2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD
2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD headlight
2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD
2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

Short of cannonballing into a cauldron of bubbling 10W40, driving headlong into the red-hot mid-size family sedan arena with an all-new vehicle is about as treacherous as it gets.

Not that anybody in the car business really has a choice. Chrysler recently entered the fracas with its redone 200.

The old 200 was a bit of a rolling joke (amongst the critics anyway) so this new one needed to be, if not a home run, at least a solid double.

I’d say Chrysler has connected with the ball pretty well and the trajectory looks promising, but it’s not heading over the fence.

The 200 uses a lengthened version of the Dodge Dart platform, which in itself is a wider and longer edition of a front-drive Alfa Romeo Giulietta architecture that parent company Fiat calls “Compact US Wide”.

But while the 200’s Italian bones might portent a Euro-tilted driving experience, Chrysler’s new mid-size family hauler stays true to its marketing tagline: Imported from Detroit. Truth in advertising indeed.

Is this a bad thing? Not if ride compliance, cabin isolation, nice interior appointments and high feature count are important to you. This is what the 200 delivers.

If you’re looking for quick steering, sharp body control and hang-on-to-your-lunch handling, better look elsewhere.

Reality check #1. It seems the only people who actually care for the latter in a mainstream family sedan are auto journalists. AJAC (Automotive Journalists Association of Canada) voted the capable and zippy handling Mazda6 sedan as Canadian Car of the Year – a car that remains nailed to the showroom floors. It hasn’t even cracked the top 10 on the mid-size car sales chart – probably because the ride is stiff and too much road noise infiltrates the cabin.

Reality check #2. My wife wouldn’t know understeer if it jumped up and whacked her right quarter panel with a tree. But she enjoyed driving the 200S because the seats are super comfy, the big touchscreen interface is clear and easy to figure out, the audio is good, the gauge cluster is cool and the ride is nice. These are the people who buy mid-size sedans – or tell their husbands what to buy.

It must be noted that this top trim 200S AWD with a 295-hp 3.6L Pentastar V6 and base price of $31,495 is not the foot soldier in this battle. More like the general up on the hill, watching the 2.4L four-pot models duke it out.

“Heads up lads! New Sonata coming up on your left flank.”

Hey. Did I just say this is an all-wheel-drive sedan with almost 300 hp? For just over 30k? If I slapped a pergola-sized spoiler on the trunk lid could I run with the Subaru STI crowd?

Uh, no.

2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD driver's seat2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD gauges
2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD driver’s seat & gauges. Click image to enlarge

(This is where auto-writer-guy analyzes the dynamic minutiae of this poshed-up Chrysler family sedan.)

Here, the robust Pentastar V6 with its class-leading 295 hp and 262 lb-ft both giveth and taketh away. Get it up on the cam and it growls and hauls with equal exuberance. However, get the 200S up on its toes, head into a bend with a bit of pace and the V6’s weight up front announces itself quite clearly. The 200 is quick to adopt a plow-like attitude (that’s understeer, honey), enabled by slightly roly-poly body control. The steering isn’t bad – it may lack ultimate feel but it is linear and accurate.

Still, if you’re not driving like a Loeb wannabe, the 200S is a safe and predictable handler. It will flow nicely down a secondary road.

The new nine-speed (that’s not a typo) ZF transmission does its very best to make sure you don’t drive like a hooligan, such is its pathological determination to keep the V6 firmly in the lower reaches of its rev range. It short shifts like Granny on her way to bingo. And while I can’t really prove this, yelling “Jeeezuz!” seems to help when dipping into the long throttle and waiting for it to kick down a handful of gears.

2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD wheel
2015 Chrysler 200S 3.6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

That said, ZF do make the best automatic trannys, so even though there’s a whole lotta shiftin’ going on, the swaps are brisk and seamless. It responds quickly to paddle shifter inputs too.

Ninth gear will only show up on the highway at elevated speed, but if you do coast down to 100 km/h the tach shows 1,200 rpm.

This, of course, is all about fuel economy, and it seems to work, considering this tester with only 1,800 km on the clock showed a history of 9.6 L/100 km.

I can’t help thinking that until I gave the 200S a good blast on my fave back road loop, most of those 295 ponies had yet to see active duty. “Whoaaa! What the hell’s up with this guy? I’ve been sleeping in my stall since we left the factory.”

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