Chrysler 200 can't come soon enough

LOS ANGELES -- Chrysler design boss Ralph Gilles says the restyling of the Sebring mid-sized sedan -- to be unveiled at the auto show here this week -- will be so dramatic that it is being renamed “200” to show how much it has changed.

Let's hope he means that “200” represents the number of major changes to the vehicle, or the percentage improvement over the old model, because, as it is, the Sebring is in dire need of rescue.

Let's start with the interior. The word “nondescript” would be kind. Acres of cheap plastic that scream rental car. Build-to-cost buttons, switches and knobs and uncomfortable seats. Driving the car is not much better. The engine is thrashy -- the gearing too short in low range and too tall higher up. The suspension is jarring on uneven roads, and the steering is an evil brew of vague and twitchy. The exterior styling is nothing offensive, which is typical of the mid-sized sedan class. So if the 200 is attractive, it might actually have an advantage over the segment's pedestrian offerings.

In a recent interview, Gilles said the 200 was “every bit, if not more than, what Ford did to the Fusion.”

He said the front and back fascias are completely restyled, and even more important, the handling dynamics were completely rethought and interior noise was reduced by 10 decibels.

But as we taxpayers ponder the 11-figure price tag of saving Chrysler, one wonders, was it worth it?

The 200 will be the first evidence.