Rating: 8.1
Bottom Line:
The all-new Chrysler 200 can be either a ho-hum rental special or the steal of the midsize sports sedan segment. It all comes down to trim level and powertrain decisions: Choose wisely.
Pros:
  • V6/AWD combo is legitimately fast
  • Sport seats in 200S are a standout
  • Interior design, including cavernous center console
Cons:
  • Exterior better, but derivative
  • Nine-speed automatic slow to act
  • Small touch screen and uncomfortable seats in lower trim levels

The Chrysler 200 has aimed to become a major player in America's midsize sedan segment for over 10 years now, but it has found only middling success. The all-new 2015 200 offers something for everyone between its four trim levels, two engines and either front- or all-wheel drive, along with Chrysler's new 9-speed automatic transmission. Is the 200 finally for real?

Model lineup
The 2015 200 will be offered in four trim levels: LX, Limited, S and C. Standard features include 60/40 split-folding rear seats, ECO feedback display, a slide-open center console, a rear-seat armrest, tilting-telescopic steering column, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, USB port, audio jack, electronic parking brake and Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system.

LX trims have a 3.0-inch Uconnect touch screen, where Limited, S and C trims have a 5.0-inch Uconnect with Bluetooth and voice command. The 200S comes with unique leather-trimmed sport bucket seats and black chrome interior accents, while the 200C is top-of-the-line with dual-zone temperature control and a 7.0-inch premium instrument cluster. A battery of available safety systems and features include a backup camera, park assist and forward collision warning.

View Pictures:  2015 Chrysler 200

Under the hood
The standard powertrain for all trim levels is a 2.4-liter Tigershark inline 4-cylinder engine rated at 184 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque. It sends power to the front wheels. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is available as an option with either the 200S or 200C, producing 295 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque.

The available all-wheel-drive system is interesting. It completely disconnects the shaft via a wet clutch, so when you're not using all-wheel drive the extra rotating mass is not spinning and sapping up gas mileage. The system engages and disengages by itself; yaw and electronic stability control trigger it. In all-wheel-drive S and C trims, there's an "S" position on the gear selector. When engaged, the all-wheel drive is more performance oriented, and can send up to 60 percent of torque to the rear if needed.

The big tech news in the 2015 Chrysler 200 is its new 9-speed automatic transmission. The 9-speed is mapped to work differently with each engine, and it comes standard with paddle shifters on all-wheel drive variants of the 200S and 200C, and in 200C front-wheel drive versions equipped with the Pentastar V6. We're waiting for Environmental Protection Agency figures, but Chrysler estimates the inline-4 engine at 35 mpg highway and the Pentastar V6 at 31 mpg highway.

Inner space
There is a lot to like about the 2015 Chrysler 200's interior. Soft-touch plastics make up the buttons, switches, knobs — basically every surface you come into regular contact with — and they're very well done. The center console is the biggest we've seen in the midsize segment, providing a huge amount of storage. The 200's extra shoulder room compared to others in its segment (58.5 inches up front, 56.7 in the rear) gives a great sense of space.

After testing a nearly fully loaded 2015 200S, though, the Limited definitely felt like a downgrade. The 200S has sports seats so good they make the $1,200 premium worth it all on their own; the seats in the Limited seem to have no sweet spot where you can comfortably settle. Our 200S test car had the optional 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen, which makes the 5.0-inch screen on the Limited feel a little cheaper by comparison.

On the road
The 9-speed automatic in both the 2015 200 Limited and 200S we tested had issues. Keep in mind, however, that these were preproduction cars that Chrysler had reassured us multiple times were far from what we'll see at roll-out. Considering that the company got the new Jeep Cherokee's 9-speed dialed in after early missteps, we're inclined to give the transmission the benefit of the doubt. That said, we can only report what we experienced.

In the 4-cylinder 200 Limited the 9-speed transmission was slow to act, with downshifts coming after considerable delays. Steering is good in both cars, and in the case of the Limited helped to alleviate some of the transmission woes. The front end of the Limited seemed to bob around a bit, while the 200S felt far better sorted during cornering. Despite feeling like the rental model compared to the 200S, the Limited can be a fun car to drive. If it were possible to get comfortable in its seats, it would be instantly more likeable.

The 2015 200S, however, is a legit player in the midsize sports sedan market with the Pentastar V6 engine and all-wheel drive. Its 9-speed was also slow, but the unique mapping and paddle shifters helped a bit, and should show well in final trim. We'd like to see better throttle input on all 200s — there's too much lag in response. Despite the early test-car woes, the 200S felt fast, and could be the steal of its segment. To reiterate, these issues will likely not exist in production models. You should go have a test drive before making a snap judgment.

Right for you?
There is intense competition in the low- to mid-$20,000 range, not only within the 2015 Chrysler 200's own midsize sedan segment, but from smaller 5-doors as well. The 200 LX and Limited aren't necessarily hurt by their entry-level nature until the $995 destination fee is tacked onto their base price, at which point you're staring down nearly $23,000 for the most basic 200 LX trim. With the standard features offered in cars such as the Kia Optima, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, the 200 LX or Limited might be outclassed.

For just over $30,000, however, you can buy a 2015 200S with the V6 engine, all-wheel drive, paddle shifters, a navigation package with the 8.4-inch touchscreen, and the best seats of any 200 variant. Assuming the 9-speed transmission's mapping issues are resolved by the time it hits dealers, the 200S is a lot of car for the money and at last a true contender within the segment Chrysler has coveted for so long.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.