The last Sebring convertible and its sedan sibling were prime examples of Chrysler having completely lost its way. Cars like the Sebring led the former Chrysler Corporation to near ruin. Although well-intentioned, the Sebring droptop wasn't sporty or sufficiently luxurious or the least bit rewarding to drive. To top it all off, it was ugly, the ultimate proof that the leaders in Auburn Hills were distracted or simply didn't care anymore, since Chrysler had in the previous decade produced so many good designs.
Back up from the bankruptcy mat, Chrysler is bruised but ready to fight again. Until an entirely new wave of Fiat-based mid-size cars can be readied for U.S. consumption, the company has to make the best of its Sebring lineup. It started by ditching the Sebring name, which had become synonymous with automotive lameness, in favor of the benign moniker 200. We've already told you about the new Chrysler 200 sedan, which we drove last November. Now we've been behind the wheel of the 200 convertible, which like the sedan has been restyled and reengineered.
Compared with the Sebring, the 200 gets a new hood, a new grille, new A-pillars, new headlamps, a new trunk lid, and new LED taillamps. The effect is fairly amazing, as the formerly hump-backed atrocity now shimmers with a grace and sense of proportion that utterly eluded it before. We're not talking about a Maserati Gran Turismo sense of beauty and style, but Ugly Betty has lost her braces and is ready for a night on the town.
In addition to being better to look at than the Sebring, the 200 convertible is better to drive. Doug Betts, Chrysler's VP for quality, claims that the 200 convertible is now "more confident, more controlled, and quieter. The rear track is wider," he explains, "and we increased the camber at the rear wheels, installed a thicker rear sway bar, and revised the steering by retuning the valve and stiffing the bushing by 100%."
The previous 2.4-liter four-cylinder remains standard on the entry-level Touring model (the previous LX is gone and, yes, forgotten) and is mated to a six-speed automatic. Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6, also mated to a six-speed automatic, is optional on the 200 Touring and standard on the 200 Limited. With 283 hp, the V-6-powered 200 can get up and go, but it's easy to overwhelm the front-wheel-drive chassis with that much power: stomp on the accelerator as you're merging onto the freeway, for example, and you might induce enough torque steer that the front of the car bobs and weaves like a small boat in high waves. Once you're settled, the 200 tracks straight and rides smoothly. The steering is quick but dead on-center and not very communicative. The brake pedal offers good modulation and response.
As a convertible, the 200, like its Sebring predecessors, has a lot going for it, starting with the fact that it's roomy and versatile and easily holds four people. Chrysler ditched the Sebring's standard el-cheapo vinyl roof (which was mostly a price leader for rental fleets) but still offers buyers the choice of a traditional fabric roof or a folding metal one. We think it looks better with a genuine ragtop, which is well insulated and without compromise.
Wind management with the top down and the air deflector in place across the rear seats is pretty good, and it's easy to hold a conversation at 75 mph, although there's still plenty of air rushing around behind you. The top's operation is completely automatic, and either top can also be operated remotely via the key fob.
The 200's interior is a huge leap forward from the Sebring's cabin, with simple but thoughtful lines, a nicely styled center stack, and higher-quality materials. The interior door panels are well padded and handsomely French-stitched, but the passenger's door of our tester suffered from a piece of vinyl trim that was bubbling, and the rubber molding at the A-pillar was wavy. Chrysler assures us that both these issues are simply pre-production hiccups.
All in all, the 200 is a commendable effort at fixing a car that sorely needed fixing. While the 200 sedan faces all manner of superb competitors in the mid-size-sedan arena, the 200 convertible, although imperfect, should have an easier time of it, as there aren't that many cars in its class that offer its combination of features, roominess, and price. Speaking of which, the Touring starts at $27,195, including destination, which represents about a $1400 drop from a comparably equipped Sebring; and the Limited starts at $31,990. A Touring model with V-6 seems like the way to go, and that starts at $28,990. The cars go on sale this spring.
2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible
Base Price (Touring/Limited): $27,195/$31,990
Engines: 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 173 hp @ 6000 rpm; 283 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 166 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm; 260 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
L x W x H: 194.8 x 72.5 x 57.9 in
Legroom F/R: 42.4/33.5 in
Headroom F/R: 38.7/37.0 in
Cargo capacity (top up/down): 13.1/6.6 cu ft
Curb Weight (4-cyl/V-6) 3820/3977 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 4-cyl: 18/29 mpg; V-6: 19/29 mpg