2012 Chrysler 200 First Drive
Chrysler’s new mid-sizer comes back to class competency
By Imthishan Giado
After the near-miraculous rebirth of the Grand Cherokee and the Charger, Chrysler and its Italian overlords have now set their sights on the toughest segment in the business: D-segment midsize saloons. But will the reincarnated Chrysler 200 be up to the job?
On paper, no. During the press conference for this new 200, there’s one word that Chrysler boss Jack Rodencal very conspicuously avoiding and it wasn’t the F-word. Hint: it starts with ‘S’ and ends with ‘…ring’.
There are hints of that old, much unloved car in this 200, but Chrysler’s designers have worked hard to brings the previously bulbous and gawky looks in line with newly gym-fit big brother 300. Ahead of the A-pillar, gone are the silly strakes and in their place a gently curved hood which flows into the corporate chrome egg crate grille, flanked by teardrop headlamps. The tail’s been cleaned up as well with a more tidy lamp design, and a subtle diffuser (which probably doesn’t do anything, but sets off the chome pipes rather nicely).
As we’re now coming to expect from the Italians, the interior takes a giant leap forward. Where the old S-car featured positively pedestrian plastics and indifferent design, the new 200 is a much more mature, elegant place to be. The 300 touches are all over the place, from the oblong four-spoke steering wheel to the dashboard clock. Some cost cutting is evident – on lower models the information displays are clearly from the more rustic Jeep Wrangler, which also then donates ancillary switchgear for the HVAC system and the double-DIN radio head unit. Still, at this price point, it’s unrealistic to expect custom built switch gear (the new Camry being a notable exception and that starts at AED 88,000) so if you’re familiar with Mopar interiors, you’ll feel right at home.
Fit and finish is generally good, with few obvious panel gaps to be found and hard plastics only really seen below the glovebox line. I spent plenty of seat time in both the base four-cylinder car with cloth seats, a fully-loaded four-cylinder and a top-end V6 and can report that of all the interior trims, the loaded four-cylinder is likely the best compromise. You get all the chrome trim bits and bobs of the big brother car, with the only omission being leather. That said, the cloth seats are far from a hardship, comfortable over long distances and with plenty of seat room in the back. The leather pews of the V6 car are equally good, if slightly toasty to the touch during our 46-degree launch drive.
On the road, the 200 continues to deliver a good impression of the 300 driving experience. Even though this is a much smaller car it drives in a somewhat squishy fashion, with light, precise but numb steering, feeling more like the great American yachts of old than a sporty corner carver. The peculiar thing is that the 200 is far more competent than you’d think; we drove it hard through the mountain curves of Hatta and the car refused to embarrass itself. Even with rather dinky 17” wheels, there was little in the way of tyre squeal as I bent it around the bends. The Camry is a sportier car – and the Altima car even sportier still at the cost of ride quality and refinement – but the 200 is perfectly acceptable, if perfectly unexciting. Special mention goes to the interior noise; simply put, there’s hardly any, with very little wind noise at speeds up to 120kph.
Two engines are available – a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that Chrysler is calling the ‘World Engine’ which produces 173bhp and 166lb ft of torque. On top of the pile is the now-ubiquitous 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, here with 283bhp and 260lb ft of torque. Both are mated to six-speed automatics and unsurprisingly, it’s the four-cylinder that feels somewhat agricultural. Keep it below 3000rpm and it cruises relatively silently. Ask it to do more though, and the engine noisily revs to the redline rather shattering the 200’s refined feel.
The V6 is better of course, but the Pentastar doesn’t feel quite as effortlessly torquey as it does in other applications. Perhaps the ferocious heat was to blame, but one thing I couldn’t blame is the air conditioning which did a fine job of cooling down the 200’s big glasshouse cabin. Not surprising when you learn that the Middle East, specifically the UAE, is the benchmark of thermal testing at Chrysler.
The 200 is back from the dead, just like the company that makes it and marks the company’s return to one of the most competitive areas of the business, a segment which takes no prisoners. Is the 200 good enough to beat the class contenders like the Camry and the Sonata?
No, not quite but it is competitive which is more than you could say for the old S-car. Prices start at AED 76,000 for the four cylinder LX and rise to AED 96,000 for the V6 model. The top car makes more sense to me. For that money, you’re getting a fully loaded cruiser with plenty of oomph for the highway and a very refined quiet interior – and most importantly a V6 engine, something which can’t be had on the Sonata or the Camry unless you opt for the AED 115k Aurion.
So purely in terms of value, it’s a solid offering. You could make it more exciting to drive…but do D-segment customers really care that much? It remains to be seen.
Price: AED76,000 ($20,650) LX, AED96,000 ($26,090) V6 Limited
Engine: 3600cc V6, 283bhp , 260b ft
2400cc inline four-cylinder, 173bhp, 166lb ft
Performance: 0-100kph 6.4 seconds (V6), 235kph, 9.8L/100km
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Imthishan’s verdict: Beige bites back