Every American a loves comeback story — it's in our blood to cheer for the underdog. Chrysler, the American icon, has had its ups and downs, and now it's back in the ring, fighting the odds.
So far, the partnership has exceeded expectations. Chrysler was immediately given the resources to improve quality, materials, and design, and it shows. Chrysler has recently paid off its loans to the U.S. and Canadian governments, and Fiat has increased it stake to 46%. After years of struggling, Chrysler has re-emerged with competitive products and a promising future.
The Chrysler 200 may look familiar. It borrows styling cues from the range-topping 300 sedan and recent concept cars. It may also look familiar because it's a significant update to the Sebring, which you probably rented on your last vacation.
Chrysler took some oft-repeated criticisms to heart and overhauled areas that needed improving, resulting in an all new exterior, interior and powertrain. It looks, feels, and drives like a more-expensive car because of fundamental changes to the way the company operates.
The headlights and taillights are slimmer, with simple but effective chrome details to add presence. For the most part it's understated, with the exception of the large chrome "200" badges behind the windows, which actually stick out enough to be visible from the side view mirrors. The rear in particular is better executed, with the enormous trunk-sized taillights replaced with smaller, better-integrated LED units.
The interior uses better materials more effectively. Soft-touch plastics, gloss black accents and the generous use of leather all seem to be thoughtfully laid-out. The LED lighting throughout looks excellent.
Chrysler's Uconnect in-car navigation touch screen system worked well and it's easy to connect an iPhone in seconds. Annoyingly in the 200, if you're listening to the satellite radio, a digitized Chrysler logo uselessly takes up half of the screen, and you have to push a button on-screen to view the song and artist information. Strange.
The only thing stopping it from being more comfortable is the seating position, or more accurately, the position of the cabin. You sit up very high, and the roof is also tall. The center console is low, and the overall narrowness makes it feel like you're sitting on top of this car rather than down in it. It's far from the vault-like feeling of security offered in the 300.
In the 200, you're surprised by how much power there is. At 3,300 pounds, it's much lighter than the 300 and the 283 horsepower pulls — literally, because it's driven by the front wheels. The moderate torque steer will keep you alert.
A lot of stresses are placed on those front tires and the design doesn't seem to be optimized to balance these forces. It can be harrowing when you step on the power on a narrow highway onramp and find the car wanting to 'zig-zag' under acceleration. A limited-slip differential would help the situation or even some programming that limited the torque in first and second gears.
The 200 is equipped with a 6-speed automatic. The 300 makes do with a 5-speed automatic, but a new 8-speed transmission has been announced for next year.
The engine is also found in the redesigned 2011 Chrysler 300. The 300 is a rear-wheel-drive, large sedan that first appeared in 2005. The new car looks more rounded and refined than the old one, with sleeker, more subtle edges than its blunt predecessor. It's a little less brash.
Chrome details that are everywhere really help the design. In the past, I felt that primitive, overly simplistic tail light designs on Chrysler vehicles were hurting the look of the car. The new all-LED taillights are much more elegant and wouldn't look out of place on a European sedan.
The gauges in the 300 are beautiful. They're easy to read and look great at night or in daylight.
Bi-Xenon headlamps with LED-running lights (think Audi) finish off the new froth fascia. The new slatted Chrysler grill looks better up close and in person.
The 300 isn't exactly fast but it offers good response and the 5-speed automatic seems adept at making decisions. The power delivery feels planted, and it should be said, definitely more confidence-inspiring than in the 200. A 363-horsepower 5.7 liter V8 is available as well, but it seems like overkill.
I was impressed with the new 300 interior when I first drove it in early May and that didn't change after spending more time with the car. The design and materials are impressive and the Uconnect navigation system in the 300 is larger and better than in the 200.
The 300 is comfortable on the highway, and it seems like you're sitting lower in the car than the tall-feeling 200.
The 300 Limited I tested lists just over $34,000, comparable to a competitor in its class, the new Ford Taurus. But nothing directly competes because a rear-wheel drive, modern full-size car is a rarity. It's more stylish than a Toyota Avalon and a better value than the Acura TL or Lexus ES350.
It was a bumpy ride to this point, but the decisions that led to Chrysler's problems were, to some degree, out of their control. With this second chance, it looks like Chrysler is in the fight to win and will not be resting on its laurels. If these new products are any indication, Chrysler's renaissance is the comeback we've been waiting for.