by David Zatz in October 2015
The 2015 Chrysler 200 far from the 2014 Chrysler 200, despite having the same engines. The transmission is a snappy nine-speed rather than a soft six-speed; and the entire body and suspension are different. The new 200 is more exciting, and far less staid; it’s not so much a miniature luxury car as a sport sedan, at least with the bigger engine (we did not test the four). The 200S has an especially well tuned suspension for terrific cornering and a relatively smooth ride.
Our white 200S was much sleeker-looking than the dark red 200C we had earlier, and garnered compliments the other car hadn’t. Both interior and exterior are well executed; the outside is not especially original, but has a smooth flow and good craftsmanship. The roof antenna looks like a tribute to Chrysler's work on the Moon rockets and was set off by the bright white paint. (Really, it looks more like a space shuttle, which Chrysler had nothing to do with, but let’s just ignore that. The shape was most likely governed by function, anyway.)
Inside, the styling and design is unusual — and well integrated. The dashboard yields an angled surface for the climate and transmission controls, which merges with the center console. The setup provides more storage space just about any midsize sedan, yet looks sharper — and puts every control right at the driver’s fingertips.
The photos above are from the 200C. The 200S setup is the same but has a brushed metallic black surface instead of wood.
Sport mode keeps the engine revving higher, shifts faster, and optionally shuts off the stability control. It also makes the steering and throttle control more precise (and the steering firmer), and biases the AWD more to RWD.
The front console has moveable/locking cupholders on top, power outlets and audio ports within; and underneath the control area is space for a woman's handbag or whatever else you want to put there. To get this space, they dropped the old-fashioned shifter for a rotary “knob,” coupled with steering wheel paddles to change through the forward gears (keep the “up” paddle held down to get back to automatic mode). The knob is easy to get used to, and both faster and more convenient to use after a brief time. Drive and Park are the last stop — someone recognized Fitts' Law — though there is a Sport mode you can get to by pushing down and turning one more step. There is tactile feedback, and clear but not stiff detents (stops).
The electric parking brake controller cinches up the “emergency brake,” and could be set to automatically engage — but not to automatically disengage when going into Reverse or Drive, which is presumably a safety thing for people who let their toddlers have their car keys.
The all wheel drive in our 200S was obvious from the first time we slammed on the pedal of the 295-horsepower V6, and all four wheels gripped the pavement and shot us forward. Both perfect launches and stupid-fast lauches around with turns were all too easy. This should be a good snow car, too, but it is a lot of fun to have reliable traction at all times.
The AWD option gives 60% of power to the rear wheels under most conditions, which makes it feel more like a RWD car. It switches invisibly to front wheel drive, cutting out the driveshaft, if needed; if a particular tire starts slipping, it will automatically move power away from it. In Sport mode, the rear drive stays on.
The throttle is fast and precise, and gives immediate response from launch. Our 0-60 times, as measured via DashCommand, beat our 300C eight-speed (rear wheel drive) by at least 0.2 seconds. The engine is growly around town, quiet when cruising down the highway, just above idle and in eighth or ninth gear. Hitting the pedal, just about regardless of speed,results in a multiple-gear shift and suddenly all four tires are carrying more power and torque, providing an instant takeoff. Still, the car feels firmly under control.
The four cylinder is not the same, working much harder and idling at just under 1,000 rpm while the V6 idles at around 600.
The transmission responded more quickly than the eight-speed in our 300, downshifting to maintain speed on a grade or to grab power and fly; it can skip gears, going from 9th to 6th instantly then dropping down again if needed.
The computer is smart enough to know how many downshifts you want, based partly on how deeply and how suddenly you press the pedal. A slight press may drop one gear (500 rpm at highway speed) or none at all; a third of the way down, and you can drop two or three gears; floor it and you might drop by four. The severity of the downshift is in your feet. The 200S can be a luxury car or a sports car, your choice.
When you're using the paddle shifters, downshifts during coast-downs become obvious, as the engine matches revs before shifting, which causes the feel of coasting down to change. (You have to go into the settings to show the current gear at all times.)
Mileage is slightly better than the Chrysler 300 V6 with or without AWD. The chart on the right shows mileage for all three powertrain options.
Surprisingly low aerodynamic drag ends wind noise, and there is little road noise, even on concrete and rough roads.
