Chrysler performed a major miracle in transforming its so-so Sebring mid-size front-drive sedan into the far superior Chrysler 200 model in only about a year. Such a project usually takes much longer, but faltering Chrysler had to rush things.
Many critics are surprised, and some feel it shows that Chrysler promises to be far more competitive under its new Fiat control.
The Sebring name is gone, replaced by the “200” name. The 2011 200 logically fits beneath the name given the improved top-line 2011 Chrysler 300.
There are three 200 trim levels: the base $19,245 LX, mid-range $21,245 Touring and top-line $23,745 Limited, which I tested.
The LX has air conditioning, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system, cruise control, 17-inch wheels, keyless entry, power windows and heated power mirrors—but just a four-speed automatic transmission.
The Touring adds a six-speed automatic, power driver’s seat, automatic temperature control, six-speaker sound system, alloy wheels, automatic headlights and tilt leather-covered wheel with auxiliary controls.
The top dog Limited features leather-covered seats, power heated driver’s seat, upgraded sound system, hands-free phone and wider tires on 18-inch wheels.
Safety features for all versions include a bunch of air bags, stability and traction control and anti-lock brakes with a brake-assist feature.
What’s new for the 200? Just about everything, it seems. Nearly every system in the car is new or has been upgraded. Optional is a new, strong 3.6-liter, 283 horsepower V-6—although the car’s carryover base 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder engine is mediocre.
While the four-cylinder must work with an old-fashioned four-speed automatic in the base LX, the V-6 comes only with a modern six-speed automatic with an easily used manual-shift feature. The six-speed is standard in the Touring and Limited with the $1,795 V-6 and works best with that engine.
The four-cylinder is fine in town, but lacks punch for quick merging or passing on highways, although steady highway cruising is OK. The car is fairly heavy at 3,389 pounds with the four-cylinder—or 3,559 pounds with the V-6.
The V-6 provides strong acceleration, but some torque steer when the accelerator is floored. My test 200 Limited was brand new and nicely assembled. But the car emitted a curious droning sound when accelerating moderately from a stop. The sound might have come from a vibration not caught when the car was being prepared after delivery to a dealer.
Estimated fuel economy with the V-6 is 19 mpg in the city and 29 on highways. The four-cylinder delivers a few more miles per gallon. Neither engine requires premium fuel, and the tank capacity is 16.9 gallons.
Although stuck with the Sebring’s high roofline, the 200 looks sharper, with new sheet metal that provides fresh front and rear styling. The front is cleaner than the Sebring’s. It’s ‘sculpted,” with such items as new fenders, hood and projector headlights. The aggressive-looking new grille has Chryslers new winged badge, and the new trunk lid and taillights are new.
The 200 has good road presence with its slightly lowered height and wider front and rear tracks. The nicely integrated dual exhaust outlets on my test Limited model looked sexy.
The Sebring’s low-brow interior — long a sore point — has been replaced by a new, far more attractive cabin, with improved materials. It’s much quieter, thanks to such items as an acoustic glass windshield, laminated side glass and sound-absorption material in strategic spots throughout the car. There are soft-touch armrests, and a new one-piece dashboard prevents squeak-causing seams.
Gauges can be quickly read, and controls are sensibly placed for easy use. There are a fair number of storage areas.
The Sebring was roomy. So is the 200, although six-footers with long legs will want more knee space behind a driver. Also, the center of the rear seat is too stiff for comfort. No problem up front, though, in my test car’s redesigned supportive seats.
The retuned steering is firm, but precise. The 200 is no sports sedan, but handling is secure — thanks partly to major suspension upgrades. Spring rates and and the size of the front and rear stabilizer bar diameters were increased, reducing body sway and increasing steering sensitivity. The ride is supple, and the brake pedal provides a progressive action for consistently smooth stops.
The nicely shaped, fairly large trunk has a high opening, but its lid lacks an interior pull-down feature. Thick rear seatbacks flip forward to increase the cargo area and sit nearly flat.
The hood is quite heavy and only held up with an awkward manual prop rod. Fluid filler areas can be easily reached.
The 200 is in one of the toughest car markets, but it has a much better chance of grabbing buyers than the old Sebring did.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.