By their nature, some vehicles were just destined for the rental car fleets. Based on their ugly duckling looks, they were either a misguided exercise from the design studio that ended up being built as a loss-leader, or simply a means of contractually keeping a factory open longer than it should have been. The previous generation of the Chrysler 200 was one of the former. But what a difference a new year and new ownership makes. Come along for the ride as we take Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' new 2015 Chrysler 200C for a weeklong excursion.
What is it?
The 2015 200C is the premium version of FCA's midsize sedan, which is underpinned by the company's Compact US-Wide (CUS-Wide) platform. Derived from existing Alfa Romeo architecture, it features a choice of engines including a 295 horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, or in the case of our tester, a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter MultiAir2 Tigershark inline four-cylinder engine. Making 173 lb-ft of torque, it is linked to the segment's first nine-speed automatic transmission.
The new nine-speed is operated by a shift by wire rotary dial that sits on the center console rather than on a stalk growing out of the steering column. Controlled by a knurled knob on what can be described as a second-tier centerstack, the transmission is optimized for fuel savings, and can be shifted with available steering wheel-mounted paddle levers.
Chrysler claims that with the use of the nine-cog tranny, increased fuel economy can be realized to the tune of 36 mpg on the highway. For those in the snowbelt, the 200 is available with an all-wheel-drive system that pairs exclusively with the 3.6-liter V6, and has the ability to disengage the rear axles when AWD is not needed for improved efficiency. If you're on a real fuel economy kick, equip your 200 with the standard front-wheel-drive configuration as found in our test sampler.
The 200's unibody features high-strength steel for added rigidity and, according to Chrysler, a more connected driving experience. The suspension has received firmer bushings as well as a front aluminum cradle and superior overall stiffness. Made up of MacPherson struts and twin tube shock absorbers in front, it also features a MultiLink independent kit with twin tube shocks at the rear. Steering comes from an electric power rack and pinion set up for reduced parasitic power loss.
Our tester boasted the Safety Tec package with Advanced Brake Assist (ABA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) with Lane-Keep Assist (LKA), Adaptive Cruise Control with stop and go, Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection, and Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist with stop.
Finally, this 200C was equipped with the navigation and sound group package that included GPS nav, Chrysler's Uconnect 8.4-inch display and nine-speaker Alpine audio system with a 506-watt amplifier and subwoofer. It also packed SiriusXM satellite radio and traffic to help find the speediest way with the most entertaining programming possible.
In addition to our 200C tester, the 200 is also available in base LX, Limited and S (sport) trim levels. In the case of the S-model, it includes a beefier suspension for more enthusiastic drivers.
What's it up against?
The midsize segment is one of the most competitive in the industry, with the 200's rivals including the Mazda6, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy and Kia Optima, to name just a few. It seems to us that buyers have never had such a plethora of superior vehicles to choose from.
How does it look?
Our top-of-the-line 200C boasted a moderate degree of bling to give it an upper-class persona compared with the low-priced econo-rental variant, although from some angles, we think the Chrysler designers could have gone a step further.
Comprised of a three box design, it follows the currently en vogue fastback look as seen in the Ford Fusion and such other cars as the Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Sonata. When compared to the first generation model, it is such a clean sheet design, that the only thing that could remotely be considered a carryover part is the Chrysler brand logo.
Smart looking LED daylight running lamps help to set off the newly expressive face of the 200, which is highlighted by its upper and lower air intake areas. Radar domes reside in the lower bout and work in conjunction with the adaptive cruise control and other warning systems.
And on the inside?
The interior of the new 200 is as good as the outgoing model was bad. The instrument panel is well laid out with a configurable four-inch screen between the tachometer and speedometer that offers an info display with audio, fuel economy and turn-by-turn navigation. Eames chair-inspired wood panel trimming adds visual interest to the cabin, while on the centerstack, the 8.4-inch Uconnect screen displays audio, navigation, climate, telephone, apps and vehicle info. Surprisingly easy to use and pair with Bluetooth phones, it was also equipped with iPod and iPhone connectors, but we are wondering how much longer it will take before automakers start to include the new Apple Lightning adapter in a vehicle's connectivity suite. For reference's sake, the iPhone5 with Lightning adapter cord has been on the market for two years already.
Our two-tone leather interior featured front bucket seats with power adjustments that offered good support and bolstering. They did a good job of keeping us in place while on the go on our South Florida test loop. The rear seating area will suit most passengers except for those six-feet or taller, which may or may not be a dealbreaker for some buyers.
Our 200C comes complete with 16.0 cubic feet of cargo space. The 60:40 split rear seat folds down for harder-to-transport items that require more space.
But does it go?
Powered by the MultiAir2 Tigershark 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, we found the 200C to be an eager performer that really liked to get up and go. But that's not to say that it's a smooth operator. The 2.4, while plenty stout, had a less than silky tendency that we found disturbing, especially in light of all the other well-adjusted four-bangers on the market today.
The one thing that strikes us about this car is that as nice as it looks, the powertrain doesn't reach the same heights. Perhaps it's because of the engine itself, which is a combination of high- and low-tech. Using multi-port fuel injection instead of the more advanced direct injection, the mill still managed to be a little off-putting especially with its rather rough idle.
Uncouth idle aside, the mill is very quiet unless you really stand on things, which is par for the course with a small engine. But once at cruising speed, it's quiet, refined and the antithesis of what you would expect from something whose predecessor was once the fleet rental queen of North America.
Given its family sedan mission, we found the handling to be quite good, and with the addition of acoustic windshield glass, quite quiet. Steering was firm, and offered good road feel and feedback. The 200C features a rather cushy ride that didn't disturb the dental work, despite driving on a highway that has been thoroughly abused by eighteen wheelers. Regardless, we find the 200C tracks beautifully through left and right-handed sweeping turns.
Loaded with tech, we enjoyed the use of the adaptive cruise control, which slows you down if you approach a leading vehicle too quickly. Throughout our week, we managed to achieve an average of around 28.4 mpg. The EPA rates mileage at 23/36/28 city/highway/combined mpg.
Leftlane's bottom line:
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles pulls a trick out of its proverbial hat with the 2015 Chrysler 200C. Although we feel the engine could do with a little tweaking to smooth things out, we think the new model features enough upscale accoutrements to make a buyer truly take a hard look at this option. To paraphrase a recent television commercial, the 2015 Chrysler 200C is not just for rental fleets anymore.
2015 Chrysler 200C base price, $25,995. As tested, $31,470.
Safety Tec Package, $1,295; Premium Group Package, $995; Navigation and Sound Group, $1,395; Premium Lighting Group, $795; Destination Charge, $995.
Photos by Mark Elias.