Chrysler’s mid-size sedan becomes stylish

Chrysler’s redesigned and re-engineered 2015 200 mid-size sedan has a strong 295-horsepower V-6, comfortable ride, surprisingly good handling and a lengthy list of available features. (AP Photo/Chrysler)

Chrysler’s redesigned and re-engineered 2015 200 mid-size sedan is so stylish it looks pricier than it is.

The sleek 200 also has a strong, 295-horsepower V-6, comfortable ride, surprisingly good handling and a lengthy list of available features. In fact, the 2015 200 can be fitted with light-emitting diode running lamps, like Audis have.

Available safety features — such as full-speed forward collision warning plus automatic braking — are more extensive than what’s offered on any other mainstream-priced, mid-size sedan, according to Chrysler.

Best of all, starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, is up only $95 from the 2014 base 200. Specifically, the starting retail price, including destination charge, is $22,695 for a base, front-wheel drive, 2015 200LX with 184-horsepower four cylinder. The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2015 200 sedan with all-wheel drive is $29,690. All-wheel drive is available only with the uplevel V-6.

All 200s, regardless of engine, now come with a nine-speed automatic transmission, and Chrysler notes the 200 is the first mid-size four door with nine forward gears. The gearing helps fuel economy numbers, according to the company.

For the record, the top fuel mileage ratings from the federal government for the 2015 200 are 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway with the base, four-cylinder engine. The new 200 is ninth best in fuel mileage in U.S. government ratings among 2015 mid-size, non-hybrid, gasoline-only sedans, according to the government’s fuel economy website.

Competitors include the top-selling mid-size sedans in the country — the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Starting retail price, including destination charge, for the base Camry L is $23,250 with 178-horsepower four cylinder and six-speed automatic.

The 2015 Honda Accord LX sedan with base, 185-horsepower, four-cylinder engine starts at $22,895 with manual transmission and $23,695 with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic.

The 200 is the smaller of the Chrysler brand’s two sedans, and it has struggled over the years to get traction in a mid-size sedan segment that’s swamped with competitors. Sales of the 200 in calendar 2013 totaled 122,480. With model changeover sapping production earlier this calendar year, sales of 200s through August in 2014 are down 31 percent to 64,147 from the year earlier.

There is no mistaking the 2015 200 for its predecessor. The new styling is pretty, especially in the back, and the side profile is coupe-like.

The test, top-of-the-line 200C came with optional-for-$995 19-inch polished aluminum wheels that were the biggest pop of “jewelry” on a car that otherwise looked refined and restrained.

Inside, the tester had eye-catching gauges in front of the driver. They were illuminated a cool blue from behind and had matte silver accents. But why are the two largest gauges labeled tachometer and speedometer? Doesn’t the driver know which is which?

Front bucket seats in the test car gave good support, though the leather trim looked and felt thick and rubbery.

There is no gear shift lever. Instead, drivers turn a rotary knob on the center console, similar to that of a Jaguar. Unfortunately, on occasion I went to turn the gear knob but found the radio volume knob, instead.

Another nagging issue: Every time the test car driver shifted to “park,” the parking brake automatically engaged, even if the driver was merely parked for a minute. If the driver didn’t remember to press the brake lever on the center console after shifting into “reverse” to exit the parking spot, the car held stationary for a moment as the accelerator was pressed slightly. Then, the car lurched a bit as the emergency brake gave way and turned itself off.

The 3.6-liter, double overhead cam V-6 gives the 200 real zip, as torque peaks at 262 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm.

Shift points were only noticeable in aggressive driving, and the engine had strong, confident sounds.

The tester, which was rated at 19/32 mpg, averaged 22.8 mpg in driving that was majority city driving. Filling the 15.8-gallon tank cost just over $50 at today’s prices for regular.

Chrysler, owned by Italy’s Fiat, put an Alfa Romeo chassis under the 200, and it showed in the capable handling and supple ride in the test car. The 200’s suspension soaked up most road bumps without conveying nervous vibrations to passengers. Yet, the car was composed and stuck to the pavement in sweeping curves and hard turns.

Trunk space of 16 cubic feet is competitive. But the 200’s 37.6 inches of rear legroom and 37.4 inches of rear headroom is less than the Camry’s.

The 2015 200 has been the subject of two safety recalls.

One involved only eight cars that might have been built with inadequate electrical wiring in the driver’s door. The wiring had the potential to get hot, which could cause the window to stop operating and possibly start an electrical fire. The other recall, involving more than 15,000 vehicles, was for insufficient welds that might cause rear shock absorbers to detach from the rear of the vehicle, potentially leading to a crash.