Stranded: 2014 Chrysler 200C
I don’t often sing the praises of cars that leave me on the shoulder of the interstate at rush hour, but the Chrysler 200C has enough charm and appeal to make up for some its developmental shortcomings.
While my 2006 Miata was in the shop (more on that debacle later), my unusually generous friends Seth and Sheila loaned me their car for two weeks, loaded to the gills with Chrysler’s brilliant UConnect infotainment system, a configurable LCD gauge cluster, leather upholstery, natural wood trim, and a 9-speed automatic transmission sourced from ZF.
That last bit, unfortunately, is where things went wrong.
Chrysler has a legacy of innovation and experimentation. They gave us the minivan, the groundbreaking Viper, replaceable oil filters, rustproofing, defroster vents, power convertible tops, cruise control, the groundbreaking 1994 Ram pickup, and even the the Lamborghini Diablo, just to name a few accomplishments.
As the smaller of the big three they’ve differentiated themselves by trying new things, occasionally to the detriment of dependability. ZF’s 9HP nine-speed auto, configured by Chrysler for the 200 sedan, Jeep Cherokee, and Jeep Renegade, has been a sore spot, sending quality scores downward.
Symptoms include rough shifts, shaky idling, and occasional stalling or in my case, a complete electronic failure that left me sitting on the side of I-75 in metro Detroit.
I coasted to the shoulder on that hot July day thinking I ran out of fuel but the trip computer and gas gauge confirmed I hadn’t. It stumbled at every restart attempt and finally sputtered to life after I played around with the shift knob (yes, a rotating knob), starting in neutral a few times and sneaking it into drive while giving it some throttle.
It behaved like a carbureted Ford from the 60s firing up on a cold morning.
This was just enough to crawl home the rest of the way in limp mode… at 22mph… at rush hour. I was surprised no one honked or gave me the finger, as if they knew the winged Chrysler badge was the source of my troubles, taking pity on my situation. I say this as a long time Mopar fan.
TCU updates made some behaviors better and others worse, and a recall was issued for the transmission wire harness.
Thankfully, the rest of the car is pleasing, especially from the driver’s seat.
Unpolished, matte-finish wood has ridges and pores you can glean your fingers over, recalling a time when classic cars had dashboards made from solid pieces of carved, polished oak and maple. The dashboard (pictured here in black) is covered in a dense material that feels soft to the touch, suggesting an upscale environment.
Below the shifter, a silver-trimmed black switch reveals additional storage (a heavily damped door that slides open smoothly) with USB and audio ports tucked neatly from view. Below that is a storage area, accessible from the sides, with room for tablets, phones, and other small objects.
A Jaguar-influenced rotary shifter, odd at first, begins to feel quite natural after a couple days. Why have a mechanical-type lever for something that’s electronically controlled?
It is, however, a bit confusing to have four knobs within close vicinity. I found myself rotating the climate center knob to adjust the temperature only to discover that it only controls the fan. I’ve reached for the volume while trying to engage reverse. Coming from a basic sports car with a manual transmission, it took a few days to adjust.
As expected, XM Satellite Radio sounds muddy due to heavy compression. Music through the USB port offers spectacular bass reproduction but mids are distant and highs are an afterthought. Like most factory stereos these days, it’s good enough to avoid spending on aftermarket equipment, but nothing more.
On the road, the electric steering feels a bit overboosted. Initial turn-in is quick but there’s a lack of resistance and feedback from the road surface. The steering wheel itself is adorned with a strip of metal all the way around that, while stylish, conducts heat and irritatingly burns your hands in the summer.
Handling, otherwise, is competent if not supremely sporty; you pay the price with a fairly firm ride that jostles the cabin around quite a bit. That, along with the smallish back seat, are consequences of being built on a stretched Dart/Giulietta platform.
If you squint hard enough, you can see the roofline of the Audi A7 as it tapers into the rear. The tail lights and lip spoiler borrow heavily from Maserati’s Quattroporte sedan. In a sea of dull three-box family cars, it lends Chrysler an edge on styling.
I enjoyed the 200C despite its troublesome gearbox and characterless 4-cylinder engine. I’d even buy one if the price was right.
Unfortunately, it lacks the polish to put a dent in Camry/Accord sales and seems to lack the dependability to recommend it to mainstream buyers.
It’s an easy choice over the dated Camry, the soulless Passat, or the awkward Malibu but against the well-rounded Accord and Fusion or the stunning Mazda 6 it comes up short. If you can find a 200 at a discount, preferably with a V6, take it under consideration, especially now that the bugs have been worked out.
The New New New! Chrysler could have scored a homerun. It settled for a single.
Interior quality and assembly
Infotainment and electronics
NOT SO GOOD:
Somewhat firm ride
My average fuel economy: 25mpg, mostly city.