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Loaner Review: 2016 Chrysler 200S AWD

Ross Ballot April 7, 2016 Quick Spin, Reviews 22 Comments

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“I’ll borrow the Viper for a few days!” The puppy-dog lips and eyes I had just thrown on had no chance of changing the inevitable response, but at least it took a slightly different form: “you’re the third person to ask that today.” I laughed and mumbled something to the effect of the joke having run its course, but shockingly the very kind lady at the service desk that I’d been dealing with said that she actually found it funny and that it was acceptable *just* one more time. Joke was on me though: instead of the orange beast I was drooling over, my time sans Challenger would be in a loaner car that initially induced thoughts of pure sadness but proved to be unwarranted. And yet, it took everything in me not to roll my eyes when the lady at the service counter said my loaner would be a white Chrysler 200 (unfortunately not a ). Oh, and that Viper? Sitting dormant and very light in the front end, waiting for a new motor larger than most Manhattan apartments.

Upon rounding the corner to find the vehicle I’d be spending a fair amount of time in, one thing tipped me off that this wasn’t a base 200: black chrome wheels. Not that this is even remotely akin to seeing a fender badge indicative of a performance model, or even the wheels that usually adorn such cars, but black chrome wheels on a 200 indicate the S variant, which is at least better than the base version. Chrysler claims S indicates the “sportier” version of an otherwise mundane and, honestly, boring car, so what differentiates an “S” from a regular 200 as per Chrysler’s website? “AWD Sport Suspension” (whatever that means), Cloth with Leather-Trimmed Sport Seats, wheels, and that’s it. Dig deeper and we find that…well, that really is it.

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It’s not ugly, but the 200 is pretty bland in non-S guise. Attractive, but bland. Black chrome wheels go a long way to improving its appearance, especially for the class it’s in. However, the white on my loaner wasn’t doing it any favors. Other than the wheels and “S” badge there’s no telltale sign this is a “sport” version, which is maybe representative of the car as a whole in that it’s a weak attempt at a sporty sedan. Perhaps Chrysler was working within their budget and creative constraints rather than going all-out and actually making it look any different, but it wouldn’t hurt if it looked a bit more aggressive, and it needs to be said that the wheel gap is near-offensive for a car with an “S” on it.

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As a whole the designers did a good job with the 200 and it really is a nice car to look at. However, at the expense of style the mirrors are almost tiny to the point of uselessness. Same goes for the back seat: the roofline looks good from the outside but, its toll is evident once you sit in the back (and I’m only five-foot-nine). Compromises at the expense of “style” seem to be the running theme here.

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The 200’s interior is well-designed and nicely appointed overall. The gauge pod is very fresh and the cool blue backlight, which goes a long way to giving off a comfortable vibe, is equally successful in lighting and aiding legibility. The seats themselves are pretty great as well, composed of a two-tone, two-material makeup, and they provide solid comfort even on longer stints. The amount of bolstering they have much is surprising, but the seats remain supportive and easy to spend time in even though they may be a bit tight for larger-framed people. I was shocked to find seat heaters in this loaner, and even more surprised when I found out that the “High” setting should actually be marked “Ass on Fire.” Use with caution.

US News and Rankings

Source: U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News and Rankings

Source: U.S. News & World Report

Something else of note is how much interior storage space the 200 has. It doesn’t directly translate to the cabin feeling open and airy, since the rising tunnel detracts from how much room there visually appears to be, but there’s storage everywhere. The center console itself has multiple functions with sliding compartments and a deep bin with outlets and ports in easy reach. Underneath the tunnel is an open section which makes for great additional space, but inside it there’s a pad bearing the silhouette of Detroit. This Jeep-esque Easter Egg may be a bit much in a car without much of a storied past. Maybe once the quirks are worked out that can be a proud moment, but for an imperfect car it seems to mimic itself in the outline of an imperfect city. Also on the storage front: the glovebox is cavernous and reaches almost to the firewall, making it easily the biggest I’ve ever seen. Storage aside, one weird ergonomic tidbit is that the dead pedal is placed so close to the driver’s seat that it forces you to have your leg bent at an unnecessarily sharp angle for where a normal-sized-person’s seating position would be. Nothing major, but it’s indicative of a car mostly well thought-out.

I’ll be honest: I hate the knob-style drive selector. Despise it, even. It’s great in concept but the execution here fails pretty miserably, to me at least. Perhaps if it were positioned a bit better, maybe up a bit on the center stack, it would work more naturally, but in this application it felt awkward and forced. Multiple times I raised or lowered the volume rather than changing gear since my hand naturally fell to the volume knob rather than to the gear selector itself. Not a critical failure, but it’s one that requires a bit more re-training of your brain than a critical function like gear selection should otherwise have to. Maybe it’s just this individual unit, but the whole knob-style thing just feels insubstantial; turning a dial rather than pulling a lever or moving a physical shifter into place just didn’t give the reassuring “I’m in a gear now, ready to move a vehicle” confidence that a traditional gear selector does. Bottom line for me was that in two weeks of using the knob selector I still couldn’t get used to it and regularly wished for even a column shifter.

