by Patrick Rall
The 2015 Chrysler 200 is a beautiful, powerful, efficient and high tech vehicle – all of which make it better than the current (2014) 200 in pretty much every way. Unfortunately, “being better than the 2014 models” won't be enough to help the 2015 200 compete with some of the best-selling cars in the United States – what really matters is how well the next generation Chrysler 200 compares to the other names in the segment. I've had the chance to drive the new 200 and literally every other car in the midsized sedan segment and I can definitively say that people who drive the 2015 200 and the likes of the Toyota Camry or Ford Fusion will end up owning a new 200.
First off, let's look at the competition for the 2015 Chrysler 200. The Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia Optima are all direct competitors in terms of pricing and size. These will be the cars to which the new 200 will be the most closely compared and it will be a very tough comparison. The Camry is the best selling car, and the third best selling vehicle overall, in America. The Accord is the second bestselling car, the Altima is the fourth best, the Fusion ranks sixth, the Sonata sits in 11th and the Malibu is 12th. The only car in the 200's immediate class that is not in the top 20 is the Kia Optima, which is nearly identical to the Hyundai Sonata.
As you can see in the chart above, the 2015 Chrysler 200's base 2.4L 4-cylinder engine puts it right in the middle of the class for both horsepower and torque. This smaller engine will be an excellent option for those 200 buyers who are more concerned about fuel economy than performance, and among those buyers, the new 200 will rely on the merits of its nine-speed automatic, interior amenities, and exterior form. However, when you step up to the 3.6L Pentastar V6, no other car on that class list can compare in terms of horsepower and only a few offer more torque – often at the expense of horsepower. If you are a prospective midsized sedan buyer who wants to enjoy every second behind the wheel, the 2015 Chrysler 200C V6 AWD should be your next new car.
From this list, I have driven the Fusion, Camry, Accord, Sonata, Malibu, Optima, Altima and new 200 with their premium engines. From the list, only the 200 and the Ford Fusion have optional all wheel drive, so if you are looking for an AWD midsized sedan, you have only two choices. The Fusion powered by the 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder sends 240 horsepower and 270lb-ft to all four wheels, making the Fusion a fun car to drive. The thrust of the EcoBoost combined with AWD gives the Ford great acceleration but it doesn't quite compare to the 295 horsepower of the 2015 200 and a big part of that rests in the aggressive gearing of the 200's 9-speed automatic transmission. Also, the grunt of the Pentastar is noticeable when accelerating at higher speeds out on the highway compared to the smaller EcoBoost engine in the Fusion. Those looking for an all wheel drive midsized sedan that packs plenty of driving fun will – in my experience – find the new 200 to be the better driver's car.
Both cars exhibit the handling and road hugging advantages of all wheel drive but the sport suspension setup of the 200 makes the Chrysler feel more nimble in tight quarters than the Fusion. Also, the Sport Mode in the 200C takes that improved performance to the next level and that is a feature offered by no other car in the segment.
In terms of the front wheel drive 2015 Chrysler 200 compared to the Altima, Camry, Accord, Sonata, Optima and Malibu, only the Malibu with the monster torque provides anything near the performance acceleration feel of the 200. The turbocharged 4-cylinder in the Malibu packs 295lb-ft of torque and that is very noticeable on a hard launch, but there is enough “spool time” with the Malibu to let the new 200 feel quicker right off of the line.
Among these front wheel drive midsized sedans, the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are really the most exciting to drive in terms of acceleration and handling – but I don't think that either of those Korean models offer the combination of power, handling and ride quality of the new 200. As is the case with the AWD models, the FWD 200 benefits from the aggressive gearing of the 9-speed transmission while still offering great fuel economy.
In terms of pure driving feel, the Toyota Camry, the Nissan Altima and the Honda Accord don't offer enough driving excitement to be compared to the 2015 Chrysler 200. Those top sellers don't handle poorly, they aren't slow, and they aren't rough riding, but the new 200 is just so solid in those categories that it easily handles the Camry, Altima and Accord.
Power and performance aside, the 2015 Chrysler 200C offers a nicer interior layout than anything in the class that I mentioned above. The pricing and size of the new 200 will put it in a class with the Fusion, Camry, Accord and the rest of those budget friendly sedans but the Chrysler brand is a luxury moniker and this new 200C has an interior spread that is worthy of the luxury label. That cannot be said for those other models mentioned above shy of perhaps the top of the line Ford Fusion but even the popular Fusion isn't as loaded as the 200. After all, Ford Motor Company cannot load the Fusion up too much so that it would compete with the Lincoln MKZ while the 2015 200 is literally packed with every piece of technology and every comfort accessory imaginable.
Realistically, to find a car that compares the best with the 2015 Chrysler 200C, you have to climb up to the ranks of the Lincoln MKZ or the Audi S4. The Audi S4 offers quite a bit more power but worse fuel economy figures, and it does so with a price that starts roughly $10,000 higher than a fully optioned 2015 200. The Lincoln MKZ has a base price that is only a couple thousand higher than a loaded 200, but if you opt for the comparable all wheel drive and the powerful V6, you will pay around $40,000 compared to the low $30s range for the new 200 when all loaded up. I've driven the S4 and I have to say that it offers more fun to drive factor than the new 200. However, I have driven the new MKZ quite a bit and — although I really enjoyed the Lincoln — I found the new 200 to be the better drive. The MKZ has a touch more horsepower but the Lincoln feels bigger on the road so while it handles well, it did not feel as confident when hitting the turns as the new Chrysler 200.
More impressive than the fact that the 2015 200 can compete with these luxury models for thousands less is the comparable cabin quality. The fit and finish of the new 200 interior combined with the long list of standard and optional features allows the 2015 200 to compete with those pricier luxury sedans on every level – except for price, of course. Plush heated and cooler leather seats, a high end infotainment system with an advanced navigation and media play system, and a gorgeous driver information center all wrapped up in a very high end looking (and feeling) interior allows the new 200 to claim the same luxury status as the bigger 300. The introduction of the modern Chrysler 300 allowed American loyalists to purchase a large luxury sedan that will hang with the best in the business at a much lower price. The 2015 Chrysler 200 will do the same thing – offering real competition for the likes of Lincoln, Lexus and Audi at the price of the Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry.
It isn't realistic to believe that the new 200 will be introduced and it will immediately outsell the Camry or Fusion – those cars have been among the bestselling in America for years and many of those cars move units simply because of their names. We have all seen the Camry commercial with the family who is in the dealership to buy their 8th Camry or whatever. The mindless drones who buy a car based on the name because their parents told them that the Accord or Camry are the best bargains in the market will, sadly, continue buying those cars. However, the new 200 will most certainly cut into this popular segment like no Chrysler Group product before it.
The prospective buyers who aren't sold on their new car before heading out to drive other vehicles will most certainly find that the new 200 offers all of the advantages of the Camry, Accord, Altima, Sonata and Fusion…but the 200 does it with a heavy dose of luxury goodness that you don't get from the majority of those other top selling models. At last, Chrysler has a vehicle that can compete on a head to head basis with the best-selling cars in America.
See Patrick Rall's primary 2015 Chrysler 200 review
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