Before even seeing the 2015 Chrysler 200 in person for the first time, I already knew this was going to be the best mid-size sedan Chrysler has made in recent years. Why is that? Well as many already know, Chrysler doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to producing a mid-sized sedan that’s even remotely competitive with segment stalwarts including the Accord and Camry, and more recently, a tidal wave of new competitors. But an even bigger question was still left unanswered as I prepared to get behind the wheel, “Has the 2015 Chrysler 200 improved enough to finally be taken seriously in this ever-competitive class?”
Taking a brief trip down memory lane, over the past several decades Chrysler’s mid-size sedan efforts have always been somewhat lacking. Since introducing the 1983 E-body, its first sedan that would be considered “mid-sized” by today’s standards, Chrysler has struggled to produce a truly competitive mid-sized sedan. Over the years, there were some high points, like the 1995 JA Cirrus/Stratus/Breeze. But failure to address these cars’ shortcomings and continued investment in the JA resulted in a relatively quick fall from prominence. Follow-up efforts, if you could call them so, proved to be unsuccessful at capturing either a significant share of the market or measurable praise, their shortcomings all too obvious.
The 2015 Chrysler 200, however, is a fresh breath of optimism for the automaker. Built on a competitive global platform, with modern drivetrains, fresh styling, eye-catching interior, and numerous high-technology features, the new 200 has been turning heads and garnering positive buzz since day one. But the best way to form a conclusion is to experience it in the living flesh, and that’s just why I recently made a short trip up to Quirk Chrysler-Jeep in Braintree, MA, where I got behind the wheel of this Velvet Red Pearl front-wheel drive and V6-powered 200C, stickering at $32,380.
The new 200 cannot be discussed without first addressing its new looks. Externally, it ditches the previous 200/Sebring’s somewhat choppy, pieced-together styling for a far cleaner and elegant appearance. From the front, you’re instantly drawn is its bold upper and lower grilles that look like mirror images of one another. Its twin-projector headlights, with their LED outlines have the appearance of being part of the grille. With the headlights off, these LEDs have the appearance of chrome, further owing to this integral appearance.
In profile view, the 200 looks light years ahead of the clumsy-looking car it replaced. Its gracefully arching roofline seamlessly blends into the trunk, in true modern fashion. Chrome window surrounds are bold and classy, and sharp character lines provide some much needed break-up in the very tall space below the windows.
High beltlines have received sharp criticism for their interior draw-backs (heavily present in the 200), but this may be one of the first examples that beltlines have become too high from an exterior styling standpoint. The greenhouse is a major improvement over the old 200’s, although it doesn’t set any new trends, looking very similar to those of many cars, from Buick Verano to Ford Fusion to Toyota Avalon.
Around back is the only place where things really start to fall apart. The deck lid is very high, and its integral spoiler throws off the elegantly tapering roofline. Additionally, the short trunk makes for a stubby, insubstantial look. Personally, I really think that some more interesting taillights, possibly vertically oriented, could do wonders for this car.
Slipping into the 200’s very thickly-bolstered driver’s seat, I was instantly delighted that the interior neither looked nor felt anything like the 2010 Sebring my mom and I rented while touring colleges almost exactly five years ago. Plastics were of good quality, with plenty of rich-looking satin aluminum accents about. My tester’s faux woodgrain trim was a bit tacky, especially surrounding the instrument panel. Regardless, the way it wraps around the front door handles and disappears into the dash is pretty cool. Chrysler does offer genuine open-pore wood trim, which would be curious to compare.
Once in the driver’s seat, any indication of the car’s high hood is gone. With no part of it in view, and you feel very forwardly placed, whether or not this is true. I also immediately noticed how obstructive the forward-placed A-pillars are. Concerning the seats, I was frankly disappointed. While they are plenty supportive, I found them overly firm. Furthermore, I was immensely let down by the so called “Nappa Leather”, finding it very stiff and lacking any grain, it made me wonder whether it was manufactured by the Rubbermaid Corporation. Perforated leather is available with the premium package, which I imagine (and hope) would be a bit better.
Trim finishes aside, the instant you enter it’s interior, your eyes are drawn to the massive 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen and a center stack that looks like none found in any other car. Most controls do, of course, require interface with Uconnect, but thankfully important controls have redundant knobs and buttons on in the center stack.
Speaking of that touchscreen, I had mixed feelings on it. While its size allows for buttons that are plenty large, I did experience the anticipated annoyances of dust and sun glare, the latter of which wasn’t helped by my dark sunglasses which I wear about 90% of the time I drive. Graphics are beginning to look dated, as they haven’t progressed much in the last few years.
Appreciatively, the same cannot be said about the 7-inch display located in the gauge cluster – it’s fantastic. Graphics are far more crisp and up-to-date, and its opaque blue lighting is a nice contrast to the fine watch-like analogue instruments. This screen is used for a number of functions, displaying unbelievably detailed graphics for each.
As visually large as the center stack and console are, I didn’t find it obtrusive in any way, though larger folks may feel differently. Its size does not go to waste, as behind the cupholders is a massively deep storage compartment and underneath the control panel is a large passthrough storage space. Additionally, the rotary gear shifter and electronic parking brake free up vertical space.
In regards to my actual test drive, I’m sad to say it was a very quick one. It was quite busy that morning, so I don’t blame any salesperson for wanting to move on to someone with an actual interest in buying a car. Around town, the 200C provided both a smooth ride and an livable driving experience. There were no squeaks or rattles, and NVH was undetectable in the 200’s vault-like interior, something uncharacteristic of Chrysler mid-sizers of the past. Rather unexpectedly, suspension was very firm, something that may deter some mid-size sedan buyers preferring a more comfortable ride. Keep in mind the wasn’t even the 200S model and it rode on standard 17-inch wheels (18- and 19-inch are available).
Power is delivered efficiently from its 3.6L Pentastar V6, and I never had any issues with the car’s ZF-sourced 9-speed automatic. Shifts were smooth, though frankly a bit CVT-like. I personally prefer a little more rev, but the 200’s Sport Mode made up for some of this. With all those gears to paddle shift through, it provided more entertainment than expected.
The 200C is no sports sedan however, and rightfully Chrysler does not market it as one (though they try to play that card for the 200S). Steering is light, but not as numb as is in some competitors. For all that engine weight over the front wheels, the 200C’s torque steer was insignificant, and the car didn’t feel overly nose heavy. That being said, the 200 did feel like a very heavy car overall. Not in the sense that it’s sluggish or underpowered, but just in that driving it feels like you’re moving around a bigger car than the 200 actually is.
Overall, the 2015 Chrysler 200 is a solid and capable car. It may still have a few areas with room for improvement, but so long as Chrysler continues giving it the attention it deserves, with meaningful updates and upgrades over the next few years, the new 200 will only keep getting better. For mid-size sedan buyers seeking something with style and a wide variety of options to choose from, the 200 is seriously worth a look. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing a lot more 200s that don’t belong to Enterprise or Hertz on the road.
My Final Verdict: The 2015 Chrysler 200 is indeed a very much improved vehicle. Is it best-in-class? No. But has Chrysler finally produced a truly competitive vehicle in the ever-aggressive mid-size sedan segment? Absolutely.