Driving Ruminations, Chrysler 200

It's go time for the smallest of the Big Three, will Chrysler come through?
Sales are up, and the corporation is now in good hands. This is what the people at Chrysler would have the general public believe. Perhaps this is true, but who are the people at Chrysler now anyway? We still see cars and trucks with the Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep names on the tailgate, trunk lid or grill, but who is it now that is building these cars. That’s a good question since the company has traded hands a few times in recent history, and now we ask the question: are the current chieftains of the Chrysler Corporation putting anything new out there that’s worthwhile?
Back in 1998 Daimler Benz, the people that build Mercedes, essentially bought out Chrysler and joined the companies together as two separate companies that were tied together so that two equal companies could market automobiles all over the world appealing to a wider audience of potential buyers than what they could appeal to individually.
Daimler could not make a go with Chrysler as an asset so the anchor was thrown over board in 2007. Chrysler was purchased by Cerberus Capital Management who tried to get things going but failed due to the latest recession and the essential crash of the US auto industry in 2008. As Chrysler emerged from chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 they were bought out by the Fiat S.p.A. of Turin, Italy. Fiat now owns about 54% of Chrysler which is enough to call the shots. Their stake may go as high 70% at some point. This means that Fiat will be able to use Chrysler to help them make their way back into the U.S. market.
With all of the problems that Chrysler has had they have not been able to spend much money developing new models and redesigning old ones, but with their problems hopefully behind them, and with Fiat firmly in control, they are now rolling out several new models and redesigned models to the public here in the U.S. According to Fiat they will also be able to start selling several of these new models in Europe under the Fiat and Lancia name plates.
The hope is that these recently released cars and trucks can renew Chrysler’s product line in a way that will excite the auto buying public. With new logos and new sheet metal, these models really need to be successful in order to help Fiat get the Chrysler group going strong again. One of these models that I recently had a chance to drive for a few days was the new 2011 Chrysler 200.

I had this car for three days recently while spending some time in Cleveland, Ohio. I was there on business but had a few moments here and there to spend some time in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This is an area of thick forests and rolling hills, and an excellent place to test a car such as this one. This was also a good place to do some hiking and take few pictures.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located along the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron. The park is a mix of forested scenery, walking trails, creeks, rivers, waterfalls, and some interesting history. It’s not a park on the scale of Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, and it is not as unique as the National Parks of the Western U.S. but it’s still a very nice place to visit if you find yourself staying somewhere in the suburbs of Cleveland and Akron. It’s also a great place to test drive a car.
The 200 that I was driving was the touring edition. Nicely equipped with such things as the new 3.6 liter Pentastar V6, good for 283 horsepower, and an EPA projected fuel economy rating of 19 city, 29 highway. I probably put about 200 miles on the car and I would say that the fuel economy ratings are probably accurate. The horsepower rating sounds accurate as well.

This engine had to be the best V6 engine that I have ever experienced in a Chrysler product. Long gone are the old buzzy sewing machine like mills that used to be so common in Chrysler sedans. While Chrysler has been building engines around modern over-head cam architecture for some time they have struggled to nail down a design that could be versatile enough to be used in many different vehicle platforms. This is something that has cost the company a tremendous amount og money. Most companies can save money by using the same engine in multiple models but changing the tuning or the computer programming slightly to make the engine most effective in the given platform. The Pentastar found in the 200 is slated to be tuned for use in everything from sedans, to sports cars, to SUVs. This engine shows some real potential especially if it proves to be as reliable as some of the V6 engines used by the midsize sedan sales leaders. 

While not perfect the engine felt very nice and had plenty of power down low, but felt a bit weezy on the high end. Throttle response also lacked a smooth linear feel and the vehicle always seemed to want to leap off the line in a way that is not very becoming of a sedan such as this one. Leaping off the line is never a problem, but application of power ought to feel smooth and follow a predictable line rather than feeling as if a switch is just being turned on and off. Some of these issues might simply be a matter of tuning rather than a problem with the way the engine itself functions.
The six speed transmission is the nicest ever in a midsize Chrysler sedan, and it’s about time they got rid of the old 4 speeds that they kept for so many years. To think that there was a time when all automatics only had three speeds seems strange now with 6 speeds being the new standard. The autostick function worked well while driving up and down the hills of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. When traveling down a hill one must ride the brakes too much because the current gear never seemed to want to keep the vehicle speed in check. The transmission had to be manually downshifted multiple gears in order to keep from riding the brakes. The engine just seems to want to rev higher and higher and the vehicle doesn’t slow down without multiple downshifts. Some kind of grade logic control within the transmission programming would be really good when driving in hilly country such as where I was driving.

Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Overall the styling of the interior and exterior is much improved over the old Sebring sedan that the 200 replaces. This new design appears much more upscale and doesn’t look as cheap as the old vehicle. This is an area where Chrysler has made massive improvements in the last few years.
Chrysler has had several models in the past that looked good from a distance but when you got close to them, the fit and finish was so poor that the plastic in the dash looked like it was formed in some kind of cheap blow molding process. You might say that Chrysler cars and trucks looked good from far, but far from good. The interiors on the upscale models looked just as cheap as the interiors on the entry-level models.
The 200 is flex fuel and will run on ethanol, assuming you even know where a place is that sells the stuff.

The interior in the 200 is really nice. Soft-touch plastics and chrome bits abound in the passenger cabin. The design looks good and has some nice details that give it a bit of flashy style. The buttons feel firm and connected rather than cheap and hollow. The gauges are easy to read and the overall ergonomics are well thought out.
The only problem with the exterior is that it still looks somewhat like the Sebring and this is probably because some of the chassis parts are the same. This kind of thing happens when designers are working with a limited budget. Some of the other new models and redesigned models from Chrysler show the same kind of thing. Because of the new powertrain and due to the fact that the exterior and interior are different enough from the Sebring, I don’t think any similarities between the new and the old matter much. The 200 is a nice looking car.
An old service gargae in the historic village of Boston Mills, OH.

Will this car help to really get Chrysler back on its feet? Maybe, but I think it’s more of a good first step towards recovery. With further development the potential is there for great things. The 200 is much better than the old Sebring but considering the competition, Chrysler may struggle to keep this car fresh, stylish, powerful, and efficient. Considering that every Chrysler model is in this same situation, each of these models must evolve as well. Maybe Fiat can see that this happens, if they do then Chrysler will be just fine.

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