Few cars have been more closely tied to an automotive turnaround than the Chrysler 200, the midsize model giving some desperately needed momentum to the smallest of the Detroit makers when it was launched with the help of an unusual, two-minute commercial during the 2011 Super Bowl featuring rapper Eminem.
But while the current Chrysler 200 has certainly fared better than the unloved Sebring model it replaced, it’s little more than an afterthought in a market segment Chrysler Brand President Al Gardner describes as “brutal.” It takes a lot to go up against such powerhouses as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
But while the current Chrysler sedan isn’t quite there, the maker is betting it can challenge the established order with the all-new model making its debut at the North American International Auto Show.
And bet is probably the right word considering Chrysler is investing more than $1 billion to bring the new sedan to market, including not just the cost of product development but the money being spent to upgrade the suburban Detroit plant that will assemble the new Chrysler 200.
Someone viewing them side-by-side might not even recognize the new and old sedans were related were it not for the winged Chrysler logo – which itself takes on a larger and more dramatic appearance on the 2015 Chrysler 200.
Of course, it helps to have the chance to all but start over. The old 200, like the ill-fated Sebring before it, was based on an awkwardly uncompetitive platform that was developed as part of an aborted alliance between the old DaimlerChrysler and Japan’s Mitsubishi. For 2015, Chrysler has again turned to a partner for help, but in this case, it’s the U.S. maker’s Italian parent, Fiat. The foundation for the new sedan is the same, well-received Compact US Wide “architecture” that was first brought to market with the Dodge Dart.
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Chrysler designers deserve kudos for keeping Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne honest. The executive has promised that the Detroit maker will no longer badge-engineer its products. The Chrysler 200 isn’t just a re-warmed Dart. They feature dramatically different styling that, at most, reflects the collective need to maximize aerodynamics to improve fuel economy.
In keeping with the traditional role of the flagship brand, the Chrysler 200 is the more upscale of the two sedans, both in appearance and in terms of features and finish.
It’s a strikingly handsome vehicle, from the low-slung, wind-swept nose – described as the “new face of Chrysler” — to the tall rear deck that could readily be shared with many of the even more premium brands on the market.
“I never felt such a significant challenge (as) to back up the investment this company has made” in the new 200 with a design that will get enough customers in the door to earn that money back,” admitted Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s corporate design chief. But he said he’s confident that, “15 years from now…you’ll look back and say this team had their mojo working for them.”
A critical goal for designers, was to get away from the classic, three-box sedan shape. But the other challenge was to create a more up-market appearance highlighted with such details as the LED running lights fog and taillamps, and the chrome accents on place like the door handles and mirrors.
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The goal of upgrading the appearance extends to the interior, noted designer Klaus Busse, with the cabin of the 200 getting real wood accents rather than plastic appliques.
The 2015 sedan will be offered with two powertrain choices: a new 2.4-liter Tigershark inline-four making 184-horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque. It will also deliver up to 35 miles per gallon on the highway, a 13% bump from the old Chrysler 200 that should play well for today’s mileage-minded buyers.
For those who put more of a premium on performance, the alternative is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 making 295-hp and 262 lb-ft. Both the V-6 and I-4 will be paired with the new 9-speed automatic gearbox that only recently debuted on the maker’s new 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
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The new Chrysler 200 will be offered with an optional all-wheel-drive package that, to further enhance fuel economy, features what the maker is billing as a segment-first disconnecting rear axle. That can reduce frictional losses when there’s no need to send torque to the back wheels.
The 9-speed, incidentally, uses a new rotary knob, rather than a traditional gearshift lever. That reduces the amount of space needed on the center console, allowing for more storage space.
Despite the desire to create an upscale sedan, Chrysler plans to take an aggressive pricing strategy, Gardner promises, noting that the base 200 will start at just $21,700, about $950 less than the outgoing model.