Chrysler’s in real trouble — but bad news for them could be good news for you.
Fiat — which fronts the operation — has decided to nix several not-so-profitable models, including the 200 series sedan, which is the subject of this review. But the 200 is not a Turducken.
It is one of the few family sedans in the under $30k range you can get with both a V6 and all-wheel-drive.
People seem to like it. Sales increased by more than 50 percent last year.
Unfortunately for Chrysler, not enough people like it.
It’s not making enough money, to be precise about it.
The money is over at Jeep — also owned by Fiat (along with Ram — nee Dodge — trucks).
Where they can’t stamp out Cherokees and Wranglers and Renegades fast enough to keep up with demand. That is where the volume — and so, the money — is.
Which is why Fiat has pulled the plug on the not-as-profitable 200 (and the Dodge Dart, which is a Turducken) in order to pour the proverbial coals to Jeep production.
This makes business sense for Fiat — even if it comes at the expense of Chrysler. Which is now (or soon will be) down to just two models — the aging (but still appealing) 300 sedan and the new Pacifica minivan.
Which may prove to be Chrysler’s last new model.
WHAT IT IS
The 200 is a mid-sized, mid-priced family car — about the same size (and in the same price range) as cars like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu.
Almost uniquely in its segment, the 200 is available with all-wheel-drive and you can get it with a V6, too.
The only other car in this general class that offers both those things together — for about the same price — is Subaru’s Legacy.
Which — ironically — hasn’t sold as well as the 200.
Sometimes, success fails.
Base price is $21,995 for the LX trim (with FWD) and a four cylinder engine. In between are Touring, Sport, Limited Platinum and top-of-the-line 200C Platinum (w/AWD) trims, the latter’s MSRP being $31,785.
The 2017 200 is the same as last year’s 200. Even the prices remain unchanged.
It’s still a pretty new car, though — having been introduced in 2015 as an-all model for Chrysler.
Frame-of-reference-wise, the current (2017) Toyota Camry is also three years old (“all new” for 2015). The current Honda Accord hasn’t changed much since the 2014 model year.
Available with all-wheel-drive (rare in this class and price range).
Available with a V6 (also getting rare in this class).
Entry price point is about $1,100 lower than Camry’s ($23,070).
Elegant and stylish in a segment defined by too bland (Camry), too techy (Accord) and too grampy (Legacy).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
A bit less room inside than competitors like Camry and Fusion.
AWD is only available with the V6 — and only in the more expensive S and C trims.
Subaru Legacy comes standard with AWD (though not with the V6) for almost $10k less ($21,995).
Chrysler might soon sleep with the fishes, leaving the 200 (and other Chrysler models) orphaned.
UNDER THE HOOD
Like most of the cars in this class, the 200 is available with either of two engines. However, unlike a growing number of cars in this class (including the Mazda 6 and Chevy Malibu), the 200 offers both a four and a six.
Not just fours.
The 200’s standard 2.4 liter four makes 184 hp, significantly more power than the new (just-redesigned) Chevy Malibu’s standard 1.5 liter, 160 hp turbo four and a bit more than the Toyota Camry’s standard 2.5 liters, 178 hp four — and dead heat with the base-engined Honda Accord (2.4 liters, 185 hp).
Another possible cross-shop, the Mazda 6, offers just one engine — a 2.5 liter, 184 hp four.
There is no optional upgrade.
The 200’s optional V6, meanwhile, makes its horsepower (295 hp) the old-fashioned way — with more cylinders and more displacement — rather than a turbo.
Turbo fours are becoming common in this segment as the upgrade option (2017 Fusion) and even (as in the new Chevy Malibu) the base engine. They offer on-demand power and generally very good fuel economy when power is not demanded — but they’re higher stressed by design (being pressurized) and have more parts (and so more potential things to break, as time and miles go by). The long-haul durability of these turbo engines remains questionable, assurances notwithstanding. We won’t know how they do until they rack up 100,000-plus miles in real-world driving.
Anyhow, the 200’s optional 3.6 liter V6 produces substantially more power than the just-updated Toyota Camry’s optionally available 3.5 liter, 268 hp V6 and the Accord’s optional 3.5 liter, 278 hp V6.
