(MCT) -- Chrysler gets into the midsize sedan game for 2015 with the sleek and enjoyable 200 sedan.
The outgoing 200, which debuted as a 2011 model, was a salvage project as much as a family sedan, an emergency intervention Fiat and Chrysler staged to breathe life into the dreadfully uncompetitive car that debuted as the Sebring during Chrysler's Dark Ages, also known as the DaimlerChrysler years.
Foremost among DaimlerChrysler's sins was a sneering attitude toward Chrysler's brands that assumed second-rate features and technology were more than good enough.
The new 200, the first midsize sedan developed by Chrysler and Fiat, does a lot to remedy that. It delivers features as good as or better than leading midsize sedans, appealing interior materials and responsive handling.
Prices for the 2015 200 start at $21,700 for a base front-wheel drive model with a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A 295-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 is available for $1,950 on the S and C trim levels. The V-6 is standard on all-wheel drive models, which start at $28,695.
All 200s have a quick and efficient nine-speed automatic transmission.
I tested a front-wheel drive 200 S on a road trip of more than 2,000 miles. Features included navigation, excellent voice recognition, push-button start, keyless entry, automatic climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, remote start and Alpine audio. Its $30,225 price was competitive with similarly equipped rivals. All prices exclude destination charges.
The 200 competes in one of the toughest parts of the car market. Rivals include the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat.
V-6-powered midsize sedans have become rare as automakers switch to turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The Accord, Altima, Camry and Passat are the only current non-luxury midsize sedans with V-6 options. They're the most direct competition for the car I tested. Chrysler no longer makes the V-6 Dodge Avenger platform-mate of the previous-generation 200.
My 200 S was comfortable and fun to drive.
The front-drive 200 S V-6 has more power than the other V-6 midsize sedans and performance models of the four-cylinder cars.
The 200 V-6's EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg in the city, 32 on the highway and 23 combined trails all V-6 and four-cylinder turbo competitors but the Passat, which uses more expensive premium gas. On a long highway run with the cruise control on 70 mph, I averaged 32.5 mpg.
The four-cylinder engine that will power most 200s rated 23 mpg city, 36 highway and 28 combined in EPA tests. Like the V-6, it trails the segment's leaders.
The 200's doors, armrests and dash are covered with soft, cushy materials. Fabric insets in the leather-trimmed seats seemed a bit declasse for Chrysler's S trim level.
The controls are easy to reach and use. Chrysler's voice-recognition system for phone calls and navigation is among the best. The center console provides lots of storage space. The glove box is so big it could be a magician's prop. When I reached deep into it for the owner's manual, I half-expected to come out holding a white rabbit.
The exterior styling is contemporary and understated. Optional LED running lights and tail lights are recognizable at night. My test car was painted a lustrous deep gray - "granite crystal metallic" on the order sheet. It looked terrific.
The 200 uses the same architecture as the Jeep Cherokee SUV and Dodge Dart compact sedan. The architecture, which Fiat-Chrysler calls CUSW, or compact U.S. wide, was developed by Chrysler based on a Fiat program. It delivers composed, responsive handling and a smooth, quiet ride. The steering is precise and confident.
If Chrysler had wrung a couple more mpgs out of the 200, the new midsize sedan might challenge for class leadership. As it is, the 2015 Chrysler 200 provides a fine new alternative to established midsize sedans.
2015 CHRYSLER 200 S V-6:
-Rating: Three out of four stars
-Front-wheel drive five-passenger midsize sedan
-Reasons to buy: Handling, power, looks, available all-wheel drive
-Shortcomings: Fuel economy
-Engine: 3.6-liter 24-valve DOHC V-6
-Power: 295 horsepower at 6,350 rpm; 262 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm
-Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
-EPA fuel economy rating: 19 mpg city/32 highway/23 combined. Regular gasoline
-Wheelbase: 108.0 inches
-Length: 192.6 inches
-Width: 73.6 inches
-Height: 58.7 inches
-Curb weight: 3,473 pounds (base model)
-Base price: $21,700
-Price as tested: $30,225
All prices exclude destination charge.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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