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January 27, 2011

News & Features

Auto Review: Chrysler 200 replaces the Sebring, with a new name and look

The Associated Press

012811_chrysler_200_604x372.jpg

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Chrysler's long-running Chrysler Sebring mid-size sedan is gone, sort of.

The four-door, five-passenger, mid-size sedan is revamped for 2011 and given a new name -- Chrysler 200.

New exterior styling gives the 200 the pleasing looks of other modern family cars. The interior is nicely upgraded, too, with better-looking plastics and other materials.

There's a newly invigorated V-6 for upper level models, and it generates a generous 283 horsepower, which is more than the V-6 in the Toyota Camry.

2011 Chrysler 200 Touring
  • BASE PRICE: $19,245 for LX; 21,245 for Touring.
  • AS TESTED: $24,635.
  • TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, mid-size sedan.
  • ENGINE: 3.6-liter, double overhead cam, Pentastar V-6.
  • MILEAGE: Estimated 19 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway).
  • TOP SPEED: 121 mph.
  • LENGTH: 191.7 inches.
  • WHEELBASE: 108.9 inches.
  • CURB WEIGHT: 3,589 pounds.
  • BUILT AT: Sterling Heights, Mich.
  • OPTIONS: Power glass moonroof $845.
  • DESTINATION CHARGE: $750.

The suspension and steering in the 200 are improved, too, from what was in the Sebring sedan, so ride and handling have a modern feel.

Best of all, the starting retail price of the Chrysler 200 is lower, by $875, than the posted starting retail price for a 2010 Sebring sedan. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $19,995 for a 2011 200 LX with the carryover-from-2010 four-cylinder engine that develops 175 horsepower. The lowest starting price for a 200 with the 283-horsepower V-6 is $23,790.

All Chrysler 200s come standard with automatic transmission, though the base, LX cars get a carryover four-speed automatic, while upper level sedans get a six-speed transmission.

Competitors include some of the best-known family sedans on the market, such as the 2011 Honda Accord, which starts at $21,930 for a sedan with 177-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, and the 2011 Toyota Camry, which starts at $20,580 with 169-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission.

Pricewise, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, with a 198-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and starting retail price of $19,915, is more competitive with the low starting price of the Chrysler 200.

I liked the styling of the test Chrysler 200 -- especially the front where a shiny, silver-colored grille was nicely proportional to the rest of the car, which was painted Stone White. In contrast to some other autos, the 200's grille is neither too big nor too small.

But I discovered that the 200 looks so much like other sedans that the tester blended in at parking lots. Styling cues, here and there, are reminiscent of the familiar Camry and the Ford Focus. Still, the attractive appearance is a definite improvement from the ho-hum rental car image that the Sebring sedan had developed over the years.

The standard Chrysler 200 engine is the 2.4-liter four cylinder that was in last year's Sebring sedan. Peak torque is 166 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm, which is on par with many other sedans. But note the 2011 Hyundai Sonata's four-cylinder is more powerful in both horsepower and torque, which is 184 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm.

The test 200 was a mid-level Touring model that had the optional V-6. This 3.6-liter, double overhead cam V-6 gave the test 200 strong power for city and highway driving.

I readily heard the engine doing its work, though. I also noticed shift points at times as the transmission went through the gears, and frankly, there are cars out there with smoother trannies.

Most of the time in city driving, the 200's transmission quickly moved up to the overdrive gear -- sixth -- to maximize fuel mileage. But when the car was in overdrive, the response was a bit lazy when I wanted to make minor increases in speed, and this was noticeable. Still, power came on well when I pressed hard on the accelerator pedal, and there was good get up and go.

Torque peaks at 260 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm. Note that the Camry's V-6 generates less horsepower and torque -- 268 horses and peak torque of 248 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm.

The 200 is so new, the publicized fuel economy numbers are still estimates, and no listing is available on the federal government's website.

The V-6's estimate is 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway, which is close to the 20/30-mpg rating for the V-6-powered, 2011 Honda Accord and the 20/29-mpg rating of the Toyota Camry with V-6. But during the Chrysler 200 test drive, where 65 percent of the driving was in the city, I managed just 20.6 mpg.

The Chrysler 200 isn't a particularly quiet sedan to drive. I heard ba-booms when tires rolled over manhole covers and major road bumps.

But steering was more precise than in the Sebring, and the test 200 had a much more buttoned-down feel on curvy roads than did its predecessor.

The interior, with silver-colored accents, is a definite step up from the Sebring sedans of old.

Gauges and controls are arranged for easy reach and usage and include audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, even in base 200s. The light-emitting diode lighting in the instrument cluster, with outside temperature reading, adds a classy touch.

I liked that the driver's seat height adjustment provided for a good range of movement. At 5 feet 4, I could put the seat up high enough that I could look "through" the windows of some taller cars and even compact pickup trucks and see the traffic farther ahead.

But the 200's tall rear trunk lid was a problem when I backed up. It prevented me from seeing much of anything behind me. Meantime, the metal pillars around the rear window blocked views out when I was backing out of parking spaces.

The Chrysler 200 comes with virtually all safety equipment standard, including curtain air bags, anti-whiplash front head restraints, electronic stability control and traction control.

Look for a convertible version of the 200 in 2012.

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