LOUISVILLE, KY – The all-new ’15 Chrysler 200 midsize sedan represents more than just an evolutionary change from the outgoing model. In fact, it’s a wonder the automaker retained the 200 name, as this vehicle has little in common with its predecessor.

The outgoing model was widely panned as an unworthy contender in the ultra-competitive midsize sedan segment, although the car wasn’t as nearly as bad as some made it out to be.

But Chrysler took the criticisms to heart and set out to design a truly competitive model starting from scratch.

The automaker’s CUS-wide platform underpins the new 200, which is a good start considering the architecture also serves as the basis for the Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Chrysler says the new body structure, which includes laser-brazed roof welds, increases torsional stiffness, giving the car sporty European handling dynamics unlike other entries in the segment.

The ’15 200 comes with either a 3.6L Pentastar V-6 making 295 hp and 262 lb.-ft. (355 Nm) of torque or a 2.4L MultiAir2 inline 4-cyl. mill producing 184 hp and 173 lb.-ft. (235 Nm) of torque. Both are mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission, the only midsize sedan to offer such a gearbox.

Both mills, combined with the car’s stiff suspension, provide for spirited driving on some surprisingly twisty roads here, some of which would induce nail-biting in some cars.

While the 200 lends itself to more aggressive handling than others in the segment, the taut suspension and ultra-precise steering may not appeal to all midsize sedan consumers, many of whom prefer a cushier ride with less feedback from the road.

Of the two engines, the 3.6L by far is the most impressive, but may be a bit of overkill. While exhilarating to drive, especially when accelerating out of a hard corner, most customers won’t need this much power, especially if fuel economy is a main shopping consideration.

The 200 equipped with the 2.4L engine achieves a fuel economy rating of 23/36 mpg (10.2-6.5 L/100 km) city/highway, while the V-6 is rated at 19/32 mpg (12.3-7.3 L/100 km).

It’s not a huge difference, but when combined with an upcharge ranging from $2,795 to $4,295 for the V-6, depending on trim level, the 2.4L makes more sense to the pocketbook, and a 184-hp engine in a car this size is plenty.

The transmission helps a lot in achieving the solid fuel-economy ratings. The gearbox experienced delays in its initial launch due to glitches, and shifts remain a bit clunky in the 200.

A manual transmission offering would be nice, especially considering archrivals such as the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord offer such an option, but Chrysler officials say not enough people select the option for it to make business sense.

Styling Meant to Evoke American Flavor

Exterior styling has undergone a major overhaul, although there are some similarities with the previous-generation car.

Sheetmetal is similar to the Fusion and Hyundai Sonatas’ coupe-like profile, but Chrysler designers added sensual lines to inject an “American flavor.”

Character lines flow from hood to trunk, with a particularly dramatic crease stretching from the bottom of the front door to the rear. The lines are a nice idea, but a tad overdone.   

Still, the exterior distinguishes the ’15 Chrysler 200 from the pack and mostly should be a selling point. Nice additions include modern lighting technology, including available full-LED daytime running lamps, LED fog lamps and standard LED taillamps.

To appeal to differing consumer tastes, the 200 comes in both S and C trim levels, the S being the sportier of the two, with gloss black trim and accent pieces replacing chrome bits. The C focuses more on luxury, featuring chrome on the belt moldings and doorframes as well as body-colored mirrors and door handles.

Inside, much attention has been paid to detail, from the stitching on the seats to tightly fitting trim pieces and headliner. Amaze and delight features include the embossed Detroit skyline on the rubber mat in the bottom of the pass-through storage of the center console and moveable cupholders.

Chrysler has made a concerted effort to upgrade its interiors, and the payoff is evident in the new 200. It's light-years ahead of the outgoing model and on par with the top competitors in the segment.

One minor complaint is that the sloping roofline compromises rear-passenger headroom. But for occupants under 6-ft. (1.8-m) tall, the rear seating area is comfortable and spacious enough.

Interior designers here say to expect special-edition 200s in the future with different interior themes. If they’re anything like what Chrysler did with the Chrysler 300 Luxury Series, a 2012 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors recipient, we have something special to look forward to.

The ’15 Chrysler 200, built at the automaker’s Sterling Heights, MI, assembly plant, starts at $21,700, making it competitive in the midsize sedan segment. When packed with options, the price can rocket to nearly $40,000.

The new sedan represents a golden opportunity for Chrysler to be a player in the segment, but it will have to overcome the negative baggage of the previous generation car and some incredibly strong competition.

bpope@wardsauto.com

'15 Chrysler 200 Specifications

Vehicle type 5-seat, 4-door sedan
Engine 2.4L inline 4-cyl.
Power (SAE net) 184 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 173 lb.-ft. (235 Nm) @ 4,600 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 88 x 97
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Transmission 9-speed automatic
Wheelbase 108.0 ins. (2,742 mm)
Overall length 192.3 ins. (4,884 mm)
Overall width 73.6 ins. (1,871 mm)
Overall height 58.7 ins. (1,491 mm)
Curb weight 3,473 lbs. (1,575 kg)
Base price $21,700
Fuel economy 23/36 mpg (10.2-6.5 L/100 km)
Competition Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry
Pros Cons
9-speed automatic transmission standard Shifts not the smoothest
Coupe-like profile Compromises rear headroom
Tightly tuned suspension May be too rough for some buyers