Revamped 200 gives Chrysler hope for gaining on mid-sized rivals
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DETROIT -- The redesigned 2015 Chrysler 200 will offer buyers a more-premium mid-sized sedan for less money when it goes on sale midyear.
The car -- heralding "a new design language" for the Chrysler brand -- represents the latest Chrysler Group attempt to gain ground in the large and crowded mid-sized car segment, where it has underperformed for years.
The 200 has been restyled inside and out and will have an all-wheel-drive system and nine-speed automatic transmission shared with the hot-selling 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
It debuted today at the Detroit auto show.
Prices will start at $22,695, including $995 shipping; that's $95 less than the 2014 base model. Production is scheduled to start in the second quarter.
"It's Detroit passion and Detroit craftsmanship mated to world-class manufacturing and world-class quality," Al Gardner, the newly installed head of the Chrysler brand, told journalists in December.
The 2015 200 retains the same engine choices as the current model: a base 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder or a 3.6-liter V-6. Both engines have been changed to boost horsepower from the previous model.
The V-6 makes up to 295 hp when teamed with the 200's new nine-speed automatic transmission. The 184-hp four-cylinder is expected to achieve at least 35 mpg on the highway, Gardner said.
New this year is an awd system for some 200 models. To boost fuel economy, the system automatically disconnects the rear driveshaft and differential when not needed for traction.
For performance, the awd system can send up to 60 percent of available torque to the 200's rear wheels.
Room to grow
The 200's popularity skyrocketed in the wake of the automaker's landmark "Born of Fire" commercial during the 2011 Super Bowl. Yet sales still greatly lag most rivals in the segment, where it also competes with its line mate, the Dodge Avenger.
Chrysler says that it will kill the Avenger and the current 200 convertible after the 2014 model year. Production of the Avenger will end in the first quarter of 2014, while production of the 200 convertible ended in October 2013.
Dodge may resurrect the Avenger name on a new rear-wheel-drive, mid-sized car it is planning for calendar year 2016.
The Chrysler 200 has averaged just more than 10,000 U.S. sales per month for each of the last two years. In 2013, U.S. deliveries declined 2 percent from a year earlier to 122,480 units.
That put the 200 in eighth place among 19 cars in the 2.6 million unit mid-sized segment last year, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
By comparison, the top four mid-sized rivals -- the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion -- doubled or tripled the 200's 5 percent share of the segment.
The new 200 debuts as the U.S. mid-sized sedan market cools considerably.
After expanding 22 percent in 2012, the segment grew just 1 percent last year, while the overall light-vehicle market expanded 8 percent.
Chrysler has not had such high expectations for a mid-sized car since the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus were introduced in the early 1990s.
Karl Brauer, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said the redesigned 200 looks like a "little Audi A7," a comparison that may help Chrysler.
"The car looks very good, and that's huge today, because that segment has really turned up the standard on what is considered an attractive car," Brauer said. "They'll erode some of the market share from some of the other cars in the category that are now a little longer in the tooth."
Ralph Gilles, Chrysler's head of design, said the 200 initiates a new styling direction for Chrysler brand vehicles that will be seen in redesigns of the Town & Country minivan and the Chrysler 300.
Gilles said long sessions in the wind tunnel reduced the car's drag coefficient about 20 percent, to 0.27.
The fast-back styling, which includes a new front and rear design, received a standing ovation when it was first shown to dealers in September 2012. The lines are bold and swoopy, yet the car still looks like a Chrysler 200.
Gilles said the redesigned 200 was a "significant challenge" for Chrysler engineers and designers.
The company decided to invest more than $1 billion to upgrade its Sterling Heights Assembly plant in suburban Detroit to build the car before it had even been designed.
"Every team that came in contact with this car became inspired because they could see how much [the company] was putting down the gauntlet" with its $1 billion investment, Gilles said. The company added 1.4 million square feet to the assembly plant for a new body shop, paint shop and a metrology lab to ensure proper fit and finish of body panels and other parts.
Inside the cabin, the 200 features what the company calls a "floating" center stack that has a large open storage area below.
Embossed into the bottom of the storage console is an image of the Detroit skyline, a reference to the 200's history with Chrysler's "Made in Detroit" tag line.
The embossed image does not include the city's Renaissance Center, headquarters of rival General Motors, but does include Chrysler House, the downtown building where Chrysler maintains its Great Lakes regional business center and other offices.
Chrysler designers used wood trim to supplement metal trim around the 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system. A new seven-inch configurable screen is included in the instrument cluster.
Between the ventilated front seats, designers included a sliding cupholder and armrest that provides greater comfort and storage access to the center bin.
The 2015 Chrysler 200 comes in four trim levels, including a new 200C premium level.
Chrysler said it has no plans to produce a convertible version of the redesigned 200.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at email@example.com.