Sometimes it’s easier to tell what a new vehicle is not than what it is. Take the completely redesigned Chrysler 200 (if bad memories of its predecessor don’t philosophically prevent you from doing so). It definitely is not just a fancy, up-market version of the Dodge Dart, despite the obvious family resemblance.
Even considering they are both built upon the same Alfa-Romeo Giulietta platform that, thanks to their parents’ welcome adoption by Fiat, has injected some spirited European dynamics into their DNA, the 2015 Chrysler 200 presents a predictable midsize family car personality compared to the compact Dart’s sporty ambitiousness.
On a recent visit to New England, Kathy Graham, product communications manager at Chrysler, described the Chrysler 200 as “the face of where Chrysler brand is going in the future.’’ Clearly, they are not looking for comparisons with its junior relative. But for me, that’s unavoidable.
I’ve been driving a Dodge Dart with a 1.4-liter MultiAir® four-cylinder engine for two years. It’s turbocharged, fuel efficient (averaging 34 miles per gallon), and handles like an adolescent bulldog — all of which I like. Overall, the current model is much the same as when it was reintroduced for the 2013 model year after a 37-year absence.
Back when I ordered it, I opted for the Limited trim and nearly all the extras, including the dual dry clutch automated-manual transmission, the 8.4-inch touch screen navigation system, and the Alpine stereo. All but the dual dry clutch automated-manual transmission can be had on the 2015 Chrysler 200, which features a new nine-speed automatic transmission instead.
Frankly, while test driving a new 200 S over the course of a week, I found that nine speeds might just be one shift over the line. Not that I ever noticed it while fishing for the right gear. No, it behaved pretty smoothly and always felt refined. But, in manual paddle-shift mode, there are just too many gears. I would frequently lose track of what gear I was in if I didn’t keep an eye on it in the gauge display, or simply not notice the difference in the upper gears, shifting higher more out of habit than because the engine cried out for it.
For quick response, especially downshifting, I’ll take my Dart’s automated-manual transmission any day. The nine-speed in the 200 S seemed to free float for an agonizing instant too long when used to brake with the engine.
To its credit, the nine-speed transmission aids in achieving a surprisingly generous 36 miles per gallon highway rating when it’s paired with the entry-level, 2.4-liter inline-four cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive, actually faring slightly better in combined city/highway driving than a similarly equipped Dart, even though the Chrysler 200 weighs about 300 pounds more.
Even all-wheel-drive editions, paired with a hungry 3.6-liter V6, muster a very respectable 29 mpg highway due in part to a unique disconnecting rear axle that reduces parasitic losses when the system is sending power to just the front wheels.
Unfortunately, a less-than-remarkable 23 mpg rating is the best the 200 can do in all-city driving. But apples-to-apples, that’s on par with the Dart.
Inside, the Chrysler 200 aspires to the casual elegance ethic one might seek in a European luxury sedan. There are lots of clues that the design emanates from the same award-winning visual context as the Dart, but it isn’t as striking. Where the Dart engages the eye with its red-highlighted, floating-island dashboard layout, the Chrysler flatters the senses with its graceful Euro-styled rotary shift dial and cool blue gauge highlights.
It’s all very nice, comfortable and affordable, if something starting around $22,000 fits your budget.
But to outfit it with heated seats, dual-zone climate control, navigation, rearview camera, and a sunroof, equipment that elevated the sticker price of my Dart to around $25,000 (and which I absolutely have no regrets having included), the Chrysler 200 becomes something closer to a $29,000 car. Granted that, because of the way the packaging of options works, we’re not exactly going feature for feature on this.
Among the more than 60 safety features offered on the 2015 Chrysler 200, including some very advanced crash avoidance systems that can autonomously slow the vehicle down and in some cases even stop it when a collision appears imminent, there’s one standard safety feature that I would have appreciated in my Dart when I unwittingly once stepped out of it with the transmission in gear. No damage, fortunately, but had I been driving the 200, the electronic parking brake would have automatically engaged as soon as I opened the door with my seatbelt detached.
For this and a lot of other good reasons, the 2015 Chrysler 200 isn’t anything like the outgoing model, and I could picture myself enjoying it immensely—if I had a different personality.