Chrysler’s batch of new and updated models has been nothing short of spectacular. And among the cars requiring urgent attention was the automaker’s Sebring sedan and convertible, which are now referred to as the 200 series.
In the mid-size class, the Sebring was the wallflower of the group. Not especially popular — and outclassed by its peers — the car had become all but shunned by the vast majority of buyers who preferred to dance with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu, to name just a few of the alternatives.
Chrysler’s new Fiat-controlled management group will replace the 200 with an entirely new car in a few years, but for now a new name, fresh sheetmetal and a major engine upgrade will have to suffice.
Are the changes enough to erase any negative thoughts about the previous Sebring? Probably not entirely, but considering the short lead time to develop a stop-gap solution, Chrysler’s design and engineering teams have managed to perform a minor miracle.
Physically, the 200 still resembles the Sebring of old, but with cleaned-up front-end styling, including a new hood, fenders, grille and projector-style headlights that give the car a classier appearance. The 200 now closely connects with the full-size Chrysler 300 that has undergone a similar facelift.
At the opposite end, a new trunk lid, fenders, bumper and taillamps also play a part in the Sebring-to-200 transformation.
Even more radical surgery has been performed on the car’s interior. The overtly plastic instrument panel has been restyled and covered in richer-looking soft-touch material and the seats and seat coverings have been upgraded for much-needed comfort and eye appeal. Topping it off is a new steering wheel with integrated controls for the audio and communications systems.
The 200’s cabin should be a more habitable place to reside with the additional sound-deadening materials, special acoustic windshield glass and thicker laminated side glass.
The significant exterior/interior improvements have been matched with a thoroughly revised and retuned suspension. As a result, the front and rear wheels are now set one inch farther apart and the 200 sits slightly lower to the ground in an effort to reduce body lean while turning.
Returning for 2011 is the base 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, although its redesigned engine mounts are claimed to lessen the amount of noise and vibration that made life unpleasant for many Sebring owners who selected this engine. Newly optional is a 283-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that replaces the previous six-cylinder offerings. The powerplant is being universally on a number of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models and receives high marks for its impressive output and fuel economy.
The four-cylinder 200 is offered with a four-speed automatic transmission or an optional six-speed unit. In either case, fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. By contrast, the V6 with its standard six-speed automatic is rated at 19/29 mpg.
At a base price of $20,000 ($27,200 for the convertible), including destination charges, the base LX sedan is about $900 less expensive than a comparably equipped 2010 model with air conditioning, the usual power-operated accessories and a standard four-speaker audio system.
The Touring, which is the base convertible designation, adds climate control, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and 17-inch alloy wheels, while the Limited features fog lamps, 18-inch wheels, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats and touch-screen audio controls.
The top-level S comes with the V6 plus leather seat coverings, unique 18-inch wheels, premium Boston Acoustics-brand sound system and distinctive blacked-out grille.
Options vary slightly by model but encompass a power sunroof, navigation system and a cold weather package.
Viewed in its entirety, the 200 series represents a valiant attempt by Chrysler to get back in the mid-size game and be taken seriously as a category contender. Yes, it’s only a short-term fix, but the new 200 demonstrates what Chrysler’s newfound can-do attitude can pull off.