First Drive: 2011 Chrysler 200

A nicer interior, but far from the nicest
The interior has been given almost as much attention as the exterior, though the effect is less dramatic. There are nicer materials, better finishes, and a less cluttered dash, but the style in our all-black test car was underwhelming. The 200 still uses the company's brick-like navigation system rather than the better integrated screens and physical controls used by the competition and the single-piece dash means Chrysler is using fewer accent trim pieces. The driver benefits from new gauges and a smaller-diameter steering wheel, while all passengers enjoy a quieter cabin thanks to acoustic laminated glass now used for the windshield and the front windows.

Since the dimensions are unchanged, the 200 maintains its modest width and rear legroom, making the cabin feel like the smallest among mid-size competitors. There are also a few remnants of cost cutting such as the felt-like parcel shelf. Overall, though, the perceived quality of the cabin is much higher.

Foppish four, superb six
Chrysler's unexceptional 2.4-liter four-cylinder carries over from last year with an output of 173 hp and 166 lb-ft. A six-speed automatic is standard in the Touring, Limited, and S trims, but we were shocked to find out that Chrysler will continue to offer a four-speed automatic in the base LX trim. No other major automaker currently offers a four-speed automatic in their mid-size sedan, but Chrysler can lay claim to the lowest price of entry at $19,995. Still, we'd say buyers are better off spending the extra $500 to $1000 to get a better behaved five- or six-speed gearbox. The 200's fuel economy, rated at 20 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with either transmission, is about two ticks behind the class standard in both figures. In the middle of 2011, Chrysler will introduce a third transmission, a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic, available only on the Limited trim four-cylinder model that should improve fuel economy slightly.

The news for V-6 buyers is much better, as the old, 235-hp 3.5-liter V-6 has been dumped in favor of Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6. The 3.6-liter, which first appeared in the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, is energetic and refined, and in a smaller vehicle like the 200 it makes a surfeit of power. With 283 hp and 260 lb-ft, it's easy to overwhelm the front tires, but it's nice to have power in reserve. Further enhancing the V-6's appeal is the fuel economy rating of 19/29 mpg, which is only a small drop from the mediocre four-cylinder's figures. All six-cylinder 200s are equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission.

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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