There is also the Subaru Legacy, which can be ordered with a 3.6 liter horizontally opposed (“flat”) six, but it only makes 256 hp. The Legacy does come standard with all-wheel-drive, though. While the 200 offers it, it’s extra cost — and it’s only available with the optional V6 while the Soobie includes AWD with either of its two available engines.
The just-redesigned Chevy Malibu can be ordered with a 259 hp 2.0 liter turbocharged four- but not with all-wheel-drive.
Ford just added a 2.7 liter twin turbo V6 (same as available in the F-150 pick-up) as the Fusion’s top-of-the-line engine. It makes a class-best 325 hp and it’s paired with AWD. But the sticker — $33,475 — is several thousand bucks higher than either the Chrysler’s or the Subaru’s.
Both 200 engines are paired with nine-speed automatics — a feature no competitor yet offers. Six-speed automatics and in some cases (Legacy, base four-cylinder Accord) continuously variable (CVT) transmissions are the rule in this class.
What’s the advantage of having nine forward speeds?
The extra gearing reduces engine RPM in each gear by allowing earlier upshifts to the next forward gear. Engine RPM is also dialed back a lot once you achieve steady-state cruising speed.
This is a big fuel efficiency advantage, helping the base 200’s base four earn an EPA rating of 23 city, 36 highway — a notch better than the new Camry manages with its larger (2.5 liter) four: 25 city, 35 highway and significantly bettered only by the Ford Fusion’s optional hybrid powertrain (44 city, 41 highway).
The tighter gear spacing of the nine-speed automatic is also a performance advantage. With the V6, a 200 can hustle to 60 in the high fives — quicker than the former hot rod in this class, the V6 Honda Accord.
With the four (and FWD) 0-60 takes about 8.5 seconds — a second quicker than the AWD-equipped Legacy 2.5 but slower than the four-cylinder/FWD Accord and Camry.
Perk: Neither the 200’s base four nor its optional V6 require premium fuel. While most of the competition’s standard engines are economy-minded and set up for regular, their peppier (and typically turbo’d) optional engines often require premium to deliver the best performance and economy.
ON THE ROAD
One of the attributes that made Toyota’s Camry the go-to car in this segment for so many years was its gentle, easygoing nature. It may have been as exciting as a night watching Bachelor re-runs with your spinster aunt, but Toyota got away it for decades because the competition (especially the American competition) was exciting in other areas… like rapid depreciation.
Honda’s Accord, meanwhile, picked up the would-be Camry buyers who wanted a car with more personality — but which also had the blue chip rep.
Together, they pretty much owned the segment.
But that’s changing perceptibly as people become aware of excellent domestic-badged alternatives such as the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu.
And now, the 200 — even if it’s not enough of them to keep it alive.
Drive one and you’ll see. It’s got a cushy (but not mushy) ride. It’s also really quiet — the fruit of triple seals and acoustically laminated glass.
The nine-speed automatic helps, too.
Like all modern cars, the 200 has extremely favorable overdrive gearing to maximize fuel economy during steady-state cruising. But unlike all its competitors, the 200’s intermediate gearing (third, fourth and fifth) is more tightly grouped. You might think it would feel (and sound) more busy, due to the increased number of shifts that occur. But in fact, the opposite is true. The car seems to glide forward, almost like an electric car.
But unlike most electric cars, the 200’s also got a pair.
One day, I rolled up behind a not-very-old Mustang (circa mid-2000s) whose driver was a Clover. Until I attempted to pass her. Then — being a Clover — she floored it, using every hp under the Mustang’s hood to keep the 200 from edging past. She looked unhappy when the 200 not only kept up but pulled ahead, eventually putting enough distance between me and her that I was able to slide back over into the right lane… ahead of her now.
There is much to be said for a family car with muscle car punch. With the V6, you’ve got it — the nine-speed automatic rabbit punching each shift so rapidly it’s hard to count each one.
That’s with the pedal down, wide-open throttle.
