On the Road Review: Chrysler 200-S Convertible



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In the greater realm of cars Chrysler’s 200 midsize sedan and convertible series will never be considered a high-water mark among a stellar class of competitors. A descendent of the former Sebring series, and the sibling to Dodge’s Avenger lineup, the 200 may have earned a catchy ad line — imported from Detroit — but it is not a serious challenger to the benchmark rivals that crowd the best-sellers lists.

{gallery}200-s{/gallery} Having said that, the 200-S convertible is one of the more value-conscious midsize convertibles that consumers can buy in America and that honor alone merits acclaim in an industry where the average new car transaction price has surpassed $30,000. It wasn’t that long ago when $30K would buy you two new midsize cars.

What hurts the Chrysler 200 on one hand, and helps on the other hand, is the dated chassis. A front driver, the 200 is generally an agile and compliant rider at a modest pace. Push the car to act like a sports car — say like the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro that are similarly sized — and the 200 taps out; it wants little to do with energetic driving, swift cornering or aggressive maneuvers. The optional 283-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 may be eager, but excessive torque steer and that front-wheel driver orientation are not well-suited to the moves that make the Mustang and Camaro more likable when the adrenaline is flowing.

However, that same chassis has long been paid for — the Sebring debuted almost 20 years ago. As one of the last remaining Chrysler cars that has not been Fiat-aticized, the 200 has done fairly well at the box office due to some very attractive exterior styling and an interior makeover that provides for a reasonably roomy interior with nice textures and switchgear. Besides, does everybody want a tire-smoking Mustang or Camaro when they really want a relaxing top-down ride to enjoy a warm summer evening?

Well, that has been another conundrum for Chrysler and anybody else that is still making four-passenger, two-door convertible coupes such as this 200-S. Toyota abandoned the segment years ago, dooming the Solara to the same scrap heap that claimed the popular Celica. Mitsubishi isn’t making too many Eclipses anymore, while Honda and Nissan offer nothing in this class. So, mainstream convertible buyers have been left with real sports cars such as the Mazda Miata, Nissan 370Z, and Chevy Corvette, or, sporty coupes such as the Mustang, Camaro and our Metallic Silver Chrysler.

For far too long, the Sebring/200 convertible was a mainstay of the airport rental fleets at vacation destinations — not a bad gig, but an occupation that didn’t transfer into sufficient new car sales. Even in the big new car revival last year, Chrysler sold 125,000 new 200s, but most of those were the four-door sedan model, not the two-door convertible model shown here.

Of the aforementioned convertible group, only the Chrysler is front-wheel drive, a layout that does not deliver quite the same thrilling responses as a rear-drive sporty/sports car. When you ask the same wheels to do all of the turning, most of the braking and all of the accelerating, physics dictate that there are going to be handling and ride compromises.

Some of these concerns are mitigated in the Sebring, er, 200, but when pushed the Chrysler reveals its roots and fairly well begs to be driven at a more responsible pace. That’s OK, because with the power soft top lowered and the windows down, the 200 is a decent cruiser that provides better than average wind protection and open-air comfort.

About the top: it takes a long time to go up or down, yet the 200 is eerily silent with its roof cut off and a fabric top in place. All of the motors, springs, levers and arms necessary to open the trunk-lid in the opposite direction than usually intended and the roof to be swallowed inside, are revealed when you open the rear boot. Your usable trunk space shrinks by half when you decide to lower the roof, too, but buyers surely will adapt.

From a practical perspective, the 200-S looks very nice — top up or down. And, the car is lighter and less top-heavy with the fabric top as opposed to the hard-top convertible edition. Yet, this convertible could be lighter, which would help the chassis agility and perhaps the ride as well. A new chassis might also remove the oversize center tunnel that robs so much space inside — a real anomaly for a front-drive car.

In greater context, the 200-S is equal or better than a similar Volvo C70 convertible because it performs similarly for a fraction of the money. The Volvo also uses an older chassis design as well as a hard-top power roof.

On the plus side, you can get a 200 convertible for just over $27,000 in base Touring trim with the standard 173-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Next up is the Limited model for $32,320, about $500 less than our top ‘S’ model shown here. Features of note include a tilt/telescoping steering column with redundant audio controls, Chrysler’s U-Connect entertainment and audio system, remote starting, keyfob buttons for the power roof and windows, heated front seats, auto-climate system, Boston Acoustics speakers, LED taillights and Bluetooth streaming. A back-up camera is missing.

EPA mileage estimates for the larger V-6 engine with a six-speed automatic are 19/29-mpg, with a weighted average of 22-mpg for most drivers. Our low-mileage sample returned a 23-mpg average for our time together.

With blacked-out alloy wheels, rakish front end, and the typical long-hood/short rear deck stance of pony cars, the Chrysler 200 has nice street presence. If you recognize that this is an attractive ‘touring’ car with sensible pricing, not a real sports convertible, then you will have more fun and a happier relationship with the 200.

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Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.