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Back in the bad old days, Chrysler flogged the Sebring as its mid-sized entry, and it didn't have much to offer when compared to the cars it competed against.
Then came the 200. It arrived with a much brighter visage and the strongest engine in the segment, when the 3.6-litre V-6 was along for the ride. It all looked so promising at first. It still does, but picking the right 200 model is so very important.
For example, the entry-level 200 LX arrives with Chrysler's 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine, which is not the best mill in the segment. While it does produce 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque and it motivates the 200 with reasonable authority, it just never managed to stir my emotions. The problem is found in the transmission.
In a throwback to a bygone era, the LX arrives with a four-speed automatic transmission. While it did slip through its gears smoothly, its overall performance paled in comparison to the optional six-speed automatic transmission ($695). The decision to keep this aging box in the lineup can only be put down to cost. In the end, the transmission cheapened an otherwise acceptable powertrain.
This came through loud and clear after taking a 200 Limited out for a brief spin. First, it features one of the sweetest V-6 engines around -- the 283 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque on tap make an enormous difference to how the 200 drives. More importantly, when the power is relayed through six gears, it makes for a rather sporty ride -- the run from rest to 100 km/h comes in at a rewarding 6.7 seconds.
Remarkably, the extra oomph does not completely kill fuel economy. The V-6 engine is rated at 11.0 L/100 km, which is 1.0 L/100 km more than the four, but it's actually 0.1 L/100 km better, at 6.8 L/100 km, on the highway.
For the record, the LX four-cylinder takes 9.8 seconds to amble from rest to 100 km/h and it consumed an average of 11.8 litres per 100 kilometres during the test. Neither are good numbers.
One area of improvement is the suspension -- it does not have the harshness evident before. In terms of ride, the LX reminded me of the old Detroit armchair in its approach to calibration. The good news is while the ride is rather cushy, the 200 does not heel over too far when pushed through a looping on ramp.
The handling hitch is not so much the amount of body roll -- it is actually fairly well-controlled -- it has to do with the tires the LX wears. The P225/55R17s are nowhere near as good at controlling understeer as the larger P225/50R18s the Limited has. The steering is nicely weighted and it delivers decent feedback, which proved to be one of the 200's pluses.
The one thing I did not like was the wooden feel delivered by the brake pedal. Yes, the brakes function just fine, but it took a lot of pedal pressure to get the desired reaction.
The 200 LX's interior design and overall execution are good. The crash pad, for example, is rich to the eye and the instrumentation is refreshingly uncluttered. Even the base LX comes with many of the desired creature comforts, although the base audio system has a thin sound because it has just four speakers. The omissions proved to be heated front seats, Bluetooth and a backup camera. Bluetooth hands-free communication should be standard equipment. The camera is less important because the sightlines are fairly good, but the tall deck lid did impede rearward visibility.
Up front, the space is generous: Plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder room give the front an airy feel. The rear seat is not so good. The legroom starts off as limited and drops from there as the front seat is moved rearward. It will accommodate two kids nicely, but a long trip in the back seat for two taller adults is not a good idea. The large central tunnel intrusion effectively rules out the middle position.
The size issue applies equally to the trunk. At 13.6 cubic feet, it is smaller than its competitors -- the compact Ford Focus has 13.2 cu. ft., the Chevy Cruze has 15 cu. ft., while the mid-sized Ford Fusion brings 16.0 cu. ft. The 60/40-split/folding rear seat backs and optional fold-flat passenger seat did help to offset the capacity shortcoming, but only when in the car alone.
In spite of my criticisms, the 200 LX is not a bad car -- there is, however, a caveat. As mentioned, the driving impression varies wildly between the base car and the loaded Limited tested. The former really is a very mediocre drive; the latter is pretty dynamic in nature.
If there is a saving grace, it's that the LX arrives with a $3,600 rebate at this point. This drops the as-tested price from $20,495 (when you add the fold-forward passenger seat and Bluetooth) to a far more realistic $16,895.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013