The chairman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (there is no more stand-alone “Chrysler”), Sergio Marchionne, recently revealed a five-year plan for the company, sharing what each of the core brands will be about in the coming years.
On the U.S. side, there will be a bit of a shuffle in terms of which ones will sell what kinds of cars. The Dodge brand will lean toward performance offerings, while cars with the Chrysler badge will be mainstream vehicles.
With that, we’re now getting our first glimpse of how they’re going to do that, with a completely new mid-size Chrysler 200 sedan. Don’t confuse this with the previous Chrysler 200 you might have rented on a trip or when your car was in the shop. This 200 is meant to be a solid contender for retail purchases, not relegated to fleet duty like its predecessor.
The new model rides on a platform that comes from Alfa Romeo, as part of a cross-Atlantic sharing program that is designed to reduce costs and benefit all the brands that fall under FCA ownership. Considering the costs of building a new car from scratch, there’s hardly a company in the world that doesn’t do this already.
Styling-wise, it’s all Chrysler, and quite handsome at that. With mid-size cars like the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion getting more stylish in recent years (heck, even Toyota is now trying to spruce up its usually-boring Camry), you can’t really get by with a dowdy design. The new 200 got more than a few double-takes while I was driving it in some heavy freeway traffic.
The interior gets a bold look as well, with flowing lines comprising the instrument panel and center console. Everything is laid out well, and the console itself is a double-deck design, with a bottom section accessed via a sliding panel for running power cords through. All very well thought-out.
One nice touch that I noticed right off the bat is that there are two large knobs for the sound system, right within easy reach. One on the left for volume and one on the right for making adjustments, just like car audio systems have had for decades. (And, I’d say, just like it should be!) It seems that perhaps auto makers are finally getting the message that buyers don’t really want finicky touch screens and the like for merely trying to turn down the volume quickly.
The example I drove was the 200 “S” which is the sportiest version and had a somewhat dark interior with a bit of over-the-top treatment of dark wood accents. I’m eager to see the interior in another color scheme before I can decide for sure if Chrysler’s designers succeeded in the all-important category of interior pleasantness.
My test car also had a V6 under the hood, which comes standard in the S AWD. Plenty of grunt, and a nice snarling exhaust note, for sure. In the grand scheme of things, most 200’s sold will be equipped with 4-cylinder power for better fuel economy.
But no matter which engine the 200 has, the standard transmission is a 9-speed automatic. Yes, nine gears forward, which is a new record for a modern passenger car. It wasn’t that long ago that a 6-speed was considered plenty, but we’re in an era of increasing emphasis on fuel consumption. The more gears there are, the more a car’s engine will be operating at peak efficiency during various kinds of driving.
Many buyers these days are looking more closely at the projected fuel economy numbers, and the 200 does pretty well in that regard. The base 2.4 liter four cylinder is rated at 23 city and 36 highway, which puts it right in with competitive mid-size cars. Choosing the V6 and its 295 horsepower bumps those numbers down to 19 and 32, with that highway number being pretty impressive for a V6.
The new Chrysler 200 is hitting showrooms right about now with a base sticker price of $21,700, again right among what competitive sedans are priced at. The top of the 200 line is the “C” model which starts at $25,995 and can be loaded up to well north of $30,000.
Chrysler is betting big on the new 200, having taken it from “rental” status to a serious contender on midsize car shopping lists.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunzT