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Chrysler 200: A Little Dated but Still a Bargain

Njuguna Kabugi | 8/14/2013, 3 p.m.
The Chrysler 200's 3.6-liter V6 engine is one of the most energetic in the segment, offering robust acceleration without a significant fuel economy penalty. (Courtesy of Chrysler Group, LLC)

The annual NFL Super Bowl is by far the most overhyped sports event of the year. But the most memorable part of the Super Bowl is not the football game itself. That honor goes to the TV commercials. Every Super Bowl spurns the “it” that people talk about for months.

The “it” in the Feb. 6, 2011 Super Bowl was the “Made in Detroit” commercial Chrysler rolled out in the third quarter of the game. With rapper Eminem's Oscar-winning hit "Lose Yourself" thumping in the background, Chrysler's highly acclaimed two minute “Made in Detroit” ad (practically a short-length film as far as TV ads go) featured a new car driving through the once proud and great city of Detroit, reminding viewers that the strong tradition of industry and manufacturing was still alive.

The car was the Chrysler 200. For millions, the juxtaposition of powerful icons – the struggling American city that put the world on notice that the nation had arrived as a world industrial power, and its wounded car company that had cheated extinction – was not only an attention grabber but also conveyed that great car making was back in the Motor City and that Chrysler could be proud of itself; something missing since the bankruptcy and bailout. The 200, enjoyed not only the proverbial 15 minutes of fame but also decent sales in the following year.

But what many may have missed, and Chrysler left out, was that the 200 wasn’t exactly all-new. Underneath its new grille, re-sculpted sheet metal, and name change was essentially, the Chrysler Sebring – a vehicle that consistently ranked among the lowest in sales and reliability. Consumer Reports rated the convertible model of the Sebring last among 10 premium drop-tops in 2010.

It’s been a while since we last drove this car, so when Chrysler called asking if we would be interested in a 200, we jumped at the chance. We test drove the Touring version with a six cylinder engine on an extensive stretch through the Mid-Atlantic region. To our delight, Chrysler has done a great job tweaking and exorcising the ghosts of the Sebring from the 200.

Whether one is driving along the Chesapeake on Maryland’s eastern shore or the Virginia Mountains west of Leesburg Pike, the Chrysler offers a smooth ride, a solid feel and surprisingly tight handling. The cabin is very quiet, with high-quality materials and supportive seats.

Though the 200 is a bit dated now and is not as polished as the rival Mazda6 or the Ford Fusion models that we drove in the last few months, it still delivers better-than-average handling, and performs nicely when equipped with the 6-speed automatic transmission. Starting at just under $19,000 it’s also reasonably priced, offering a bevy of standard equipment and good driving dynamics.

Our test model ($21,995) came with a 6-speed automatic transmission, automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio and automatic headlamps. Standard wheels are 17-inch alloys, with two 18-inch wheel designs optional – which is not bad at this price point but we were disappointed Chrysler left out a navigation system – we could have used one driving through several rural stretches in Virginia. Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 20/31 mpg City/Highway. Chrysler has announced they will be replacing the 200 with a European designed model by next year.