On the face of it, the Chrysler 200S ticks all the boxes. It’s attractive to look at, has plenty of get up and go, and offers a level of comfort and safety that’s a step above most of its competitors.
But the devil is in the details, and where the 200 falls short is in its level of refinement. Compared to its offshore rivals, it’s a little too rough around the edge.
Available in four trim levels, plus a convertible model, the 2013 200 can be had with either a 173-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, or a Pentastar 3.6-litre V-6. My tester, the S version, had the latter, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This engine develops a healthy 283 horsepower, and gives the 200S lively performance, with abundant take-off power and plenty in reserve.
But this is where the problems start. I have no issues with the engine; it’s smooth and refined – as good as anything out there, with a linear power delivery and reasonable fuel economy. In fact, on the highway, this engine is almost as thrifty as its four-cylinder counterpart.
But the transmission is plagued by abrupt shift changes, and literally thuds into gear when you go from Reverse to Drive – or vice-versa. It also has an automatic shift-down feature that drops it down a gear when decelerating – a nice idea, but poorly executed and crude in operation. In short, compared to its rivals, the 200S’s transmission is crude and unrefined. At least it’s not a CVT.
This lack of attention to detail extends to other areas of the car. Even something as innocuous as the ignition switch is suspect. Most of the time with the 200S’s rivals, you put the key in the ignition, it slips in smoothly, turns readily and off you go. But not here: the key binds on its way in and out and the switch itself does not turn as fluidly as that of the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Not a big deal, but arguably symptomatic of larger issues. That said, I was glad to see that my car didn’t have a push-button start.
One more thing: under duress, the suspension just goes away. With the S designation, you’d expect a modicum of handling here. You’d be disappointed. Hit the turns at any speed and the car starts to wallow and you lose all sense of its limits. I’m not expecting a BMW or Audi with the 200S, but Chrysler needs to work on the suspension of this one. The S comes with 18-inch wheels and tires, compared to 17-inchers with the base version.
With that out of the way, the 200S may be the most comfortable sedan in this segment of the market. It’s easy to get in and out of and features nicely padded front seats with all kinds of interior elbow room, and a lower interior sound level than some of the competition – the Accord, for example. It’s also loaded with technology, including Chrysler’s U-connect communications system and Sirius satellite radio. My car also had leather upholstery and two-speed heated front seats. Again, no complaints when it comes to interior ambiance and comfort.
Nor with safety. The 200S has a full whack of front, side, side curtain and rear airbags, plus a traction control and vehicle stability control systems. The 2012 version of the 200 was named as a Top Safety Pick by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and, if push comes to shove, the 200S is arguably one of the more secure vehicles in this segment.
So it seems that Chrysler has decided to put the emphasis on creature comforts rather than performance with this one. Yes, it has a robust V-6 engine and, as long as the road stays straight, you’ll be fine. High-speed cornering and handling, on the other hand, changes everything. The 200S simply isn’t comfortable being flung through the twisties and doesn’t live up to its S designation.
There is also the little matter of dependability. Consumer Reports describes the 200’s reliability as “below average” and its overall rating with this organization is barely above acceptable; it garners a score of 52 out of 100, which is well below the top mark of 93. This C.R. rating is the result of 50 different tests and evaluations.
That said, the base LX version of the 200 represents a better value. With a starting price of less than $20,000 (less for the 2012 edition), it fulfills the basic requirements of this market. No; it’s not even close to the S in terms of performance, but it is $10,000 cheaper, and its comfort quotient is comparable, with the same level of safety equipment.
2013 Chrysler 200S
Base Price: $29,095; as tested: $32,730
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 283 hp/260 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.0 city/6.8 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima