DETROIT – Forget everything you know about Chrysler’s 200 sedan. It has been completely reimagined for ’15.

And if looks count for anything, the automaker, which largely has been a non-contender in the midsize car market, could have a solid hit on its hands.

The new model’s styling represents “nothing short of a new (design) language for the Chrysler brand,” design chief Ralph Gilles says during a media backgrounder of the car held at the automaker’s Auburn Hills, MI, Tech Center a few weeks ahead of its scheduled unveiling at the North American International Auto Show here today.

The new 200, he says, is a 360-degree holistic design, not a front end and rear end joined together by a disparate middle. “We want to be about not only beautiful cars, but the art of design.”

The exterior presents the new face of the Chrysler brand, the automaker says, with its sloping hood and sharply cut grille and headlamps that flow neatly into one another. The dramatically raked roofline and chiseled sides provide the car with a sporty flair.

Brandon Faurote, head of Chrysler-brand design, says the 200’s sculpted exterior represents a break from the previous car’s traditional 3-box sedan design language.

“The all-new ’15 Chrysler 200 redefines the exterior design philosophy for the Chrysler brand,” he says. “We developed an elegant composition of forms that feature clean yet expressive surfaces. The coupe-like silhouette flows seamlessly into the deck lid and conveys a sense of speed for a very dramatic, emotional appeal.”

There’s considerable attention to detail in the exterior design, Faurote points out, including the stylistic side mirrors and door handles with brightwork trim and the Audi-like bracelet of LED lights incorporated into the headlamps.

Aerodynamics played a big role in the design as well, with the car spending “more time in the wind tunnel than any other car we’ve done,” Gilles says. The result is what the automaker says is a class-leading 0.27 drag coefficient.

High-quality materials can be found throughout the interior, with soft-touch door uppers, center armrest and upper instrument panel. Genuine open-pore wood is available as an accent.

Ergonomically designed seats can be had trimmed in cloth or leather, with optional heat/ventilation control. Also available is a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

A standard E-shifter rotating dial replaces a conventional transmission gear selector and frees up room on the center console.

The sedan’s “floating” center stack design, similar to a concept Volvo employs in its more-recent models, allows for additional storage. Cupholders slide fore and aft along the console for optimum positioning by the driver.

Klaus Busse, head of interior design for the automaker, says the goal for the 200 was to be unmistakably American in its character, exuding simplicity in its design and honesty in the materials it uses. He points to the real wood used for the interior trim and the flowing, gently undulating shape of the instrument panel, inspired by American desert landscapes.

Playing to the brand’s “Imported from Detroit” advertising theme, the Detroit skyline is etched into the rubber mat that lines a storage tray beneath the floating center console.

Underpinning the new 200 is the C-EVO (or C-US Wide) architecture Chrysler shares with Fiat. Already riding on that platform are the Dodge Dart, Jeep Cherokee and Alfa Giulia.

Like the Cherokee, all 200s get Chrysler’s new 9-speed automatic as standard, and an advanced all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring comes standard with a 295-hp 3.6L Pentastar V-6. Front-drive models pack the automaker’s 184-hp 2.4L Tigershark 4-cyl. under the hood. The V-6 is expected to account for about 25% of demand.

The suspension is a MacPherson-strut setup in the front, with an all-aluminum cross member, something the automaker claims is unique in the segment. At the rear is a fully independent 4-link suspension.

The AWD system, borrowed from the new Cherokee, can send up to 60% of the power to the rear wheels, and completely decouples from the rear axle when traction isn’t needed, in order to boost fuel economy. EPA ratings aren’t available yet, but executives say both powertrains will offer a 6%-13% improvement over the current car, with fuel economy targeted at “around 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km).”

There also will be a host of safety technology, including parallel and perpendicular parking assist, blindspot and rear cross-traffic detection and lane-departure warning.

Chrysler unveils two different versions of the car to the media ahead of its NAIAS debut, a premium-trim 200C ($25,995) and sport-minded 200S ($24,495). The latter gets a blacked-out grille, black wheels, dual exhaust, sport suspension, paddle shifters and sport seats with Ambassador Blue leather trim, though the V-6 engine remains an option.

Pricing will start at $21,700 (excluding a $995 destination charge) for the base LX model, slightly less than the outgoing car. A Limited version ($23,255) also is available that adds halogen headlights, Bluetooth, center touchscreen, power windows and more, and is expected to be the volume model in the 200 lineup.

 “We’re trying to gear trim levels to lifestyles, not simply offer Good, Better, Best (options packages),” notes Andy Love, senior manager-Chrysler brand D-segment marketing.

Chrysler has made “a huge investment in product and plant” to bring the new midsize sedan to market, says brand President and CEO Al Gardner, who notes “the competition (in the segment) is brutal.”

That outlay includes $1 billion poured into the Sterling Heights, MI, plant, where the 200 will be built, to tool a 1 million-sq.-ft. (92,900-sq.-m) highly robotized body shop, construct a new 400,000-sq.-ft. (37,160-sq.-m) state-of-the-art paint shop and add a Metrology Center to ensure quality fit and finish.

With that much investment in the plant, alone, and much of the construction work under way even before Chrysler put pen to paper, there was a lot of pressure on the 200 design team.

“I’ve never felt as challenged,” Gilles says.

The vehicle will hit U.S. showrooms in the second quarter.

dzoia@wardsauto.com