center console. Uconnect also features clear graphics, large and responsive virtual buttons, and logical markings to make using all of its features relatively easy. It can also be upgraded to transform the 200 into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.
Honda’s available touchscreen infotainment system with HondaLink technology employs a separate screen from the multi-information display and navigation system, which does not use a touchscreen and is embedded deep into the top of the Accord’s dashboard. The driver uses a set of buttons and a control knob located beneath the climate controls to operate the non-touch information and navigation screen, while at the same time needing to remember that the radio and connectivity systems are touch sensitive and located elsewhere. Honda’s approach is confusing.
Beyond its superior infotainment and navigation system, Chrysler offers a greater range of modern driving assist systems for the 200. This car can be equipped with a parking assist system that steers the Chrysler into both parallel and perpendicular parking spaces, and in addition to a lane departure warning system provides lane keeping assist technology to automatically prevent the 200 from wandering out of its lane. We also prefer the 200’s traditional blind spot warning system that works on both sides of the car to the Accord’s available LaneWatch camera that only shows what’s to the right side of the Honda, and the Chrysler offers an adaptive cruise control system with full stop-and-go capability.
Compared to the Chrysler, the Honda’s menu of available features and technological upgrades is lacking. The advantage goes to the new 200.
Despite the Chrysler 200C’s optional V-6 engine and all-wheel-drive system, the latter a feature that Honda does not offer for the Accord, it could not match the Honda’s utterly sublime driving character, no matter the environment.
Honda has done a terrific job of engineering the Accord’s standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, which makes 189 horsepower in the Sport model we tested. A manual gearbox is standard, but nearly all Accords in dealership stock will have the continuously variable transmission (CVT), one of the most sophisticated of the breed. Acceleration is quick, the powertrain is refined, and in the Sport model the driver can even use paddle shifters to change between pre-programmed CVT ratios. There is a 278-horsepower V-6 engine available in top-tier Accord models, but this 4-cylinder is so good that we don’t see the point of upgrading.
Of course, the Chrysler’s optional V-6 engine outgunned the Accord’s 4-cylinder, and this 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V-6 is pretty terrific, especially if you switch the car into the Sport driving mode. A 9-speed automatic fed the power to all four wheels in our test car, and while it behaves well most of the time, it did seem to take its time when engaging a gear, or while deciding the best course of action while the car was underway.
In other respects, the Chrysler proved inferior to the Accord. From the electric steering’s too light or too heavy feel and its lack of crisp and accurate response to the position and feel of the brake pedal, the 200C V-6 AWD came across as dynamically half-baked. Chrysler’s suspension tuners definitely need to rethink the approach here, as the ride is too busy and too bouncy while at the same time allowing far too much impact harshness and noise to penetrate the cabin. Our recommendation would be to soften impacts and tighten body control.
Meanwhile, the Accord Sport rides and handles like a genuine sport sedan. This is a precisely engineered automobile, the brakes, the steering, and the suspension expertly tuned. You don’t have to drive the Accord like you stole it, but if you decide to have a little bit of fun on a favorite back road, this car is a willing companion. Better yet, its dynamic competence doesn’t come at the expense of a comfortable ride. The Honda isn’t as quiet inside as the Chrysler, but we’ll take some extra wind and road noise if it means we get to drive the Accord instead of the 200.
Equipped with greater and more useful interior storage solutions, a bigger trunk, and impressive crash-test ratings, the Chrysler 200 is a practical choice in a midsize sedan. Plus, our test car got exactly what the EPA said it would in terms of fuel economy. Unfortunately, the previous 200’s quality and dependability track record likely has little bearing on how the new car will perform, and that’s one reason why the Accord strikes us as the more practical choice.
Ignore those little black dots you’ll find on the current Accord’s reliability record in Consumer Reports. Those pertain to complaints about the dual-screen infotainment setup. The Accord is going to be reliable, and it’s going to hold its value over time. Crash-test ratings impress, and the car is fuel efficient, though I didn’t quite hit the EPA ratings during my testing. Combine these factors with decent storage and cargo accommodations, as well as a roomy cabin, and the Accord is quite a practical sedan.
There exists more than one reason that so many people decide to drive home in a brand-new Accord. This is not a perfect car, but it is an impressive car. Chrysler’s new 200 is a dramatic step in the right direction, and is both more innovative and better equipped than the Accord in many respects, but without greater attention to dynamic tuning and a bigger back seat, it can’t unseat the sales leader.