As for the transmission itself, its behavior perplexed and frustrated, but it did help deliver great gas mileage. The 200’s engine is a little louder than you’d expect and with a tranny that is regularly lethargic to upshift you get a bit too much of exhaust note whenever the revs just hang there, waiting for the next gear to engage when it already should have. Having paddles helped, especially in sport mode. I seriously wish the 9-speed transmission would go away though. At 75 MPH in 9th gear the 200S is barely turning 1300 RPM, rendering itself so incapable of accelerating or climbing a hill that it regularly forced a double-downshift to gain any bit of speed. Is there really a sizable gas mileage benefit from having the extra cog, or could money and development costs could have been better spent elsewhere? Or is it just a “we need to have the most number of forward gears” situation? Regardless, the transmission was fine most of the time, but no more than that. I would have much preferred a 7-speed or even eight; nine is just too many.

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Surprisingly, the 200s offered no Eco mode. The Chrysler 300 loaner I had recently with the same Pentastar underhood had an Eco mode, so I’ll chalk it up to the 200S being a “sport” model. Still, on a vehicle that they’re likely trying to move in big numbers this struck me as odd, especially considering how little else they did to make the thing sporty. Even so, the motor felt strong and was easily capable of knocking off nonstop mid-six-second 0-60 runs, aided by the AWD system, manual use of the paddles, and a sport mode that tightens up throttle response (or so it felt). The Pentastar is strong but I’m still undecided on the probably-louder-than-necessary exhaust note, being that it’s not super pleasant on the ears. All of that aside, the car managed a can’t-complain-about-it indicated ~29 MPG over the time it was in my hands. It wavered a bit in daily use, bouncing from 32 MPG down to around 26 in several occasions, but somehow managed near-30 overall including a road trip to Portland (Maine) and back. For a car of this weight, with four driven wheels, at the hands of somebody who isn’t exactly a professional hypermiler, 29 is pretty darn good even if you factor in that the on-board computer might be generous by 1-2 MPG.

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How is the 200S dynamically? Connect the dots: it’s marginally sportier than a base model would be, but certainly not sporty in the traditional sense. The ride quality is good but in order to not detract from it there’s a lot of body roll (no McLaren wizardry here). Turn-in is decent but there’s zero road feel or back whatsoever, and you have no idea what the front tires are doing unless you’re pointed straight. Chrysler’s AWD system seemed just fine but you can absolutely feel the FWD-bias; hit the gas hard amid any bit of turning and you can feel it trying to unwind the steering wheel. Hammer the gas mid-corner and it stays planted but, as you’d expect on economy tires and in a not-so-sporting car, there’s understeer galore. The bottom line is that it might hold its own against a normal 200, but with a high ride height, crappy tires, and a drivetrain that wants to cruise rather than boogie, it’s not all that much fun. I’d love to see a 200 SRT; two turbos and a good suspension setup would make it a ton of fun as long as the 9-speed wasn’t a part of it.

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All in all the 200S is a decent car that displays no commitment to being sporty. With the special seats, attractive black wheels, good power, and more style than many others in its class, the 200S is a car desperate for more attention from its parent company. This likely won’t happen as apparently FCA is giving up on small cars altogether (and especially since a report of 200 sales continuing to plummet came out), but this car would be a phenomenal fun daily driver for non die-hard car people who want something sporty—if it was actually sporty.  If Chrysler wanted to do a sport model they should have just gone for it. I don’t think it even qualifies as half-assed; it’s more like a one-tenth-assed attempt. At ~$31k the model I had was priced well, maybe a bit lower than I expected, and well equipped—especially with AWD, which is hard(ish) to find in the segment. The Chrysler 200S is a good car with a misleading letter following its model designation, but I do have to admit that it was comfortable enough and easy enough to live with that it was the first loaner car I’ve ever actually liked throughout the course of its stay, and while I wasn’t sad to see it go I’ll certainly respect them more when I see them around.

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  • BigRedCaveTroll

    I agree that Chrysler and Dodge should have done a turbocharged, AWD SRT version of the Dart and 200.

    Also, you gotta do the shoe test:

    • JayP

      I love those guys,

    • Ross Ballot

      I haven’t watched much MCM but this video is making me want to see more. Guys seem like good fun.

      Quietly hiding in the corner thinking about my Challenger’s wheel gap…could probably fit a boot in there…

      • BigRedCaveTroll

        I’ve watched the first two “seasons” of it and some other random episodes. Usually if I get on car-show kick and run out of Motor Trend stuff to watch I start watching Might Car Mods.

  • karonetwentyc

    Having recently rented one of these in FWD, the overall impression I came away with was not dissimilar: that there was a good car trying to get out from under the items that sold it short, but the items that sold it short were effectively dealbreakers.

    And yes, that rotary gear selector is worthless. Pushbuttons on the dash would be infinitely preferable, and calling it Powerflite wouldn’t be totally out of the question given that it has the same number of positions on its selector as its namesake from the ’50s and ’60s.

