Payne: Chrysler 200 proves it belongs
My wife's best friend has never been quite satisfied with the car market's offerings. Like many hockey moms, she lives behind the steering wheel.
"I'm tired of having to reach into the right seat to keep my purse from flying onto the floor. Why don't cars have a place to store your purse in the center console?" sighed the 5'4", reach-challenged Midwesterner on a recent visit.
Seen the new Chrysler 200? I said.
"The 200 has an e-shifter which opens up room below the center console," I said in my best car salesman imitation. "Plenty of room for your purse under the shifter. Secure. Reachable."
I had her attention. I gave her a brief engineering seminar on e-shifters and their negation of shift linkages.
"Cool. But what would be even better is if I could put my purse right beside me so I can reach right into it. I know where everything is without looking," she said.
No problem, I say, figuring my commission owed by Chrysler if I close the sale. The e-shifter also opens up the space behind the shifter. Thank sliding cup holders. Slide 'em back and – voila – a purse drawer at hand's length.
I've been getting that a lot lately.
Since I last regaled you in March about my thoroughly satisfying test drive of the clever 200 in Louisville, I've had a few more dates with Chrysler's flagship closer to home. Call it 200 days with the 200. We're growing fonder with each visit.
Of course, the car market is never easy. Our hockey mom friend hasn't rushed out to get the 200 since we spoke because she's an SUV buyer. And the 200's cargo dimensions don't meet her needs. And Chrysler doesn't make a comparable SUV. And that's a whole 'nother issue. But the Chrysler ute is coming. And when it does, it'll have the same ingenious, best-in-class center console that hockey moms covet.
And brand loyalty is born.
Chryslers did its homework with the 200. Having your back against the wall will inspire folks like that. Flirting with midsize irrelevance, the 200 is Chrysler's moonshot. It can't afford to fall short.
But the 200 is more than a car for interior nerds. This midsize has looks to match. Like a Lake Michigan wave, its body flows from stern to stem. In an age when big, masculine grilles have even taken over the compact classes, the 200 is pleasing to the eye. It's more feminine than the Ford Fusion's gorgeous grille (if Aston Martin has a bastard midsize sedan child, it would look like the handsome Fusion) and that's not a bad thing.
The Fusion is the best of the hot hexagon grille fashion trend. Subaru and Hyundai fancy the look as well. Lined up against their midsize pageant competitors, the 200, Fusion, and Mazda 6 cuties are the three finalists.
The Sonata and VW Passat make a nice showing. Cars like the Camry and Accord look dated. Chevy Malibu, get thee to a beauty parlor and ask for the Impala facelift.
Part of the Chrysler's secret is its flowing greenhouse that defies the traditional sedan "three box form." Alas, the sleek look also defies ceiling room. Duck your head before you get – clonk - too late. If you want head room, buy a Jeep. The 200 is for DINKs and stylish empty nesters.
On the road, the Chrysler won't be confused for a Mazda in handling, but — packed with all-wheel drive and a zesty 3.6 power plant — a 200S will give the Subaru Legacy a ride as an affordable AWD V6 for $32k. Indeed, the S is proving to be a hit in early sales returns – making up 31 percent of sales versus an anticipated 25 percent.
And – ssssshhhhh — the 200 is quiet.
Credit its class-leading .27 drag coefficient and laminated windows. In truth hush is now expected in a class where you can hear a pin drop in most cabins. So when you have to talk over the Legacy's wind noise, you notice.
When it comes to quality. . um, can we go back to talking about how lovely the 200 is?
"The 200, Avenger, Compass, Journey, and Patriot scored too low to be Recommended," wrote Consumer Reports back in 2011 of the 200's predecessor. The new 200 — still under testing by the CR lads — will have to build its reputation from the tire valves up. The Subies and Accords of the world may not be much to look at, but they are bone reliable with 80-plus CR ratings.
Hockey Moms will embrace the 200's innovative purse storage — as long as they aren't emptying it at the dealership for nagging repairs.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne
2015 Chrysler 200S
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan
Price: $22,695 base with 4-cylinder ($32,775 AWD V-6 as tested)
Power plant: 3.6-liter, 24-valve V-6
Power: 295 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph: 7.0 seconds (manufacturer)
Weight: 3,784 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 18 mpg city/29 mpg highway/22 combined
Highs: Best-in-class console; Easy on the eyes
Lows: Jerky tranny; Low (bonk!) rear ceiling access