2015 Chrysler 200: First Drive

I've been an editor and reviewer at Cars.com for just more than two years; in that time, I've reviewed the Chrysler 200 three times, and found it lacking in just about every way. Apparently the fourth time is the charm for Chrysler's midsize sedan.

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With the redesigned-for-2015 200, Chrysler finally has a legitimate contender in the midsize class. The sedan is refined, stylish, comfortable and affordable; competitors should be worried.

Two engines are available, and I drove the V-6 first. That engine is a version of last year's 3.6-liter but tuned to make 295 horsepower this year, up from 283 hp. Power is ample from a stop and builds steadily, but the big story is the nine-speed automatic transmission, which is controlled via a rotary dial instead of a traditional shifter; it's new this year and standard across the lineup. Overall, it ticked off smooth, timely shifts, with little hunting. On occasion, however, I noticed an abrupt, rough shift upon deceleration at around-town speeds.

I was less enthused by the nine-speed's performance with the four-cylinder. Power wasn't an issue; shifts, however, often felt more erratic and harsher than they did with the V-6, especially at lower speeds. Chrysler said we tested pre-production models and that another transmission calibration is in the works.

Thanks to the new nine-speed, fuel economy will be up for 2015, but just how much is the question. EPA numbers aren't in yet, but Chrysler expects the four-cylinder to get a 35 mpg highway rating; the equivalent 2014 model got 20/31 mpg city/highway. A 35 mpg highway rating would finally make the 200 competitive with the Accord (26/34 mpg), the Fusion (22/34 mpg) and the Camry (25/35 mpg).

Behind the wheel, the 200 is a comfortable long-trip sedan with muted-sounding engines and impressive isolation from road and wind noise. Both V-6 and four-cylinder versions had nicely weighted, natural-feeling steering. The ride was compliant, and models with the 18-inch wheels felt composed over road imperfections. The 200 remained tight in corners with little body lean, easily slicing through an onslaught of northern California's coastal switchbacks.

The cabin's design and materials also surpass the old model significantly with sweeping panels of painted plastic or — in the case of the uplevel C model — optional genuine wood trim in matte finish. It all feels good, too, with an abundance of padded surfaces and bolstered, supportive seats. Leather seats are optional on uplevel trims, but even the base interior with grained plastic panels and subtly patterned cloth upholstery looks upscale. The old interior looked classy but lacked an interesting design and upmarket materials, two things the 2015 version remedied.

Check back next week for our full review of the 2015 Chrysler 200 sedan.

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