In recent years, automakers have become infatuated with retractable hardtops, favoring them over conventional softtop convertibles. However, one major problem with retractable hardtops is that often compromise the design. The Chrysler 200 convertible perfectly illustrates that problem.
The large, folded roof necessitates a large, flat-topped trunk in order to fit inside. Also, the rear-opening trunk and multi-piece roof also make for additional, and unattractive, cut lines in the body panels. Both issues are on display here. And let's face it, the 200 is no beauty queen to begin with -- it doesn't need these kind of handicaps.
Like other recent Chryslers, though, the 200 has been treated to significantly upgraded interior materials. There is now virtually no hard plastic in this interior. Whether the two-tone cream-and-black color scheme floats your boat is more a matter of personal taste, but give Chrysler credit for moving beyond monochrome gray or beige.
Less easily fixed are issues like the flex-prone body structure, the torque-steering chassis, or the imprecise tiller that has little sense of straight ahead. We'll hope for better with the next generation Chrysler convertible, and one suggestion for Fiat/Chrysler engineers is to start with a classic, canvas, convertible top.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
The driving position in the Chrysler 200 hardtop convertible is strange in that it's too tall: while you sit in most convertibles, I had the sensation of sitting on this one. The engine (the excellent, ubiquitous Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6) is capable as always, but it's saddled with a dull transmission and a hefty curb weight -- drivers get torque steer, followed with a disappointing lack of forward progress. The convertible top is gigantic -- understandable for a four-seat hardtop vehicle -- but car and top wobble during the folding process, inspiring little confidence when you've got all that steel dangling precariously above your head. One morning I shut the top and shut off the engine and the information screen flashed CONVERTIBLE TOP NOT SECURED, and it took three tries before the mechanisms worked correctly and I could leave the periwinkle droptop in peace.
I've long liked Chrysler -- I still do -- but this car is disappointing. If you're looking for a hardtop convertible in this price range, save a bit more cash and buy the Volkswagen Eos, a car that feels much more like a quality product. And if you want your droptop to have an American badge? Go with the tried-and-true Ford Mustang.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
I've had the good fortune to drive lots of new cars in my life, but a 1997 Chrysler Sebring convertible was probably the coolest new car I drove as a teenager. The Sebring was a very big deal in the Chrysler town where I grew up, and the deep amethyst pearl droptop that my dad brought home from the Chelsea Proving Grounds will always have a place in my heart; that car was the first convertible I ever drove. To this day, I still love convertibles. When I was a test driver at the Proving Grounds a dozen years ago, I was thrilled whenever I was assigned a Sebring convertible for the shift. Heck, I even came close to buying a brand-new stick-shift 2002 Sebring GTC droptop.
Now that I've had experience driving such a variety of new convertibles, however, I have a hard time developing much affection for this Chrysler 200 (the succeeding nameplate to the Sebring). This car, although many times nicer than those cars from ten or fifteen years ago, can't stack up dynamically to the best reasonably priced four-passenger convertibles on the market today. When you look at true four-passenger convertibles without sporting pretentions and priced less than $30,000, the 200 is joined only by the Volkswagen Eos -- an aging design that is easily a nicer car than this 200. The 200 doesn't have terrible interior materials, but the design does it no favors. Same with the exterior design, which I find far from attractive. Perhaps I'd like it more with a soft top; the hard top (a $1995 option) seems like a waste of space, weight, and money, plus the car looks weird with the top up. Also, torque steer is surprisingly evident for a car that doesn't feel particularly quick.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Somehow, this convertible has escaped not only the past three years of rapid reinvention at Chrysler but also about twenty years of car development in general. The badge says 200, but the rental-grade plastics, the slapdash fit-and-finish -- the shifter trim literally popped out in my hand -- and the lack of structural rigidity all say Sebring or even LeBaron. As Rusty notes, these were admirable cars in their day and satisfied legions of drivers, including my grandfather, who otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford a four-place convertible. But the standards have changed. A large convertible need not be sporty, but no one expects to fight with the steering wheel under moderate acceleration or feel the whole car squirm over road imperfections. And no $35,000 car -- heck, no $25,000 car -- can offer such poor panel fit and materials quality.
Having said all that, I sincerely hope the 200 doesn't disappear anytime soon. Chrysler resurrected the American convertible in the mid-eighties with the LeBaron, a modernized 200 would, I believe, find plenty of buyers.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor