First Drive: 2011 Chrysler 200

Chrysler has refreshed its entire lineup for 2011, which sounds mighty impressive until you remember that the brand has been reduced to just four vehicles in recent years. Despite the small product portfolio, Chrysler's vehicles were in desperate need of updating and among the surviving nameplates, no Chrysler needed as much attention as the Sebring mid-size sedan. From the day it launched in 2007, the Sebring was a vehicle far less competent and compelling than the mid-size stalwarts, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, not to mention the rising class of mid-size cars from Ford, Chevrolet, and Hyundai. To catch up to the pack, Chrysler's designers, engineers, and product planners have given the Sebring a makeover so thorough that the company is giving the car a new name. The Sebring is now the Chrysler 200.

Modern, upscale, and unoriginal
Chief among the old Sebring's shortcomings was the fact that the car looked dated from launch, and mild tweaking throughout its life did little to improve its appearance. With the new 200, the design team has significantly altered the front and rear into an all-new, much more modern and upscale look. Up front, there's a new corporate grille, cleaner lines, and slimmer headlights featuring an attractive LED light pipe.

The rear end is blatantly ripped from the Jaguar XF, a comically ambitious influence for a car of the 200's stature. Just as with Britain's fine sport sedan, the 200's red taillamps form C shapes around the clear backup lenses with slivers of red spilling onto the trunk atop a broad horizontal chrome accent strip. The design is so similar you'd think the Chrysler designers were peering over their Jaguar counterparts' shoulders. Despite the unoriginality, the new look is a massive improvement over the stale Sebring, looking much more refined with the subtle trunk lip spoiler and generally clean lines.

The profile, however, still evokes a Ford Focus (or last year's Sebring) with the wedge-like stamping in the doors. A garish 200 badge has sprouted on the C-pillars, muddling the design. Build quality is also reminiscent of the old Chrysler, lagging behind the industry when it comes to manufacturing precision. A quick inspection of the exterior reveals uneven and excessively large gaps between body panels.

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While Chrysler has done a masterful job with this vehicle IMO they should bring out the Show car 200 design for this vehicle with rear wheel drive. Let Dodge have this or a new front wheel drive platform.

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