Automotive manufacturers have tried it several times over the years. The practice was a matter of survival for some (Audi), and for others it was a schizophrenic fit of badge-swapping and marketing spin. Most of them regretted doing it. Volkswagen changed the name of our beloved Rabbit to the Euro-market Golf, to Rabbit, and back again to Golf. More recently, Ford tried changing the name from Taurus to 500 and back to Taurus. Whoops.
Now Chrysler is rolling the dice by changing the name of the Sebring, the perennial punch line to rental-car jokes, to the 2011 Chrysler 200 Sedan (and convertible). And do you know what? We're backing Chrysler on the idea and here's why.
The 2011 Chrysler 200 is transformed from the Sebring in many ways that we say, go ahead Chrysler, discard the Sebring albatross. This essentially all-new 200 Limited deserves to be taken seriously. Those who have never heard of a Sebring might actually consider the 200 on its own merits. Those who have rented a Sebring wouldn't know the 200 was ever evolved from the Sebring.
The 2011 Chrysler 200 Limited Sedan we tested proved to be far more than a Marshall Mathers marketing maneuver. Sure, the new sheet metal and "Imported from Detroit" spin is intended to entice younger, cooler buyers. This car needs buyers, period: not just fleet sales with which the Sebring is currently synonymous. But the truth, and the 200 sedan's real buyer, lies somewhere between the exaggerated 8 Mile image and Florida vacationers or retirees.
Each time a staffer came home from a night in the 200, he or she would often nod and agree that the 200 is a genuinely solid sedan. And we mean this independent of the underwhelming, departing Sebring. The 200 easily competes with any midsize sedan in the segment — especially figuring price into the equation.
While a new 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder "world engine" is standard on the 2011 Chrysler 200 Limited, an extra $1,795 upgrades the sedan with Chrysler's latest 3.6-liter V6. In the Chrysler 200, it produces 283 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque — plenty for this 3,600-pound sedan.
At our test track, the new Chrysler 200 Limited sedan liked a fair amount of wheelspin to reach 60 mph in 6.9 seconds (6.6 seconds with 1-foot rollout as on a drag strip) which was only slightly quicker than when we left the standard traction control on. Our best quarter-mile time trap speed (a strong 92.5 mph) occurred on the first 15.2-second run down the strip, but we're at loss to explain why, by the fourth run (also at 15.2 seconds), the speed had steadily dropped to a low of 88.9 mph. In any case, those acceleration figures put it in the heart of the V6-powered family sedan segment.
We noticed the brakes began to show signs of fading after the combined effects of braking runs and quarter-mile passes. This is nothing abnormal during testing, and the much heavier 200 convertible we track tested a couple weeks prior scored its front rotors after the same routine, so the 200's brakes could stand either better pads, better cooling or more heat capacity to earn our full approval. Still, 60-0 stopping required 127 feet, about average for the segment.
Over 944 miles of mixed driving, the 200 came close to the EPA's fuel consumption estimates (19 city/29 highway/22 combined) as our own worst/best/average tanks came in at 20/25/22 mpg, respectively.
A six-speed automatic with left/right manual shift gate is used on the top-of-the-line 2011 Chrysler 200 Limited. Ninety-five percent of the time, the transmission goes about its business without notice: smooth, silent shifts and even near-seamless upshifts at wide-open throttle.
During the other 5 percent, we found ourselves nudging those self-selected ratios to avoid being caught in 6th gear while climbing hills or even tooling through our neighborhood. As a common fuel-sipping practice these days, the transmission is eager to get to top gear and loath to surrender it with a gentle application of throttle — especially up a grade, with or without cruise control engaged.
New Suspension and Steering
From our everyday and track-testing experiences, we're pretty convinced the chief engineer told the chassis team, "OK, guys: Throw everything away, start over and really try to nail the ride and handling thing this time, will ya?" Everything is new: geometry, spring rates, dampers, bushings, ride height, roll center as well as the steering gear, pump and tires.
The result is a standout example of how to provide both a supple, well-controlled ride on a wide variety of surfaces as well as (nearly) the best handling in the segment. To top it off, the hydraulic-assist steering feels entirely natural, precise and friction-free without any unnecessary heaviness.
Compared to a Camry, the Chrysler 200 Limited is just as capable of absorbing surface impact and road grain, but it's not a marshmallow. The 200 is less flinty than an Accord, less stiff-legged than a Mazda 6 or Fusion, and as supple and confident as an Altima — and still out-handles them all by a significant margin.
In our instrumented handling tests, the 2011 Chrysler 200 delivered 0.85g on the skid pad and snaked its way through the slalom cones at 66.1 mph. To say we were pleasantly surprised at this front-drive family sedan's at-the-limit-performances (with standard stability control disabled) would be an understatement. One might think this test car was fitted with blocky, summer-performance tires, but that's not the case. The tires are simple, conservatively sized P225/50R18 all-seasons.
The $24,495 Limited comes outfitted with an impressive list of standard equipment like leather seating (heated front, 60/40 split-fold rear), automatic climate control, 30GB hard drive, CD/DVD/MP3 media player with a 6.5-inch touchscreen and six speakers. Also present are aux/USB ports plus streaming Bluetooth audio/phone connection, voice command and one year of Sirius Satellite Radio service. To that list, our test car added the V6 upgrade with requisite oil cooler and dual exhaust ($1,795), sunroof ($845) and Garmin navigation ($395) for an as-tested total of $27,530.
Some of the 200 Limited's standard items are pricey options on competitors' sedans, and some of the Chrysler's options are not even available on those cars, so value is another strong suit of the new 200.
One thing is clear, however. The 2011 Chrysler 200 Limited sedan is a car that feels one big step closer to being competitive. Its balance of ride comfort and capability is spot-on, and the powerful V6 exacts only a small penalty in fuel economy compared to the standard four-cylinder engine. The standard infotainment equipment meets (or exceeds) current market demand for such gadgetry, yet the usefulness and appearance of the interior isn't sacrificed in the process.
The 2011 Chrysler 200 Limited deserves the attention the marketing campaign initially forced upon us, but not for that reason. This car is more than an evolved Sebring, it's the competitive family sedan that Chrysler should have been building all along. We're pleased to see Chrysler has spent the time and effort on the 200 sedan to bring it up to a standard that not only eclipses its predecessor in every measurable way, but also one that allows it to keep its head above the water in the crowded pool of midsize family sedans.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation.