ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One model year after a comprehensive and successful makeover, Chrysler’s midsize 200 sedan mostly rests on its laurels for 2012.
And that’s alright. The upgrades made to its predecessor, the unloved and unlamented Sebring, to create the 200 gave the Fiat-owned company some breathing room until an all-new sedan can join the family-sedan fray.
But Chrysler can’t dawdle — new for 2013 are last week’s tester, the fabulous Nissan Altima; later this year Honda unleashes a new Accord; Ford has a high-fashion Fusion waiting in the wings; and Chevrolet is already selling a 2013 Eco model of its popular Malibu. Meanwhile, Toyota’s best-selling Camry was new for the 2012 model year.
Now that’s some tough competition. And that doesn’t even include the appealing Korean twins, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
Our tester for the week, a 2012 Chrysler 200 Limited, displayed some unexpectedly appealing attributes. Such as the optional 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which churns out 283 eager horses delivering potent acceleration and making the 200 one of the most powerful sedans in its class.
Driving the front wheels through a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, the V-6 is even able to chirp the front tires on a full-throttle standing start, yet still delivers decent fuel economy.
The cabin is graced with high-grade, soft-touch materials, a far cry from the bland, plasticky fitments in the old Sebring. On the road, the interior is nearly silent, with pleasantly low levels of wind, road and engine noise.
The dash houses simple, straightfoward gauges and controls.
Some of the switchgear is a bit old-fashioned, but not every owner wants a technical tour de force to distract from driving.
The 200’s handling is another big plus, taking on curves with real poise and confidence-inspiring control. On the interstate, the ride is firm but supple.
The 200 is a bit smaller than some others in its class, especially noticeable in the tight rear seat and smallish truck.
The front buckets could use a touch more bolstering, but this isn’t a sport sedan, after all. And cost-cutting aside, couldn’t Chrysler afford a simple hand grip for passengers?
Still, the 200’s easy-driving demeanor, vaultlike assembly and near-luxury silence on the open road are strong points in the 200’s favor.