Normally, the throttle and steering were very responsive; in Sport mode, they were even more responsive. The engineers wanted instant results, and they got it, thanks to electric power steering (which still sometimes felt a bit funny for one used to hydraulics) and to the state of the art nine-speed automatic. The company has had some issues with this transmission in the Cherokee, but has been working on each issue and claims the 2016 units should be bug-free. Other automakers with the same transmission have had the same experience.
The Chrysler 200S feels like a small car as you whip it around turns, with hard-to-break traction (tuning may be different for the V6 as we’ve heard less enthusiastic reports from four-cylinder 200 drivers). The seats are comfortable but have enough bolstering to hold people in place. The car also easily dampens shocks and pot-holes.
Under the hood, Chrysler has an easily removable oil filter (no canister, just a paper cartridge that’s easily accessible from above); dual gas-charged struts to hold the hood open instead of a prop rod; and an insulated battery cover with easily accessible jump-start points. The battery and fluid points all appear to be easily accessible.
Perhaps, with the wide-range automatic and slippery skin, the car can reach the 140 mph on the speedometer. We hope so, because there should be a reason for crowding all the numbers into a small space, requiring either excellent vision, a long stare, or (easiest) reserving part of the trip computer for a digital speedometer. We ended up showing the speedometer on the gauge cluster where you'll see the gas mileage below. I’d like to know why they can’t use a 100 or 120 mph speedometer and if you want to know how fast you’re going at grossly illegal speeds... then you use the digital speedometer.
Our 200S had a fancy trip computer / configurable gauge cluster, which is part of a package in the 200S. When there was a warning, the screen showed “orange shadows” on both sides. One nice thing about this cluster is you can see things like transmission temperature which you could not before. The LEDs for temperature and fuel are perhaps not the best color choices, especially when showing distance to empty, but they are very precise.
The system is more fluid-looking and refined than most. Having the heat and fuel showing as bright blue filling in “tubes” is odd but not hard to read, and the gas gauge still points to what side of the car the gas cap is on. Have the distance to empty show up in the gas gauge is optional — you set that up yourself.
Buyers can customize the screen to the outside temperature, current speed, compass heading, and fuel economy (see the video from our 200C review, above) in any of the top two corners, with the center one reserved for gas mileage and a digital speedometer. It's a gee-whiz feature, yet it's more useful than a standard EVIC... but it could still use a “multiple items in one screen” view or two. On a cold winter's day or in hot summer traffic, I'd like to monitor the antifreeze, oil, and transmission temperature.
Most controls are backlit, and the steering wheel has voice command buttons, gauge buttons on one side and cruise buttons on the other, hard controls for the adaptive cruise control when ordered, audio controls are on the back, and paddle shifters on top.
The 8.4 stereo (optional; a five-incher is standard) has two knobs on the console, for volume and tune/select. There is another knob for the climate control, which includes Off and Auto buttons, and more buttons for key climate control features; the knobs are all knurled and large enough to handle with gloves. The one objectionable thing is the use of buttons for adjusting the temperature, rather than, well, yet more knobs.
See our 200C review for the optional automatic parking system.
Safety gizmos on our car include the Chrysler-first rear cross path detection, which spots oncoming traffic as you're backing out of a space, using bumper mounted sensors — since they can see out from behind that blackened-window SUV before you can. There is also a sensor to make sure that when you change lanes, you at least know that someone's in your blind spot; you can have it turn on a yellow LED in your mirror, or, if you feel lonely without beeps and buzzes all the time, have it give an audio alert.
Adaptive cruise control and front collision alert are optional, too (see the 200C review). Visibility is good day and night, with the standard headlights being strong and well-focused; the optional HID headlamps are better. The 200 may be somewhat more visible than many other cars due to its unusual front and rear side lights, which one almost never sees any more except on Dodge Challengers. Side visibility is good up front, poor in back thanks to the large rear pillars and sloping roof.
The 200's trunk is quite large, with a small pass-through up front and the usual 2/3 fold-down back seats. The hinges (and subwoofer) intrude into the trunk, but not into a part that you're really likely to be using.
There is a large dead pedal for the driver, with map pockets in front and small door storage in rear; both front seats had leather pouches on the backs. The center console has cupholders with bubbles to hold various containers, and an EZ-pass or pen rack.
Front seats are well cushioned by current Chrysler standards, poorly cushioned by 1990s-Chrysler standards. Many automakers have been cutting back on seat foam, resulting in a much firmer feel, as they strive to gain every last millimeter of interior space, and the 200 is no exception — nor would one expect it to be, since the 300 has had the same treatment. The seats felt more supportive and user-friendly than in the last 200C we drove. Our imagination or reality?
