Chrysler has renamed its Sebring the 200, aiming to shed the stigma of an uninspired mid-size sedan known more for its penetration into rental fleets than the garages of driving enthusiasts. The 2011 model year sees no fewer than eight updated Chrysler/Dodge vehicles. These new cars receive fresh bodywork, re-worked powertrains and plusher interiors.
With a keen eye on customer feedback and competitive benchmarking, Chrysler spent $300 million revamping the 200 and Avenger. The improvements (which started with a concept sketch only 12 months before production) promise a worthier contender against the likes of the Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu.
Outwardly, the 2011 Chrysler 200 wears a more aggressive stance. In contrast to its predecessor, this updated version sits on thicker tires, a one-inch wider track, and suspension lowered by nearly half an inch up front and about a quarter of an inch at the rear. Everything in front of the A-pillar is new, including a grille inspired by the bigger 300 sedan. A re-sculpted decklid and LED tail lamps round out the rear. “We spent a lot of time on the jewelry,” said Chrysler’s design head, Brandon Faurote. Features like the chrome lightbar projector beam headlights with “bright blade details” support this claim.
A new 3.6-liter V6 engine offers best-in-class power (283 hp), while the 2.4-liter four-cylinder has been retained but retuned. Suspension updates include replacing 26 of the car’s 30 bushings, to yield more precise steering, better ride quality and reduced body roll.
Climbing aboard reveals a pleasant cabin. Seats are comfortable, a tasteful chrome ring frames a logically arranged center stack and softer materials make for a more welcoming interior. A total of 45 changes have also improved noise, vibration and harshness levels, while the interior gets some love in the form of better seats with more cushioning, soft-touch armrests, plus an all-new steering wheel and instrument panel.
The car feels impressively quiet while driving on the highway. The 2.4-liter engine, however, soon runs out of puff during passing maneuvers – not surprising, given its modest output of 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. A new, smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission helps acceleration and aids the 31-mpg highway EPA figure, thanks to a tall top gear that results in a modest 2,000 rpm while cruising at 65 mph. But unless you are driving with a heavy foot, the transmission’s early shifts make the engine feel neutered. The more muscular V6 (which runs an extra $1,795) is better suited to this upgraded interior and chassis.
While highway-speed cruising is a breeze, winding roads present a challenge. Although steering feel and body control are improved, the 200 still feels taxed. The car’s absolute limits can accommodate aggressive driving, but its directional stability feels less certain when negotiating bends.
Prices start at $19,995, though a well-stocked model could reach $24,900. The new-for-2011 200 represents a vast improvement and a huge step in the right direction. Considering it came from concept to execution in a little over 12 months, this now-competent car signals a brighter future for Chrysler, one with fewer fleet cars and more enthusiastic owners.