Thumbs Up: A vast improvement over the old Sebring, in every way.
Thumbs Down: Handling compromised by plush ride quality, lots of chrome.
Buy This Car If: You want a made-in-America midsize sedan with style and personality.
Calling the 2011 Chrysler 200 better than the outgoing Chrysler Sebring is damning the new car by faint praise. While both cars share the same platform, the Chrysler 200 is improved in every conceivable way; the exterior styling is fresh and distinctive, the 200’s interior is now-class-leading and even the optional Pentastar V-6 engine returns better fuel economy while producing more horsepower. The old Sebring was the quintessential rental car, and one you’d begrudgingly accept only if the last Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion or Mitsubishi Galant was gone from the rental fleet inventory.
The 2011 Chrysler 200 is a completely different animal, and I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with a set of keys to this car. On the outside, you can see familiar Chrysler styling trends (like the wing-shaped grille slats), but the new 200 goes its own way in terms of styling. It may borrow elements from other Chrysler vehicles, and there’s no denying its heritage, but the new 200 doesn’t look like anything else on the road, and that’s a good thing.
Some of the changes are subtile, like dropping the ride height just a bit to give the 200 a better stance than the outgoing Sebring. The 18-inch wheels on my Limited trim tester are now standard, not optional, and they’re a much cleaner and more elegant design than the wheels used on the old Sebring. Other changes are immediately apparent, such as the more subdued headlights, deeply sculpted hood, new front end and prominent chrome grille of the new 200. In fact, if I had a single complaint on the 200’s styling, it would be the over-abundant use of chrome, both inside and out.
That’s a personal taste thing, so I can’t fault Chrysler for giving customers what they want. Lower trim levels seem to have a bit less chrome, and the range-topping Chrysler 200 S all but does away with it in the name of a more sporting appearance. To put it another way, Chrysler has built and styled the 200 to appeal to wide variety of customer tastes and budgets, and their sales success with the 200 thus far indicates that they’ve done a good job.
If the outside is impressive compared the Sebring, the inside of the 200 is stunning. Forget the hard plastic, silver-painted trim and cheesy faux-wood of the outgoing car, since Chrysler gave their interior designers free reign on the 200. The dash of the 200 may be monochrome black, but there’s enough difference in shape, styling and materials to keep it consistently interesting. Silver plastic has been replaced by high-gloss piano black, and chrome is used to highlight the interior vents, the infotainment system and the instruments. Silver is still used to trim the steering wheel and the shifter, but it works much better as an accent in the 200 than it did as a styling theme in the Sebring.
Even the instruments have been improved in the 200, with the old three-tunnel design binned in favor of a chrome-trimmed gauge pod. There are still individual gauges, also chrome ringed, but the newly styled faces look upscale, not just slapped together. The display includes a bright driver information screen (shared with the temperature and gas gauges), as well as a center speedometer and offset tachometer.
Up front, surprisingly thick leather with contrasting stitching is used to wrap the seats. There’s not much bolstering, but Chrysler does offer sport seats (with microfiber inserts and more lateral support) on 200 S models. The standard seats are comfortable enough, and the driver gets an eight-way adjustable powered seat to dial in the best driving position. Both front seats are heated for cold weather comfort, but they’re not ventilated for the summer.
The rear seat is spacious, but it’s also hard, flat and somewhat less than ideal for long distance comfort. Three will fit for short trips, and two adults won’t complain if they get the back seat for a night out, but you won’t get many volunteers for the back seat on a cross-country trip. The rear seat also isn’t heated, but that’s forgivable given the Chrysler 200’s price point.
The base engine is the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder that powered the old Sebring, but the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 found in my press fleet tester is a much more satisfying choice. The Pentastar comes mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and puts out 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That gets the 200 moving well enough for a zero to sixty time of just under seven seconds, while returning an estimated 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. In city driving, I saw an indicated 19.6 mpg.
On the road, the 200’s ride quality is on the soft side. There’s a significant amount of body roll, especially in quick left-right-left transitions, but that’s completely understandable in a car without sporting intentions. The Chrysler 200 is more about rolling in comfort than it is about strafing an apex or running hammer-down up a mountain road, and in its role as a suburban commuter or urban warrior, the Chrysler 200 won’t disappoint. It’s comfortable even over rough city streets and broken pavement, and both the steering and brakes are more than up to the task of everyday driving. The Chrysler 200 won’t provide a lot of entertainment for the driving enthusiast, but the trade off is ride comfort and a significant amount of content for the sticker price.
It’s tough to fit the 2011 Chrysler 200 into a single category, since in base trim levels it competes against entry-level midsize sedans from America, Germany, Japan and Korea. Opt for a higher trim level, and the build quality and materials will have you thinking entry-level luxury, but at a surprisingly affordable price point. My Limited trim tester, for example, just managed to cross the $28,000 price point, but it came with a Boston Acoustics audio system, 18-inch wheels, LED taillights, keyless entry, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, keyless entry, a universal garage door opener and a 30 GB hard drive for audio files. About the only thing missing from my my tester was Chrysler’s navigation system, which would have added a net amount of $500 to the sticker price. That makes the 2011 Chrysler 200 a sound bargain in a family-oriented midsize sedan, and if you’re in the market for one, the 200 definitely deserves a place on your shopping list.
My 2011 Chrysler 200 Limited tester had a base price of $24,495, including a destination charge of $750. Options on my car included the $1,795 Pentastar V-6, the $845 power sunroof, the $475 Boston Acoustics speaker package and the $395 touchscreen media center package, for a total sticker price of $28,005. For comparison, a similarly equipped Ford Fusion SEL would sticker at $31,765 and a comparable Chevy Malibu LTZ would sell for $30,370.