Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The news coming out of Chrysler these days mostly has been good -- very good, in some instances.
Loans the company got from the government have been repaid, silencing at least for the moment critics of the 2008 bailout.
The deal with Fiat looks to put the company on a sound financial footing for the future.
And overall sales numbers have been promising. April figures for the company (including Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, and Ram brands) showed a jump of 22 percent for the same month a year earlier.
Not bad for a company whose survival was very much in question three years ago.
The cloud in the silver lining, however, is that a good part of the success could be attributed to the company’s truck lineup with Jeep jumping 41 percent and Ram sales going up 36 percent over the previous year to date figures.
The company needs a similar boost in its sedan lineup, and Chrysler model sales were down 9 percent over the first four months of the year.
The good news is that Chrysler looks to have the product that can reverse that trend. In March, the company brought its 2011 models to Miami Beach for a SAMA luncheon, and there they easily passed the “look test.”
Included in the group was the new 200. I can now say it passes the drive test as well.
Technically, the 200, which comes in sedan and convertible form, is a refreshed Sebring, a model introduced in 1995 that wasn’t aging all that well. But so great are the upgrades the 200 should be considered an all-new entry in the Chrysler lineup.
As I drove first the sedan and then a couple of weeks later the 200 convertible, one thing continued to impress with both, and that was the refined interior.
I always had the impression with past Chrysler models that the company was trying to get by as cheaply as it could in its cabins. If cheap plastic and cloth could serve, that was what the company went for.
Not so with the 200. There has been some thought given to its interior, and you no longer have the feeling that any knob you touch with force is going to break. The top of the dash and the door panels are soft to the touch, not harsh and cold as in previous models. Seats are supportive and comfortable, and I found armrests to be in the right places and levels.  
I loved the simplicity of the operation for climate control. The  A/C works with three knobs at the bottom of the center stack console. The radio works off steering wheel buttons or the touch screen, which I am not a big fan of. The screen tends to get smudged up.
Speaking of the navigation system, I really think if you’re going to have it you should have a bigger screen for display than that what you find in the 200. But the operation of the system itself is fairly intuitive -- a big plus there.
With new lighting, the overall ambiance is a major, major step up from the Sebring interiors of the past.
One thing that took me a bit to get accustomed to was the instrument display. The speedometer is flanked by the temperature and fuel gauges on the left and the tachometer on the right.
I’m just more used to the tach on the left.
I would also rearrange a couple of things. Gear selection and the odometer reading appear in a small window at the bottom of the tach gauge. I would put them in the center at the bottom of the speedometer and move the “idiot” lights to the bottom of the tach window. But maybe there’s not enough room.
The 200 comes with a choice of two engines. I never drove the 2.4-liter four-cylinder so I can’t really comment on its performance, but my guess would be that 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque aren’t going to deliver much of anything in the way of oomph, rollin and especially standing.
I found the 3.4-liter V6 not exactly neck-snapping in getting off the line, but its hp and torque ratings are a healthy 283 and 260, respectively, and at a cost of very little in fuel economy. The four-banger, which comes with a four speed automatic in LX trim and six-speed in other models, delivers 20 mpg city/32 highway. The V6, equipped with the six-speed tranny, is rated at 19/29, hardly a deal breaker to me.
The 200 also has had several modifications to the suspension that has improved ride quality and handling.
One good aspect to the 200 is that you get can into an LX sedan with its 2.4-liter power plant for under $20,000. The Limited trim version I drove checks in at just under $24,000, though the options, which included the navigation system, ran the total price up to $28,005. The top-of-the-line S model starts at just over $26,000.
You can get into the 200 convertible for under $26,500 in the four-cylinder Touring model, or go up to just under $32,000 for the S trim.
Oh, a few words about the convertible.
As with many drop tops the backseat is cramped. In this instance, extremely cramped. The front seats must be pulled forward to provide much more than a couple of inches of legroom in the back.
The trunk, too, pretty much becomes unusable when the retractable hardtop is lowered, and that operation, though a one-button deal, takes quite a few more seconds than some other models I have driven. You don’t have to be completely stopped to raise and lower the top, but I got a warning and it stopped when I simply backed out of the driveway a bit to see if it worked when moving.
Top down or top up, the 200’s rear end is a bit bulky to accommodate the retracted top.
With the top up, the 200 becomes pretty much a coupe, and the hard top provides for a quieter ride than you get in soft-top versions of the 200. I’m guessing here that is a big plus in colder climes as well.
All in all, it’s easy to see why the 200 provided the company with such a huge jump in sales, more than double in fact, over the previous year’s total for the Sebring. It’s an up trend I see continuing and impact the company’s numbers in a very positive way.

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