Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Chrysler 200 Touring

It had been a rough morning already. The first rental car of the day experienced engine trouble and the second one had the misfortune of being rear-ended shortly after leaving the rental lot. I had just spent the better part of the morning sorting out the details from the accident and finding my way back to the rental car agency to pick up my third car of the morning. By this time, I was looking for something that would be reliable transportation and, knock on wood, would not attract any more bad luck. Imagine my disappointment when the options I got presented with included another Nissan (my history so far that day with Nissan had been far from confidence inspiring) and a Chrysler 200. Seeing as how my options were basically non-existent, I accepted the Chrysler 200, hoping that some of the magic Chrysler had managed with the 300 had rubbed off.

Based on the same platform as the Dodge Avenger, the 200 felt like an Avenger in a K-Mart suit. The same motor, transmission, and chassis underpin both cars, meaning that the terrible 2.4-L inline-4 cylinder motor is shared between both cars, though at least the 200 is available with a 6-speed automatic, which turns in decent fuel economy numbers. Settling in behind the wheel, I surveyed my surroundings. The gauges, lit by a soft blue florescent lighting, felt somewhat cheesy. Chrome seemed to haphazardly scattered all over the interior and the rest of the materials are of mediocre quality, at best. Even the radio setup was the lowest quality option and did not include Chrysler's quite excellent UConnect infotainment suite. All in all, this interior was a comfortable, if completely uninspired place to spend some time on the road.

On the outside, Chrysler's new corporate grille is front and center, flanked by headlights that have LED strips embedded in them. The rear sports a set of light clusters that resemble those of the 300, giving the car a bit of corporate resemblance to its big brother. However, the innocuous shape of the remainder of the car, even despite the 18-inch wheels, gives the car a completely mundane appearance that fails to be remotely competitive in this segment filled with new great looking cars like the Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, and Ford Fusion. I guess you could say that the only thing the appearance of this car has managed to inspire is a big fat yawn. That is not to say it is bad, as this is certainly no Pontiac Aztek, but if you feel any emotion aside from apathy for this car, a trip to the psychiatrist might be in order.

On the road, this car drives about as good as it looks, which is to say not good, but not bad. The ride is adequately comfortable, but is easily unsettled by potholes and road imperfections. Suspension tuning keeps things on the road, but certainly does not encourage one to drive even remotely enthusiastically. Steering feel might as well be non-existent, but the weighting of the steering is surprisingly stiff, almost as if to counter the lack of steering feel. Power from the 2.4-L motor is adequate to move the car down the road, but will certainly not win stoplight drag races. The transmission provides enough gears to be efficient and shifts smoothly, but any efforts to try to encourage downshifts for passing are met with an infernal wait on par with being trapped in purgatory for nearly an eternity. By the time the computer has sorted things out and shifted down a gear, the opportunity has likely passed so you might as well settle back into the queue of cars and accept the fact that you will not be going anywhere soon.

After spending the better part of 36 hours with the car, I returned it to the rental lot and parted ways without any sense of longing. While it had been the most problem free of the three cars I had during this brief trip, it simply left me cold. My hope that what Chrysler was able to achieve with the refresh of the 300 could be translated to the 200 proved too much to ask for. While not in any way offensive, the 200 is simply so bland as to be forgettable, especially given the segment that it competes in and the type of competition it has to go up against these days. In the current climate of the mid-size segment, the Chrysler 200 is simply so pedestrian that one should simply ignore it. Hopefully, with Chrysler's ownership by Fiat bearing fruit in the form of the critically acclaimed Dodge Dart, there is something waiting in the wings to wow us when the 200 is replaced in the not too distant future.