2015 Chrysler 200 Goes in a Different Direction
You know that last time you rented from Enterprise and you were really hoping to get a Nissan Maxima or maybe even a Chevy Impala? Then you come to find out they “upgraded” you to a Chrysler 200! Yay! The Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger have ruled the rental car roost for years and Chrysler is finally ready to shed that image by dropping the Dodge Avenger and bringing the 200 up to competitive standards for the 2015 model year.
The family sedan segment is one of the most fierce segments in the U.S. Arguably more so than pickup trucks because there are just so many strong models to choose from. The Accord, Altima, and Camry are the perennial favorites amongst shoppers with their almost cookie cutter designs and roomy interior packages.
Driving the all-new 2015 200 around Kentucky’s back roads through horse country showed the Alfa Romeo DNA in the 200. Dynamically, the car is great to drive. The steering borders on perfection, for the segment. The suspension is entertaining but never punishing. The exhaust note on the 200S is throaty but the interior drone can get tiresome.
Something that the segment hasn’t really latched onto is offering all-wheel drive. Currently the Ford Fusion is the only car to offer it. The 2015 200S will offer it with the 295 horsepower V6 only. And yes, it makes the 200S feel like a rocket. Is it my favorite of the group? Probably not.
My favorite 200 model is the 200C with the V6. It’s fast, powerful, quiet, and very luxurious. Real open pore wood, acoustic glass, and Nappa leather seats might have some people thinking they are in a luxury car. No all-wheel drive option on the 200C but the success of others in the segment proves that you don’t need it to move the metal.
No matter what trim you get into, the 200 has some of the nicest feeling materials in the segment. The rotary shift knob feels solid, like a piece of billet aluminum. All of the switches and knobs feel like there was a lot of attention to detail during the development process. The area where the instrument panel and the door panel meet is a very smart design that hides any fit issues. Overall, the interior materials are first rate.
The new nine-speed automatic is a very fine transmission. It’s the second vehicle after the Jeep Cherokee to get this transmission. One reassuring thing about the 200 is that Chrysler learned from the launch of the Jeep Cherokee that they needed the help of their transmission supplier to calibrate the shifts and transmission logic. With the Cherokee, Chrysler tried to do it themselves and it resulted in some significant delays. This time around, Chrysler has some help, and it shows. The nine-speed was never busy or annoying. It worked just as one would expect. Yeah, there was a minor hiccup in the four-cylinder prototype I was driving but I was reassured that they have a software update coming to address the very issue I encountered and the prototype software will never make it into production.
So, did Chrysler attempt to make another “me too” family sedan that will fade into the sunset with vanilla style and forgettable powertrains? Hardly. It’s almost as if Chrysler acknowledged that they know they won’t sell 350,000 200 sedans a year and compromised on a few things to offer something that isn’t like everything else.
There are two items that bothered me about the 2015 200. The first is the rear seat. At 6’3″, I can sit in the back of an Accord, Altima, and Camry. I cannot sit in the back of the 200. That swoopy rear ends severely compromises your ability to climb in and out of the car. Once you’re in, there is limited headroom. In my case, there was none to be had.
My second item to contend with is the fuel economy. The EPA has not yet rated the 200 but Chrysler is expecting to achieve 35 MPG on the highway with the four-cylinder. A respectable number but by no means class leading or able to match the Altima or Mazda6. With this new nine-speed automatic and a totally new car, I thought they’d have the opportunity to work towards some sort of headline grabbing number. This is a huge improvement over the previous 200 in regards to fuel efficiency and has finally given Chrysler a competitive entry in the segment.
But was sacrificing fuel economy and that all-important rear seat package worth it? We won’t know until much later this year. It might take even longer. Chrysler will first have to cleanse everyone of their rental car memories of the 200 and then get the 200 on people’s shopping list. It will not be an easy road ahead for Chrysler. Yes, the 2015 200 is leaps and bounds better than any family sedan they had in the past but can they cut through the habitual shopping habits of Accord, Camry, and Altima buyers to grab a piece of the market? Possibly. There is room for a stylish entry in the segment, but at what cost to function remains to be seen. The Sonata proved that style can make sales, but can also look dated rather quickly. If you can deal with the limited rear seat room or have a short torso, this car should turn heads and make dog walkers stop when it is parked on your driveway. Forget everything you knew about the previous 200. This one is worthy of a name change, so don’t let previous memories spoil your thoughts on the new one.