Chrysler 200 adds luxury touches, but rear-seat entry may be a tough sell

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Chrysler Group executives believe their redesigned Chrysler 200 is good enough to replace its predecessor and the Dodge Avenger and still gain in the crowded mid-sized sedan segment.

The new 200, riding on a Fiat-derived platform and sporting a nine-speed automatic transmission with available all-wheel drive, notably advances the ride, design and performance of the outgoing 200.

Last year, the automaker sold 122,480 200s and 93,842 Avengers. Chrysler wants the new 200 to at least match the combined sales of the two predecessors.

The basics: The new 200 rides on the same CUSW platform as the Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee and shares many parts with those nameplates.

The base LX model starts at $22,695 and features a 184-hp 2.4-liter inline-four. Next up the ladder is the Limited, starting at $24,250, which the company says will be the top seller. Prices include shipping.

Consumers seeking leather seats and Chrysler’s 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system will have to move up to the S trim level, at a starting price of $25,490, including shipping. Also optional on the S is an awd system similar to the Cherokee’s that automatically disconnects the rear differential and driveshaft when additional traction isn’t required.

A new top-level C trim adds interior luxuries, such as a wood grain instrument bezel, for a starting price of $26,990. Maxed out, an awd 200C with the optional 295-hp 3.6-liter V-6 will run nearly $39,000, executives said. Prices include shipping.

Notable features: The 200 has new exterior styling that Chrysler executives said greatly improves aerodynamics and fuel economy. Chrysler brand chief Al Gardner said that although the EPA has not yet rated new 200’s fuel economy, he expects the car to get 35 mpg on the highway. Inside the cabin, the 200 shines. The rotary-dial gear shifter, radio and temperature controls are mounted between the center stack and the center console. A sliding cupholder allows access to large storage spaces between the front seats.

What Chrysler says: “The 200 will redefine the Chrysler brand, and we’re confident it’s going to make a major contribution to our continued resurgence,” said Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne. “We’re making a big bet on its success.”

Shortcomings and compromises: Entry into the back seat is extremely compromised by the 200’s shortened door openings, forcing occupants of even moderate height to duck their heads through the lowered sill. Rear head and legroom is acceptable, but not generous, especially when compared with others in the segment.

The market: Mid-sized sedans make up the industry’s largest car segment, with 2.6 million units sold in 2013. The segment includes some of best-selling nameplates, such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The Ford Fusion is the only other nameplate in the segment to offer optional awd. The new 200 is expected to begin arriving in dealerships by the end of June.

The skinny: The new 200 is more competitive than either of the cars it replaces, with superb ride and handling, especially with the optional V-6 awd. Its high-end trim interior is more luxurious than Japanese competitors, but the difficult entry to its rear seat might be a deal-breaker for some buyers.

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