First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Chrysler 200

All-new mid-size sedan aims for the mainstream of the North-American market

2015 Chrysler 200 - front 3/4 low
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$22,495 base.
POWERTRAIN
2.4-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine, 184-horsepower, 173 lb-ft of torque; nine-speed automatic trans
Resurrectiion of an assembly plant

The story of the 2015 Chrysler 200 is reflected in the facility where it is built. Think of it as a resurrection – a renewal and a complete makeover.

The massive 465,000 square-metre (5-million square foot) facility on 108 hectares (268 acres) of land in Sterling Heights, Michigan, about 50 km north of downtown Detroit, was built in the early 1950s by the military to produce jet engines.

Converted to build Volkswagens in 1980, it was purchased by Chrysler three years later. Since then it has produced the LeBaron, Lancer, Shadow, Sundance, Daytona, Stratus, Sebring and Avenger.

The assembly line and tooling for the Stratus and Sebring were sold to the Russian car company Gaz which produced a "Stratus" there and sold it as the Volga Siber.

As Detroit, and Chrysler stumbled and the company beat the city into bankruptcy, the Sterling Heights plant was slated for closure. But, with new owner Fiat approving plans for a Chrysler 200, the plant was purchased from the bankrupt company for $20 million (US).

To support production of the new 200, a preparation process covering three years, 800 jobs were added to the plant, bringing the total or 2,800. Fresh investment of nearly $1-billion (US) was used to build a brand new paint shop and body shop and install new machinery, tooling and material handling equipment. The plant can now produce multiple vehicles on two unique architectures.

LOUISVILLE, KY – In a bid for a larger slice of the all-important mid-size passenger car pie, the resurgent Chrysler Grouo has produced an entirely-new Chrysler 200. Not a major makeover, this is a new car from road to roof.

The mid-size segment is the largest in North America, the battleground where Honda, Ford, GM, Nissan and Toyota all outsell Chrysler. South of the border, the Chrysler 200 languishes in eighth place, outsold by a three-to-one margin by the segment leading Camry.

2015 Chrysler 200.jpgBut the Canadian story is much different, and far brighter! Last year the company was the second-best seller in the country overall, behind Ford. As of the end of February, 2014, it led the pack, having sold more new vehicles year-to-date than Ford, GM, Toyota and Honda who trail in that order.

The mid-size segment plays a smaller role in Canada than in the U.S., but the outgoing, and outdated Chrysler 200 finished off 2013 in fifth spot in the segment despite a 17% drop in sales.

While it is obviously important, that the brand-new 2015 Chrysler 200 is a success in the U.S., Chrysler Canada will benefit as well from the newcomer.

Distinctive new proportions

You can see this is a new 200 at first glance. The overall shape and proportions are different, very much like the new Dodge Dart, but sleeker and more upscale.

2015 Chrysler 200 - front 3/4 static view.jpgThe front end showcases the new face of Chrysler which will appear on all models wearing that name going forward. The headlights are integrated into the grille and the Chrysler emblem has been freshened with larger "wings".

The smooth new look is more rounded with a longer roofline. At the rear there are LED taillights and "hidden" exhaust outlets for some trim levels.

2015 Chrysler 200 - rear 3/4 view.JPGThe exterior was designed by a 34-year-old Canadian - Jeff Hammoud. He told Autofile, at the recent Canadian International Auto Show,that coming up with a unique look was a challenge. "A lot of the vehicles in the mid-size sedan segment end up looking similar because the dimensions are very similar," Hammoud said.

He said the goal was to change the silhouette and proportions. The result not only looks great, it slices through the air better than anything in the class, thanks to a drag co-efficient is 0.26."

More refined interior

Inside, the new 200 displays a similar step forward with three different colour combinations assigned to different trim levels. There is a linen headliner in the luxury version and black cloth and blue leather in the sport version.

2015 Chrysler 200 - front seats.JPGMaterials, fit and finish are all a considerable improvement over the outgoing 200 and worthy of a car with a much higher price.

The centre console is an example of the freshness of this interior, from the rotary knob that controls the transmission and an electric parking brake to the pass-through storage at the front and sliding cup holders.

2015 Chrysler 200 - steering wheel and instrument panel.JPGDepending on trim level, you get either a 13-cm or 18-cm full-colour reconfigurable instrument cluster which lets the driver choose the information to be displayed.

Choice ranges from the usual fuel consumption and level, road and engine speed to turn-by-turn navigation and guidance for the new parallel and perpendicular park assist, activated by buttons on the steering wheel.

Shared platform

The 2015 Chrysler 200 is the third product built on the corporate CUSW (Compact US Wide) platform developed by Fiat, after the Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee.

2015 Chrysler 200 - rear seat.JPGFor this application the platform was strengthened with a full-width aluminum cross member, widened and stretched 4 cm in wheelbase, and the windshield base was relocated.

An overall length near the tops in the class, allows for 4 cm more rear seat legroom and a larger trunk than the outgoing model.

The suspension, similar to that of the Alpha Romeo Giulietta, provides a nice combination of ride and alacrity. Vertical motions are well controlled and very European in nature while lean and sway are minimized. The electric steering system, has more feedback than most.

Updated engines

One area where there is some carryover from the old 200 is beneath the hood where you will find the same pair of engines used previously – but both have been updated for more power and improved fuel efficiency.

2015 Chrysler 200 - engine mood shot.jpgThe standard engine is Chrysler’s 2.4-litre "Tigershark" four-cylinder which has a new variable valve timing system. It produces 184 horsepower, 173 lb-ft. of torque and less noise than the current version.

The 3.6-litre "Pentastar" V-6, a frequent visitor to Ward’s Ten Best Engines list, now has 295 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. The exhaust manifolds are now integral with the heads allowing quicker light-off of the catalytic converters and improved emissions and fuel economy.

Nine-speed transmission

Both engines are paired with a new nine-speed automatic transmission that weighs 14 kilos less than the outgoing six-speed as well as providing a greater ratio spread that benefits both acceleration and fuel economy.

Six-cylinder versions of the 2015 Chrysler 200 will be available with an all-wheel-drive system – something many Canadian consumers will find most useful following the ugly winter we’ve just been through. We are through aren’t we?

The system, shared with the new Jeep Cherokee, features a complete rear-axle-disconnect system that switches seamlessly from front- to alll-wheel-drive and back as dictated by an active torque management system. By completely separating the system when not required, parasitic drag is cut by 80%.

Like most slip-and-grip systems the 200 remains in front-wheel-drive until the system detects changes in traction. This one monitors the electronic stability control (ESC) system, sending as much as 60% of torque to the rear wheels when needed.

It also comes into play when sport mode is engaged, altering the ESC’s yaw response, the transmission’s shifting action and throttle response.

Four trim levels

The 2015 Chrysler 200 will be available in LX ($22,495), Limited ($24,995), S ($26,995) and C ($27,995) trim levels. The V-6 engine is a $2,000 option and AWD adds $2,500.

A fully loaded C model will top $38,000 with the big engine, AWD, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and correction, parallel and perpendicular parassist .

The only other vehicle in the segment available with AWD, the Ford Fusion, in equivalent trim is priced at more than $42,000.

With the new 200, Chrysler is pushing the value button. Even the base $22,495 model will come with the nine-speed automatic, air conditioning, keyless start, tilt/telescope steering wheel, power windows, doors and mirrors, electric parking brake.

The company expects the volume seller to be the Limited trim. At this price point the car also has Chrysler’s U Connect infotainment system, 17-in alloy wheels, heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, satellite radio and heated mirrors.

It's an impressive package that brings a smooth new look, stunning interior and lots of value to the family car segment.

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