2012/13 Chrysler 200 Review By Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Chrysler 200 S

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2012/13 Chrysler 200

Does Chrysler always do best under extreme pressure? It seems that way -- a major crisis in the early 1990s led to the revolutionary and successful LH cars. And the recent financial dire straits and rescue by Fiat have led to an improved lineup as well.

I'll use the Chrysler 200 as an example. Introduced for 2011, the 200 wasn't really new, as Chrysler didn't have the resources for that. Instead, it was the next generation Sebring -- but with enough structural, functional, and styling changes to justify a new name. The roofline and doors were familiar, but all other body panels were restyled for the better. Suspension geometry was changed, as was tuning, for a comfortably compliant ride and good handling abilities, in a most European manner. The venerable 2.4-liter "World Gas Engine" continued, but with some improvements. The V6 option became the then-new 3.6-liter, 283-horsepower "Pentastar" engine, driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic. And best of all, the interior was brand-new, with significantly more soundproofing, upgraded seats, and high-grade materials. LX, Touring, Limited, and (late availability) S were the trim levels.

Unsurprisingly, there were few changes for 2012. For 2013, there is a shake-up in the lineup. The S is gone as a standalone model, and is now offered as an option package for Touring and Limited models. This allows its appearance upgrades, including a blacked-out grille and foglamp bezels, body-colored mirrors and door handles, and 18-inch polished and painted aluminum alloy wheels with all-season touring tires to be available with the four-cylinder engine in the Touring or with the V6 and further interior enhancements in the Limited.

Which means that the 2012 200 S that is this week's test car is equivalent to a 2013 200 Limited with the S package. While there might be some minor differences between my actual test car and the new equivalent you can buy, the major difference is that the $29,170 bottom line on the 2012 S model's price sheet becomes $27,815 for a 2013 Limited with the S package and Sun/Sound Group. That's a savings of $1355, not a bad thing at all. (Do note that between writing time and the time you read this, details may change.)

The average price of a new car today is just over $30,000. The S-spec Chrysler 200 Limited (or 2012 200 S) is better than average in appointment, ride quality, and power, and has no shortage of comfortable interior space for four people. Chrysler had its back to the wall (again!) not long ago, and yet again has come back fighting.

APPEARANCE: Yes, the roofline is familiar. But the 200 is not a Sebring, and to emphasize that, styling of all other parts is much closer to the larger 300. The grille shape, sculpted hood, and LED headlight accents are all done in the newest Chrysler style, and, like its larger sibling, the 200 is not afraid to look like a sedan. The S package exchanges the standard chrome grille center for a blacked-out look, further developed with smoked headlamp covers, dark bezels around the foglamps, body-colored door handles and mirrors, and tinted windows for a mild custom demeanor.

COMFORT: Inside, the 200, especially in its upper trim levels, is definitely above average. No tacky hard plastics here! The instrument panel and upper door panels are textured, soft-touch synthetics, and, in the Limited and Limited S, seats are leather, with the driver's power-adjustable and both fronts heated. Comfort level is definitely above average, too. Tasteful amounts of non-distracting chrome accent the instrument hood and center stack, which also features a 300-like analog clock. Satin aluminum-look trim on the steering wheel and around the shift lever adds a contemporary sporty touch. The steering wheel is manually-adjustable for both tilt and reach, and has cruise, information system, and audio controls. The touchscreen that is part of the Sun/Sound package controls audio, some information, and navigation systems; climate controls are simple rotary knobs below. Audio choices here include AM, FM, and XM/Sirius radio, CD, and jack and USB/iPod inputs. The cupholders in the front console are lit at night, a useful touch that shows attention to detail. Rear seat room is very good for two outboard passengers. A high central tunnel means the center position is best for small people for short times. The 200 is far from alone there! External struts improve space utilization in the trunk, and there is a space-saver spare under the trunk floor, not the ever more common can of sealant.

SAFETY: All Chrysler 200 models have dual-stage front, seat-mounted front side, and full-length head curtain airbags, and standard electronic stability control with brake assist and all-speed traction control. Brakes are four-wheel antilock disc.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Designing and calibrating a suspension that combines a smooth, supple ride that has minimal disturbance when encountering rough roads is not rocket science. It just takes attention to detail and careful testing -- which take time and money and so often have then been not done correctly or at all. Chrysler took the time to do it right here. The fully independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension was redesigned, with new geometry to take advantage of newer tires, and recalibrated for comfort and handling. Add additional soundproofing, and the result is a composed and compliant ride that deals with disturbances and immediately is done with them, very upper-middle class European. It's by no means sports, nor was it meant to be, but it is comfortable.

PERFORMANCE: With 283 horsepower (at 6400 rpm) and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm, and plenty of torque right off idle, the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is the most powerful engine to ever grace the Sebring/200 chassis. A modern aluminum alloy design with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and a three-plenum intake manifold with electronically-controlled variable-length runners, it's matched to a six-speed automatic with Auto Stick manual control via the shift lever when desired. Excessive throttle use can provoke torque reaction through the steering, so be gentle or hold on firmly. Maybe it's channelling an Omni GLH… but the 200 V6 is a far more civilized machine than that! And quite likely quicker, with a 0-60 time under 6.5 seconds. Fuel economy is listed as 19 city, 29 highway. I got 23 overall, with only moderate use of highways. More highway, less city would improve that.

CONCLUSIONS: The Chrysler 200 is much more than a mere refresh of the now-departed Sebring nameplate and gives Chrysler a good entry in the middle-class midsize sedan marketplace.

SPECIFICATIONS
2012/13 Chrysler 200

Base Price			$ 24,685 (2013 Limited)
Price As Tested			$ 27,815
Engine Type			DOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6
Engine Size			3.6 liters / 220 cu. in.
Horsepower			283 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			260 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		108.9 in. / 191.7 in.
Curb Weight			3600 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.7
Fuel Capacity			16.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/50R18 94T Goodyear Eagle LS2
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, BA, ESC, TC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 29 / 23
0 to 60 mph				est 6.4 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

S Interior/exterior Appearance Package			$  495
Sun/Sound Group -- includes
  Uconnect 730 CD/DVD/MP3/HDD/navigation media
  center, Uconnect voice command, remote USB port and
  Bluetooth streaming audio, one-year Sirius/XM Travel
  Link with real-time traffic updates, power sunroof	$ 1,640
Destination charge					$   995

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