I cannot recall the publication, but I certainly remember the article. Jeremy Clarkson, the opinionated and outspoken host of the popular BBC car show ‘Top Gear’ had flown to the US, and the rental car awaiting him was a Chrysler Sebring convertible. He reviewed it. To put it politely, he did not have anything nice to say about the car. He completely trashed it. In car journalist circles, there is a term regarding a review where you “kill a car”. With the Sebring, that’s essentially what Clarkson did. And Chrysler knew it too. Yeah, Clarkson’s biting, scathing review does not account for the fact that Chrysler was undergoing long-term neglect from its parent Cerberus.
As we all know, Chrysler was saved when Fiat came in and bought a substantial share of the Pentastar. The Sebring was a disaster of a car, but time and money constraints required immediate action, and not enough for an entirely new car. Chrysler wisely ditched the Sebring name, and for 2011 introduced the 200 sedan and convertible. Though not all new, the car did undergo a very heavy revision, aimed at addressing the sins of the outgoing car.
For as hard as the media in general has kicked the Sebring around, it was fundamentally not a bad looking car. The reborn 200 retains the basic shape of the outgoing car, but has been thoroughly refreshed and presents itself as a contemporary car. Still, the 200 has a deserved reputation as a favorite among, ahem, a slightly older demographic, as well as a favorite rental car in sunny climates. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Chrysler was well aware of that too, and wisely came out with the 200S, which takes the styling updates of the standard 200 a step further. A black finish grille, black headlight and fog light bezels with 18″ polished and painted alloys are subtle changes that worked to great effect. Our test car came finished in a gorgeous coat of Billet Silver Metallic clear coat. To sum, wherever I went, I didn’t feel like I was giving people the impression that I was driving my Dad’s car.
Inside, the 200 offers a roomy and relaxed cabin. I appreciated little details like crisp LED interior lighting, soft ambient lighting, and the analog clock. White stitching on the seats and silver trim brightened up our all-black interior. It’s easy to get comfortable in the 200. Easy to read gauges, supportive seats and fairly intuitive controls add up for a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, the 6.5″ touch screen color display controlling the audio, communication and nav looks hopelessly outdated, and is a tad clunky in some operations. Chrysler has addressed this in new models like the 300, so I see this as a problem with a solution in sight.
My Chrysler 200S would be my transportation for the annual International Motor Press Association’s two day gathering known as Test Days. On a lovely evening late September, I left my home on the Connecticut coast and headed northward for the bucolic scenery of the Catskill Mountains in New York state. With the top down, heat blowing, and heated seats on with my favorite satellite radio station on, it was time to hit the road. The 200 proved its mission as a relaxed, comfortable, yet competent cruiser. By the time I arrived in Newtown, CT, it was dark, temps dropping, and it was time to hit the interstate. I raised the top, and traveled into the night in quiet comfort. In fact, the top is so well insulated, I question why anyone would want to go with the extra weight and cost of the optional retractable hardtop.
The 200 is available in three trim levels, Touring, Limited, and S. The Touring comes standard with a 2.4L four cylinder rated at 173hp. Optional on the Touring and standard on the Limited and S is a 3.6L V-6, good for 283hp. For 2014, both engines are paired to a six-speed automatic. The V-6 sounds good under hard acceleration, and the car can hustle merging into highway traffic. My drive to the Catskills consists of curving and undulating roads, interstate travel both smooth and rough, and finally off the highway, a 15 mile blast on broad, smooth as glass and sweeping corners on my approach to my hotel. The 200 took it all in stride. This is no sports car, mind you, and it never pretends to be. What Chrysler offers is a confident budget grand tourer.
Our top=spec 200S test car starts with a base price of $32,820USD. Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, power cloth convertible top, power and heated front seats, leather seating surfaces, Boston Acoustics audio with SiriusXM satellite radio, auto climate control and remote and push button start. Our car’s only option was Chrysler’s UConnect with integrated Voice Command and Navigation. Including destination charges, total price rings in at a still respectable $34,610.
While the 200 can hardly be considered cutting edge, it does represent a remarkable value for what you get. Convertibles have a bad rap as compromised cars. You have to sacrifice something for that fun in the sun when it is warm, but not too hot, not too cold. I never got that impression during my week with the 200S. Top up or down, I was able to maintain a comfortable environment in the cabin. Top up or down, there is plenty of room in the trunk for luggage for a weekend getaway. Most modern convertible tops take up a lot of space in the boot, forcing you to keep the top up for the trip. The Chrysler’s trunk is big enough I can keep my luggage in the trunk, and keep the top down. I mean, that’s the point, isn’t it? It also bears mentioning the 200 has a usable rear seat, where real adults can sit without fear of them cursing you under their breath.
In sum, the Chrysler 200S Convertible represents a great value, slick styling, competent performance, with an unexpected level of trunk space and interior roominess not normally associated with convertibles. The lemmings may follow the gospel of Jeremy Clarkson or back off on seeing so many of these things on rental car lots, but the reality is the 200 Convertible no longer deserves all the crap that has been dished out. Chrysler fixed the flaws of the Sebring as best they could, and the car now deserves a second chance.