The S had an attractive two tone system of dark blue and black in both front and rear — including the rear doors. This reverses a trend of having the rear part of the cabin essentially undecorated.
Critics have complained about the entry, and we can confirm that it might be hard for some to get in without bumping their head on the roof, depending on their flexibility and butt-to-top-of-head distance. Once in back, the seats were about as comfortable as the fronts, and headroom was adequate. As mentioned earlier, the trunk was huge; there was both a small pass-through (part of the folding console) and a seat fold-down setup.
Our test 200S had excellent, clear stereo sound with strong bass that you could turn down. The surround sound is good up front, but makes back-seat sound a bit muddy. The “UConnect” system has won numerous awards, and we found it easy to pair and use an ancient flip-phone and iPhone alike. Music can come from an iPhone or iPod, but using a 32 GB USB thumb drive is far better than locking up an iDevice in the car. Either way, the system uses the folder hierarchy and fills in any gaps with Gracenote. It catalogued the disk quickly and offered to go with folder, album, or artist hierarchies. (You can also play via Bluetooth if you love radio waves.)
Satellite radio is well integrated, and the car comes with a starter subscription to Sirius XM — but satellite radio is highly compressed to fit so much data from so many channels into such a small bandwidth, and you can tell, at least with music.
Navigation is as easy to use as ever, and includes traffic reports (a limited subscription comes with the system), clear turn-by-turn instructions in the trip computer, a Detour button, and an emergency feature which is duplicated in hard buttons on the mirror — one button for routine assistance (e.g. lockouts, out of gas), another to have an operator call 911.
There was also a trip computer built into the 8.4 inch UConnect display in the center stack, for those who wanted to see it. The print was easily readable for this, but it only worked if you used the nav system — if you were just going someplace you already know the route to, it gives you old data.
The traffic list was a good idea, but tinting the titles to blue made them hard to read. Yellow, perhaps, or just white and forget about the snazzy graphics in favor of readability.
Most common controls are on the steering wheel and/or physical knobs; but if you want to change bass and treble, or play with the fader and balance, you need to go to the UConnect screen.
UConnect 2 includes various apps; you can use your cell phone data plan to play music from Pandora and such, or use Chrysler's “Wi-Fi Hotspot” feature, which provides data access on the road, no matter where you are. This is slower than cell hotspots, but it's inexpensive and works when the car is moving at highway speeds.
The Chrysler 200 starts at $22,695, including destination charge, and the well-equipped AWD version of the 200C starts at $31,190. Our 200S AWD was between those extremes, with a list price of $30,540.
Safety measures (of the AWD model) include all wheel drive, side-curtain front and rear air airbags, driver and knee airbags, front airbags, and front seat mounted airbags; backup camera; stability control; heavy duty brakes with assistance (to sense when you really want to slam to a stop); eelectgric parking brakes; LED tail lamps; fog lamps; power heated folding mirrors; and an alarm.
Comfort features include cruise, air conditioning, keyless entry and starter, a five-inch touch-screen stereo with voice control, audio jack, USB port, and controls on the steering wheel; shifter paddles; leather; power six way driver’s seat and four way passenger seat; LED ambient lighting; trip computer; tilt/telescope steering column (continuous, without detents); overhead sunglass holder; and acoustic glass.
Our test car also had the $995 leather heated/ventilated front seats and a six-way power passenger seat. Another $895 added illuminated sun-visor mirrors, automatic dual-zone temperature control, heated front seats and steering wheel, and remote start. $1,495 added the huge 8.4 inch screen, premium trip computer, 506 watt Alpine stereo, five years of Travel Link (including traffic), and an auto-dimming rear view mirror. Finally, $595 gained blind spot/rear cross path detection, and $795 bought the wheels you see above. The total was $35,315.
The whole package came with roadside assistance for the duration of the five year, 60,000 mile powertrain warranty, and a three year or 36,000 mile basic warranty. The 200 is built in Sterling Heights, Michigan, with 64% US and Canadian parts — including the engine (Michigan) and transmission (Indiana). The 200 has five stars in every rating but rollover (four stars) and frontal crash (not tested in AWD, but FWD cars have five stars in side crashes).
Overall, the 2015 Chrysler 200S harkens back to the days when Chrysler’s cars had superior cornering and firm, well tuned automatics; and new 200S owners, especially with AWD, may surprise a lot of “sporty car” owners.
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