First Drive: 2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible

The last Sebring convertible and its sedan sibling were prime examples of Chrysler having completely lost its way. Cars like the Sebring led the former Chrysler Corporation to near ruin. Although well-intentioned, the Sebring droptop wasn't sporty or sufficiently luxurious or the least bit rewarding to drive. To top it all off, it was ugly, the ultimate proof that the leaders in Auburn Hills were distracted or simply didn't care anymore, since Chrysler had in the previous decade produced so many good designs.

Back up from the bankruptcy mat, Chrysler is bruised but ready to fight again. Until an entirely new wave of Fiat-based mid-size cars can be readied for U.S. consumption, the company has to make the best of its Sebring lineup. It started by ditching the Sebring name, which had become synonymous with automotive lameness, in favor of the benign moniker 200. We've already told you about the new Chrysler 200 sedan, which we drove last November. Now we've been behind the wheel of the 200 convertible, which like the sedan has been restyled and reengineered.

Compared with the Sebring, the 200 gets a new hood, a new grille, new A-pillars, new headlamps, a new trunk lid, and new LED taillamps. The effect is fairly amazing, as the formerly hump-backed atrocity now shimmers with a grace and sense of proportion that utterly eluded it before. We're not talking about a Maserati Gran Turismo sense of beauty and style, but Ugly Betty has lost her braces and is ready for a night on the town.

In addition to being better to look at than the Sebring, the 200 convertible is better to drive. Doug Betts, Chrysler's VP for quality, claims that the 200 convertible is now "more confident, more controlled, and quieter. The rear track is wider," he explains, "and we increased the camber at the rear wheels, installed a thicker rear sway bar, and revised the steering by retuning the valve and stiffing the bushing by 100%."

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