The outgoing Chrysler 200 has been around since the nadir of the brand's existence. It arrived in showrooms as the 2007 Chrysler Sebring, just before Daimler unloaded the automaker on Cerberus. Eight model years is nearly twice the timeline of the average mainstream, front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan, although under Fiat, Chrysler executed a significant facelift for the 2011 model year, complete with a new name and a Super Bowl XLV commercial featuring Eminem.
In retrospect, it might have made sense to keep the Sebring name for that car and save "200" for this new, Fiat-based 2015 model, even though the facelift and generous discounting pushed sales back up to respectable levels in the last couple of years. Chrysler sold 122,480 200s in the U.S. in 2012 and perhaps a few hundred more, rebadged as Lancia Flavias, in Italy.
The 2015 Chrysler 200 has lost all the gawkiness of the 2007-14 Sebring/200, and corporate design chief Ralph Gilles, wistfully recalling the models of the Tom Gale/cab-forward era, says it reveals "nothing short of an absolutely new design language for Chrysler." The 2015 Chrysler 200 is scheduled to begin production in the second quarter of this year.
Chrysler marketing plans to talk up the car's "Imported from Detroit" image and the $1 billion it has invested to upgrade the Sterling Heights, Michigan, assembly plant where the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger are produced. Less than five years ago, the plan was to shutter the factory as Chrysler emerged from its bankruptcy.
Chrysler division design chief Brandon Faurote says his team was careful to make sure the new 200 "exudes" American design. It does do that, even while riding on a stretched version of the Fiat-based platform that was widened to make the Dodge Dart. Being a mid-size car, the new 200 has a longer wheelbase and greater overall length.
"The silhouette is not your traditional three-box design," Faurote says, adding that it has a "very fast roofline." That's made possible by an upsweep of the beltline between the B- and C-pillars, a familiar design trick that tends to result in a claustrophobic-feeling back seat in family sedans. In a preview of the car, the back seat felt at least as commodious as most of its competitors, though without the family-friendly capaciousness and outward visibility of the current mid-size benchmark, the Honda Accord.
Faurote also highlights the hockey-stick-shape, full-LED daytime running lights and "signature" lighting; the low, sloping hood line; HID high- and low-beam headlights; and available 19-inch wheels.
The 2015 Chrysler 200 will come standard with the company's new nine-speed automatic transmission for transverse-engine cars and with an electronic rotary knob shifter. Engine choices are a 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder with a 6- to 13-percent fuel-economy gain over the current I-4, and a 295-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6.
A new optional on-demand all-wheel-drive system, available with the Pentastar V-6, is fully automatic and can disconnect at either the front or rear wheels. Suspension is MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link independent rear.
Available safety and tech features include automated parallel and perpendicular parking, a blind-spot information system, rear cross-path monitors, lane-departure warning, and a 911 emergency call feature.
As it did with the redesigned 300/300C, Chrysler is de-coupling the 200's trim levels with engine choice. You won't have to opt for the V-6 to go for the glitz. Paddle-shifters for the nine-speed automatic are available with the 200C or the 200S V-6, for example.
The new Chrysler 200S will have blacked-out daylight-opening trim and grille, hyper-black 19-inch wheels, sport seats, sport suspension with torque-vectoring AWD, and the 295-hp V-6. The 200C gets a premium interior and real wood trim. Chrysler has indicated that it is looking to cover a large swath of the midsize sedan segment with a loaded version that can potentially rival the Lincoln MKZ. With the 2015 Chrysler 200's base price $95 cheaper than that of the current car -- $22,695 with destination – the 200 will continue to try and challenge rental-fleet-trim Ford Fusions, as well.
Chrysler declined to confirm a new generation of its 200 folding-hard-top convertible or a Dodge Avenger sibling. Rumors have a rear-wheel-drive replacement for the Avenger being built off a new smaller-than-Chrysler 300 platform that would be shared with the SRT Barracuda and Alfa Romeo sedans. The Barracuda and Alfa projects appear to be delayed, however; Chrysler could cover the Dodge sedan lineup with the Dart and the Charger.