Chrysler made quite the splash when it paired its new 200 with rap-star Eminem and the tagline "Imported from Detroit" in a two-minute Super Bowl ad, but can the revised sedan really live up to all the hype?
Let's take a look to see if the 200 is a super star like its ad suggests.
What is it?
Despite its all-new name, the 200 isn't an all-new model for Chrysler but rather a rehash of the outgoing Sebring. The 200 features revised front and rear fascias but retains the Sebring's overall look.
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, you know.
Our tester was a modestly equipped model with a rehash of the existing four-cylinder engine, not the new Pentastar V6 is optionally available. While the V6 sounds nice, Chrysler estimates that around 80 to 85 percent of all buyers will wind up with the four.
What's it up against?
Situated as Chrysler's mid-size sedan offering, the 200 takes on the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
Oh, and there are probably some leftover Sebrings still on lots.
The fact that Chrysler was able to transform the Sebring into the 200 in such a short time is a testament to Fiat's leadership, but if you're looking for any real breakthroughs, keep moving.
How does it look?
If you view the 200 straight on from the front or back, it's actually a fairly handsome vehicle. Up front the Sebring's washboard front hood is (finally) gone for good and the whole package just looks more attractive. Chrysler's new slatted grille looks far better on the 200 than the egg crate design ever did on the Sebring and we even like the look of Chrysler's new logo. The 200's bi-functional halogen projector headlamps even give it an upscale look.
Out back there are even more welcomed improvements, including a redesigned bumper and new-look LED taillights.
However, move a few degrees off center and it becomes painfully obvious the 200 is heavily based on the old Sebring. In profile the 200 almost looks like an elongated VW Beetle and the car's stubby deck lid just looks out of place.
Chrysler designers clearly did the best they could with what they had, but it's time to put the Sebring to rest - and not just in name.
And on the inside?
The 200's interior is a vast improvement over the Sebring's, but that's not exactly saying much.
However, the overall design of the 200's cabin is much more attractive than the outgoing car's and the build quality is much improved - gone are the crudely-formed plastic seams that always had a little extra material and were sometimes razor-sharp. In fact, virtually all of the Sebring hard plastics have been replaced with soft-touch materials.
Our car came equipped with Chrysler's 6.5 inch touch screen audio system, but we found the system more annoying than anything else. Without navigation, we don't really see the point of having a mini TV screen in the dash, not to mention one that hinders nighttime driving. The system's "auto' setting never once dimmed the screen during night driving, giving us an eye-full of LCD glow. We found the only way to dim the screen was to manually set it to "night," which was equally annoying the next day when we had to manually reset the system to "day."
Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" commercial painted the 200 as a luxury vehicle, but it just felt like a car without a true identity to us. You can tell the 200 is aiming for the feel of a luxury car (do you need any more evidence than an analog clock?) but it comes across more as an economy car playing dress up.
What good is a finely-wrapped leather steering wheel if we're sitting in a cloth seat that feels like it came out of a Caliber?
But does it go?
Unfortunately, our tester came with Chrysler's 2.4-liter four-cylinder rather than the company's all-new 3.6-liter V6. Having recently stepped out of our Hyundai Sonata long-term test car, we were rather disappointed with the 200's 173 horsepower engine - both in terms of power and fuel economy.
Around town the 200's four-cylinder feels adequate enough, but the 2.4-liter feels completely overwhelmed when it comes to highway entry ramps or passing maneuvers. And while better fuel economy is usually the result of less power, that's not the case with the 200.
Even with Chrysler's optional six-speed transmission we averaged about 17mpg in mixed driving, despite the 200's 20/31 mpg city/highway ratings. In comparison, our 200 horsepower Sonata averaged no worse than 25 mpg on the same loop.
Although the 200's four-cylinder powertrain is still very reminiscent of the Sebring, Chrysler has improved the car's ride and handling for 2011.
The 200 has a noticeably better ride than the Sebring and can actually take a corner without completely rubbing off the writing on the side of its tires. Steering is still vague but, once again, better than the outgoing Sebring.
Why you would buy it
You currently own a Sebring or have access to an incredible Chrysler discount.
Why you wouldn't
The Chrysler dealership wasn't your only stop.
Leftlane's bottom line
The 200 is amazing achievement for Chrysler - light-years ahead of the old Sebring -- but even the best Sebring is well short of mid-size segment benchmark.
It's well documented that the 200 is just a hold-over until a new Fiat-based sedan arrives, but that doesn't automatically give the 200 a passing grade. With the mid-size segment as good as it is, the 200 is a very difficult proposition.
2011 Chrysler 200 Touring
base price, $21,245. As tested, $22,680.
Cold weather group, $385; Media Center 430 CD/DVD/HDD, $300; Destination, $750.
Words and photos by Drew Johnson.