What keeps the Chrysler 200 Limited from really seeming like a good car - one to crack the top five of the best mid-size sedan ranks?
When we picked up this rented 200 from Enterprise in Chicago last month, the initial impressions were very good indeed. There is almost nothing carry-over inside -- which is a huge relief after years of every Chrysler product reminding this author of his family's 1996 Town & Country. We know the 200 looks very good - but you just expect it to be the same heap of garbage on the road as every Chrysler in decades. Is it? Nope.
Definitely surprising and a great car -- bar one major issue.
So upon first sitting, finding nothing familiar is actually a huge relief. The seats have a strange Euro-style adjustment crank and pump handle to adjust the height and recline angle, but overall are firmly stuffed and seem pretty cosseting. The twist-knob PRNDL selector is fantastic versus the push-button controls in the Lincoln MKZ, and the steering-wheel is freshly high-quality with great heft in the parking garage.
Throttle and brake inputs are springy, but overall the 200 Limited makes a great impression in the first 100 yards.
The test car had the $900 convenience package with the smaller touch-screen radio Uconnect, but no navigation. That is okay. Flying into Midway means we knew our way to downtown Chicago all too well. Climate controls are tricky to use correctly, with no temperature display for the automatic setting. It is hard to know what setting and what level of heat or AC is engaged -- we learned a few days later that the climate settings are displayed digitally and each 'red' or 'blue' click moves the temp accordingly. That one hiccup is the only major failing in a comfy cabin and super-deep center armrest cubby.
Well, perhaps too deep. The USB port is hard to find and buried deep inside this bin -- right next to an extra 12V power socket. Fumbling blindly trying to charge a dead phone, you worry about sticking a finger in the socket and perhaps getting a shock. But all things considered, the 200 Limited is comfortable and modern and relatively interesting inside with its big armrests and two-layer center console.
The 200 Limited is very handsome. It is ultra-sleek and has some fresh details in its chrome bumper mustache and slim upper grille. The LED lights front and rear are very classy - and recall the Maserati Ghibli in back. A good thing. In front, the swoosh of white light is one of the 200 Limited's best features. The inners of the lamps are dark and cool - and the projector beam is a dual-function element even though just halogen-powered in this car.
When all lights are on, the 200's LEDs stay on and stay cool. They do not match the white/yellow of the main beam - but are cool and fresh at all times.
This 200 Limited is fairly base and runs 17-inch wheels and a high ride height. It desperately needs larger wheels to feel cool and sporty -- but overall, is slinky and sexy and very new.
The nine-speed automatic paired with this car's 184-horsepower four-cylinder is an effortless thing. An ultra-short first gear is less jackrabbit-y than my Subaru's first-gear, and we had few overall compaints or hiccups in traffic. It does not shift down without a big shunt of throttle pressure, and overall just feels like it needs a floored throttle to move quickly. Seems like a lack of torque, but this is normal for the mid-size segment's best-sellers.
On the highway, the steering is excellent and fairly firm and well-damped. The brakes are extremely good and easy to modulate - while feeling like they have tons of stopping power in reserve at all times.
It is quiet and pretty chill at speed, with the springy suspension calming down nicely at about 75-mph.
So what is the "But?" After every sentence above, we refrained from mentioning the elephant in the room about the Chrysler 200.
Luckily, our enterprise check-in girl summed it up nicely a few days later returning the car.
She scanned our window code and asked, "how was it?"
"Pretty good! I like this car," we replied.
"Me too. I usually hate Chryslers but these are nice."
She nailed it. The 200's biggest problem is that is follows a decade or more of dismal small cars. Cars that have seemed good for a time, but fall apart rapidly and lose their design coolness about 18-months into ownership.
Will that fate befall the handsome 200?
Time will tell. Chrysler has high hopes for this car, but a quick price/build quotes as as-tested price -- after discounts -- of just $23,000 for this model. That is about $3,000 off list and very enticing.
But as the Enterprise girl might have thought and not said --- any all-new car being in a rental lot just a few months after its launch is not a good sign for the 200's progress in convincing a deeply skeptical popualtion.
Perhaps the ideal target customer?
Someone who has never, ever had a bad Chrysler in the family. They might be able to escape the 200's hefty brand baggage. We are unable to ever imagine recommending or owning the 200 by choice - despite its many merits.