    • Ross Ballot

      Yes! I thought the same thing a few times. It’s easy to get lost with the knob, especially if you move it quickly.
      (Heh heh)

  • HoondavanDude

    So this was the V6 engine? That’s the only engine available with AWD, right?

    I had a loaded 4cyl as a rental and came away with a similar impression. Better than the old 200, but not better than the competition.

    $30k for 300HP AWD sounds great on paper. I just have a hard time accepting a $30k Chrystler 200. Then again, I can’t comprehend any of the prices fully-optioned cars in this segment seem to sell for.

    • Ross Ballot

      Yeah, ’twas the V6, but I’m not sure if the you can get the 4 with AWD. Not sure why you’d want to, honestly… The only major selling points that I can see vs the competition are AWD, and it’s American.

      $30k is a lot for the segment considering what the cars *start* at, but it is very well equipped for the money, especially if you factor in the “luxury” aspect.

  • dukeisduke

    Dead pedal too close? Knowing it’s Fiat-based, it brings to mind the long arms, short legs driving position from old Italian cars.

  • ptschett

    The 9th gear makes more sense the faster you can go. 1300 @ 75 would mean about 1475 @ 85, which you can get away with in a place like South Dakota or Texas with 80 MPH Interstate speed limits.

    • Ross Ballot

      I can see that. Unfortunately in NY and CT where I do most of my driving, it’s 65 MPH speed limits, which makes 9th basically worthless

      • karonetwentyc

        Agreed. Driving one of these around town seemed to be a constant game of, ‘pick a gear, any gear will do’. On the highway it was better, but started hunting again on even slight inclines.

        Some of this may be down to economy-focussed programming; some of it may also be from bad habits the transmission controller has learned from the 10,000 previous drivers my rental had. But either way it was anything but what I’d’ve liked it to have been.

        • Ross Ballot

          There’s one section of my commute where I’m accelerating uphill, usually trying to get up to 70 MPH from 65 MPH, and in the 200 it was an absolute mess…down a gear, back up a gear, down two, back up…

          Good point about the previous drivers! The car I drove only had 600 miles on it when I picked it up though.

  • Andrew Pierce

    The base mode is probably ‘Eco’, and the only way out of Eco is to put it in Sport.

    • Ross Ballot

      True, but in a lot of other new cars I’ve driven recently there seems to be a dedicated “Eco” mode, usually (de)activated via button somewhere in easy sight

  • Harry Callahan

    Soon to be discontinued. Wait till dealer is stuck with far too many on the lot, and drive away for a song. Then, make weekly appointments with the service manager.

    Or, wait until retired Dollar and Budget Rental fleet cars are on the used market by the thousands. That is gonna get ugly!

    • Ross Ballot

      2030 LeMons competitor no doubt…maybe 2025? 2020?

  • MattC

    Really a shame about the transmission. To be fair, I have not driven a new 200 and am only echoing what has been said on many a forum. But the transmission hiccups (apparently it is software related and not hardware related as far as I know) do nothing to smooth over the idea of long term ownership.

    No as an aside, I did about 700 miles in a rental 2016 Patriot High Latitude edition several weeks ago. I was pleasantly surprised that the vehicle had a proper 6 speed automatic (later found out sourced from Hyundai) and the interior was much improved from when the Patriot initially came out. I would even consider buying one as an inexpensive commuter CUV. My point being with this is that FCA can make a decent vehicle and update it to make it competitive (apparently the Patriot is still hanging around for a bit as it sells pretty well and the Renegade (again with the questionable 9 speed) isn’t. I wonder how the dynamics of the 200 would be with the proven 6spped than the questionable 9 speed. Even the last 200 (re:Sebring) was updated towards the end of its model life to have better interior appointments.

    • Ross Ballot

      I’d really like to see what FCA could do with the 200 given another generation, but it seems like that’s not about to happen (unfortunately). I’ll agree with the Patriot sentiment as well, it was still a questionable-at-best CUV by the time it died, but it progressed drastically from its introduction…

  • boxdin

    I think its a good looking car and I needed a 4 door for my uber car, but when the Boss announced basically they had zero interested in making the car anymore I quickly forgot about it. The future versions could have been great. I ended up getting a new Elantra loaded for cheap and its an amazing car.

    • Ross Ballot

      And likely more reliable, more spacious, and more efficient than the 200…but in a vacuum the 200 is pretty decent

  • Maymar

    Tiny mirrors and a weird dead pedal were two of my myriad complaints from a post-refresh rental Avenger, so it’s disappointing to hear they didn’t get those rectified (especially the dead pedal).

    Otherwise, it’s a reasonably handsome car which is way overpriced new, and a steal used. The V6 is actually sort of appealing – there’s no good reason for FCA to do this, but it’d be neat to see the 3.2 Pentastar (a rorty little engine) shoved in a Dart as a sendoff. They’re both CUSW-platformed, so presumably it would be possible.

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