The average, everyday, mid-size sedan is not the most exciting vehicle. It can't accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in three seconds flat, scale a mountain with a double-digit grade, or provide seating room and cupholders for up to seven passengers.
Let's face facts: The minivan aside, the typical mid-size sedan is as unexciting as it gets. But it's also worth noting that mainstream North America buys mid-size sedans in droves. Any manufacturer worth its weight in high-tensile steel needs to get in the game.
Until recently, Chrysler was not in the game. Not really, anyway. Sure, the company was in the rental fleet game with the Chrysler Sebring/Dodge Avenger twins – the Sebring Convertible, in particular, was a tourist trap of a car – but these two distinguished themselves in no other discernible way.
Now, with the release of the all-new 200, the Chrysler mid-size sedan has experienced a ground-up restoration and the manufacturer is, finally, back in the game.
The 2015 Chrysler 200 is the latest offering from the Fiat Chrysler concern and its engineering reflects the influence of the Italian and the American sides of the corporate family. There are two engines available – one developed by Fiat, the other by Chrysler – while the platform is based on an Alfa Romeo design. It's important to note the influences because the positioning of the Chrysler 200 speaks to offering the best of both worlds, old and new.
There are four versions of the dynamic-looking 200, all set to arrive in Chrysler showrooms across the country soon. The 200 LX is the base model, the value-minded one and the only version that doesn't offer a choice of engine or drive configuration. For the other three versions – the Limited, the S (the sporty one) and the C (the premium one) – both engines are available and so, too, is the choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
I sampled the 200S fitted with AWD and the 3.6-litre V-6 and the 200C with FWD and the 2.4-litre four-cylinder. The rural roads surrounding Louisville are narrow, curvy and smooth – in other words, they're surprisingly European in nature and, as such, well-suited to sampling an American car with continental roots.
The car has some interesting qualities and some less than interesting qualities – just what you might expect from an average, everyday, mid-size sedan.
In the 200S, the sport suspension system was composed and capable when it came time to absorb imperfections in the road. The steering feel was less compelling. The sport mode, selected via the Jaguar-like E-shift rotary dial, triggers sharper handling and response, but this change was so slight as to be unnoticeable. The bite of the brakes, however, was surprisingly immediate and powerful.
Perhaps the most disappointing facet of the 200S was the engine. Although the 3.6-litre V-6 is an award-winner, the engine note in this application was dull. Also, when paired with the AWD system, the class-leading 295-horsepower felt like a lot less. An engineer noted that the AWD system weighs about 90 kg, which is heavy compared with other systems.
From a conceptual standpoint, at least, the Chrysler AWD system is advanced; it features a fully disconnecting rear axle – the front wheels handle all the driving duties until sensors dictate that extra traction and grip are required. This design helps to save fuel, but one wonders how much fuel could have also saved if the system weighed, say, 45 kg.
With the experience of driving the AWD V-6 in mind, the pairing of the four-cylinder and FWD in the 200C made for a more compelling proposition. Although this engine needed to be revved more to produce the desired results, the sound was far more pleasing and, I dare say, sportier.
On bone-dry roads at low to moderate speeds, the FWD system proved capable of holding its line through the corners. To top it all off, the lighter weight of the smaller engine made the 200C feel nearly as responsive as the 200S off the line – it wouldn't come as a surprise if the acceleration figures for the two versions were close.
During the opening presentation, the Chrysler 200 was compared, in chart form, with three key rivals – the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry. During the drive, these competitors were on-hand, giving reviewers the chance for back-to-back evaluations.
Ultimately, these evaluations revealed that the 200 is not the class leader in terms of driving dynamics or sheer excitement; the Honda Accord V-6 proved downright racy when compared to everything else. Still, it was a brave decision by Chrysler to pit its latest creation against the best in the business – and it's something it wouldn't have dared with the Sebring/Avenger.
2015 Chrysler 200
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base price: $22,495
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder; 3.6-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 184 hp/173 lb-ft; 295 hp/262 lb-ft
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 5.7
Alternatives: Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry
The writer was a guest of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.