While crossover SUVs have become the cash-cow darlings for automotive manufacturers, the importance of a C-segment sedan cannot be ignored. Every carmaker worth its salt still has a solid offering in the mid-size sedan segment. These are cars that offer state-of-the-art safety, post impressive fuel efficiency figures and deliver performance that would make your father’s muscle car blush, despite often sharing resources with those trendy sport-utes.
Last year FCA presented the all-new midsize Chrysler 200 as their best-foot forward in the segment. It’s a great looking car, sleek and aggressive in profile, and taking a lot of what’s positive about the attractive little Dodge Dart and maturing it. Plus, this being an “S” model and optioned up with a Mopar exterior body kit, our Granite Crystal Metallic 200 tester is about as handsome as they come in this class.
Given that the 200 is spawned from the sassy Italian Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the appealing appearance shouldn’t be a surprise. It might also suggest that this sportiest of 200s is a snappy performer too, and in some regards, it is.
With all-wheel-drive and Chrysler’s celebrated Pentastar 3.6L V6, this mid-size sedan is in rarefied company. Subaru’s Legacy 3.6R offers both a six-cylinder and all-wheel-drive like the 200S, but falls a bit short on the fashion-forward styling. Ford’s Fusion can be had with all-wheel-drive too, but only with a turbo four-cylinder. Accord, Camry and Sonata are all front-wheel-drive-only, and none of them (including the Subaru and Ford) deliver as much power as the Chrysler’s 295 equines.
The Pentastar sounds pretty good with a snarly exhaust note (though not overly loud) when prodded. Power delivery is smooth and mid-range grunt is abundant, but around town, the throttle tip-in can be a little abrupt.
Past experience with FCA’s nine-speed transmission clearly illustrated that nine is simply too many. And while we still hold the opinion that ninth gear is overkill here (even at 120 km/h, the engine turns fewer than 2,000 revs in eighth gear), updates to the programming this year mean the transmission no longer seems to be in a constant state of confusion over which gear is needed. Unless you’re travelling at speeds well above the legal limit anywhere in Canada, you’ll rarely see top gear in the 200S. And when you do, if some quick acceleration is requested, a big, multi-cog downshift is required to get any real motivation. Shifts are not exactly sporting in feel either, rather softly rolling from gear to gear, rather than snapping them off.
On autoTRADER.ca: 2015 Chrysler 200C AWD vs 2015 Subaru Legacy AWD Limited
With predominantly highway driving, we saw an average fuel consumption rate of 8.3 L/100 km over more than 1,000 km with the 200S. Natural Resources Canada figures the 200S AWD at an average of 12.8 L/100 km city, 8.1 highway and 10.7 combined, so our figure in the low-8s is spot on.
The 200’s brakes provide good, solid stopping power and the handling – for a mid-size sedan – is pretty impressive too. The car feels decently balanced tackling sweeping turns at speed. That said, unlike full-time all-wheel drive systems, the Chrysler’s reactionary setup means that it’s designed to help get the car un-stuck, rather than endorse hooliganism on back roads. When getting on the throttle aggressively coming out of a corner, some torque-steer is evident and steering feel is rather numb.
Despite the “S” badging (and Italian roots), the 200 is not intended to be a sport sedan, as much as a comfortable and spacious mid-size saloon, and that’s where it largely delivers. Wind and road noise are sufficiently subdued, and the ride is decently supple for a car wearing 19-inch wheels and 40-series low-profile tires.
The seats – both front and rear – are pretty decent too. Up front they’re well bolstered and supportive, but not overly firm, and they’re heated, of course. Apparently to lend a sporting air, the seats are “leather faced” with mesh cloth inserts that look a little cheap in a car of this price point.
The 200S casts a slightly greater shadow than the Camry, Accord, Fusion contingent, but provides marginally less cargo and rear seat room. That said, the absence of a sunroof in our press car also meant it maximizes passenger headroom, and the Chrysler certainly feels competitive with its less fashion-forward opponents.
The driver faces a dash that’s well laid out and features a great combination of large, easy-to-operate buttons and an 8.4-inch in-dash touchscreen as part of the Uconnect system. This system is a paradigm of simplicity of operation and allows a number of clever configurations – including one we favoured that left the audio information accessible and easy to channel surf through the XM satellite stations, while still retaining an inset window for the navigation system’s map. To further ensure the driver doesn’t miss a turn, a separate, crisp and bright screen between the speedometer and tachometer does a great job of providing just-in-time turn details. The sound from the Harman sound system is decent, if a little muddy in the bass.
The climate controls, volume and tuning knobs, and rotating gear selector are all situated on a steeply reclined console panel that rises up to the Uconnect screen, leaving a clever (and sizable) cubby beneath. Unfortunately, all the sensible ergonomics are let down by some questionable design and material choices. There are several areas of hard-touch Tupperware-grade plastics that have a chintzy sheen, and the grooved plastic accent trim is finished in a blue colour that makes it look like hardened Play-Doh.
Given that the base-model, four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive 200 is the most affordable mid-size sedan in Canada, starting at less than $22,000 before any manufacturer discounts, the econ-parts interior finishes are more acceptable. But this car here is more than $42,000 with destination charges factored in, and that doesn’t include cooled seats, adaptive cruise control or some of the other active safety features showing up in competitive models (not to mention the missing sunroof).
Priced in the mid-$30,000’s, where the 200S AWD starts, it makes a compelling case for itself with its class-leading V6 power and all-wheel-drive, not to mention its fantastic styling, but reaching into the $40s, the Chrysler starts to face competition from some other impressive machinery like a Cadillac ATS or BMW 320i xDrive, and all the brand cachet that comes with them.
Still, when taken on its own merits, Chrysler’s stylish 200S AWD is a solid contender in the field, and the best mid-size Chrysler yet. Plus, by buying a 200S, it shows the manufacturers that some of us still love the superior driving dynamics and styling of a mid-sized sedan without having to give up all-weather driving capability to those crossover SUVs.
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance
Pricing: 2016 Chrysler 200S AWD
Base Price: $34,295
Options: Granite Crystal Metallic Paint, $195; Comfort Group (dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, Parkview rear back-up camera, remote start system, rear air conditioning and heat ducts), $795; Mopar exterior body kit, $1,395; Premium Lighting Group, $895; Uconnect 8.4-in SXM/Hands-free/NAV, $1,700; 19×8” Hyper Black aluminum wheels with P235/40R19 all season tires, $495; Blind-Spot/ Rear Cross-Path Detection, $495
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $42,110