Back off the throttle and the deep gearing on top immediately curbs the revs and 80 instantly feels like 50. Cars like this are way too good for American roads, with their dumbed-down traffic laws stuck back in 1975 and the drive 55…
The rotary knob gear selector is mounted on the attractively angled floating center stack. No cable connects your hand to the transmission. Your inputs are transmitted electronically.
Sight lines are good, but the optional Advanced Brake Assist can be peremptory. An unsettling alarm will sometimes erupt — accompanied by a frantic light show in the gauge cluster — if you don’t drive like a Clover.
It went off on several occasions when I was pulling up behind another car stopped at a red light — because I didn’t leave a 20-yard gap between myself and the bumper of the car ahead.
Luckily, this can be adjusted. And even better the system can also be turned off.
There is — for once — a noticeable difference in ride quality between the trims. The plush-minded Limited is set up the way big American cars used to be — cushioning you from physical and auditory intrusions.
If you dig that, you’ll love it.
For something firmer and more European-like, go for the S or the C. These versions of the 200 also get an “S” mode for the nine-speed automatic, which (when engaged) sharpens up the gear changes to complement a faster-paced driving style.
AT THE CURB
I think this is a gracefully proportioned car.
Park one next to a Lexus ES350 (which is a Camry in evening clothes) and see what I mean.
Some of the exterior styling cues may not be hugely original (Audi-esque LED underbrows; Lexus-like trapezoidal exhaust tips blended into a rear air defuser; the now-everyone-does it BMW knock-off rear quarter glass shape) but good looks look good, no matter where they came from.
Inside, you’ll find a warmly blue-aura backlit main gauge cluster, with art deco touches such as “speedometer” and “tachometer” actually spelled out on the brushed nickel trim ring for each instrument.
There’s a large and partially hidden cubby under the floating center stack and the cupholders (located behind the rotary knob gear selector) slide aft and out of the way, revealing another even larger storage cubby, where you’ll find the 12V power point and USB hook-ups.
Which are also backlit, so you can see them.
The 8.4 inch UConnect touchscreen is one of the best on the market — in this class and generally. Functions are self-explanatory and it’s easy to use while the car’s moving.
Many others aren’t.
Now, for the less-than-great stuff:
The 200’s a bit less space-efficient car than several of its rivals, including the Camry and Fusion.
Though it’s several inches longer end to end than the Camry (192.3 inches vs. 190.9 for the Toyota) it’s got less interior space, especially in the back seat. Legroom is still very decent; it’s just less than in rivals. A six-foot-three man (me) will not find his knees rubbing up against the back of the front seat. The 200’s 37.6 inches of legroom is only slightly less than the Camry’s 38.9 inches and the Ford Fusion’s 38.3 inches and the Legacy’s 38.1 inches.
The real problem for the taller set — and this goes for the 200’s rivals, too — is borderline insufficient head clearance. The eye-catching slope of the roofline (and resultant inward curvature of the roofline) are the culprits. And although the 200 hasn’t got that much less headroom than several of its rivals — 37.4 inches vs. 37.8 for the Fusion and 38.1 for the Camry — that half an inch or so of play can be decisive when you’re tall and clearance is already on the tight side.
The 200 also has a bit less front seat legroom than rivals — 42.2 inches vs. 44.3 for the Fusion and 41.6 for the Camry — but (trust me, taller-than-most guy telling you this) anything more than 40 inches is just theoretical space you’ll probably only use if you decide to pull over to sleep — and push the driver’s seat as far back as it goes.
Trunk space-wise, the 200’s a winner: With 16 cubic feet of capacity — large for the segment — it beats the Camry (15.4 cubic feet) and the Legacy (15 cubic feet) and exactly matches the Fusion (also 16 cubic feet).
To get more trunk, you’ll need to buy more car.
The 200’s real weakness is that it’s a Chrysler.
And Chrysler is doing a kind of slow-motion fade-away.
Next year, unless something dramatic changes, Chrysler will only have two models available. It can’t last long that way. Either Fiat will sell Chrysler to another car company with the bread to invest in new model or there won’t be any new Chrysler models in the not-too-distant future.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Sometimes, the go-to cars aren’t the ones you ought to end up taking home.
Chrysler may not have been your first thought.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a thought.
Better hurry, though.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos