First Drive: 2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible
The previous-generation Chrysler Sebring Convertible was a mainstay of vacation-destination rental fleets. The cars were so numerous that you could pick them out from your airplane flying into Orlando, Miami and Los Angeles.
The old Sebring seemed just about perfect in this role. It was fine for a couple days of fun in the sun, but you never shed a tear when dropping off its keys back at the rental counter. When we arrived at the launch of the new Chrysler 200 Convertible in San Diego, we wondered whether the Sebring's successor would be better enough for us to want to hold onto the keys after our test drive was over.
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Photos copyright ©2011 Chris Shunk / AOL
Unlike the 2011 Chrysler 300, which largely resembles the 2010 model but is actually an all-new vehicle, the Chrysler 200 Convertible is not all new. It's what insiders call a heavy refresh. Our own Zack Bowman recently detailed the 200 Sedan's improvements, nearly all of which the droptop shares, inside and out.
Highlights of the Sebring renovation include all-new sheetmetal and handsome chrome accents flying behind Chrysler's new winged logo. The 200's new LED daytime running lights look good, as do the LED taillamps.
More significant than the exterior modifications are changes inside, where money has been thrown at everything customers see and touch. The new dash topper is nearly seamless and soft to the touch, the same for which can be said of the door panels.
Unfortunately, there wasn't enough money to update the audio head unit. Its small knobs and comparatively rudimentary interface is well behind the curve. The same goes for the Mercedes-Benz-owns-Chrysler-era gated shifter. Some years ago, we can imagine German managers pressuring Chrysler to use the design that was once the standard of the Three-Pointed Star. While you get used to it, its action leaves a little to be desired.
One of the available engines for the reworked 200 is the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. This optional engine and the carryover 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder base engine both send power to the front wheels via a modern six-speed automatic. Power for the V6 is 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque with fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The 2.4-liter produces 173 ponies and 166 lb-ft twist, but somehow manages to deliver inferior fuel economy compared to the V6 at 18/29 mpg.
The chassis has also benefited from some attention. For 2011, 22 of the 200 Convertible's 28 suspension bushings have been changed, as have elements of the suspension's geometry. The track is an inch wider, ride height has been lowered (12mm in front and six mm in the rear), and tire width has been increased from 215 to 225 mm, regardless of tire diameter.
Behind the wheel of our optioned-out ($34,570), V6-powered 200 Limited tester, we took the car on San Diego's inland roads and out to some sporting mountain passes.
As in the sedan, the 200 Convertible's Pentastar engine delivers more than ample power. In its own way, the 200 C hustles along, making short work of traffic and freeway on ramps. The V6 has a nice exhaust note when pushed, but is otherwise quiet. In normal driving, the entire powertrain is smooth and unobtrusive.
When curvy roads beckon, however, the powertrain doesn't have the chops to keep pace. At times, the throttle feels lazy and the six-speed automatic can be slow to downshift.
Regardless of the roads, it was easy to feel the changes made to the chassis. The suspension responds immediately to inputs. The wider tires bite tenaciously and the 200 tracks true. Unfortunately, while the hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering is nicely weighted, it communicates absolutely nothing about the road surface or what the tires are doing. The steering wheel might as well be a rheostat.
Since Chrysler engineers were working to improve what they had, as opposed to starting from scratch, the 200 Convertible's body structure simply isn't as stiff as some newer convertibles we've driven. When the top was down, there were minor vibrations coming through the steering column. Big bumps made the aft sections of the long doors move against their strikers. Nothing rattled, but those telltale motions don't bode well for a rattle-free long-term ownership experience.
Top down, the front seats could have been marked a buffet-free zone. Conversation at highway speeds was easy compared to many open-air rides. Our car was also fitted with a folding wind-blocker, a Mopar accessory. In the raised position, it cut the wind buffeting to almost nothing, and with the insulated hard-top in place, the interior was fixed-roof quiet.
To provide a relevant point of comparison, the 200 Convertible feels nothing like the 2011 Ford Mustang Convertible with the Blue Oval's 3.7-liter V6, what could be considered one of the 200's closest competitors – at least in some strange, cross-shopping world that we hope to never exist in. The 200 Convertible obviously lacks the Mustang's inherent rear-wheel-drive balance and sportiness. Plus, the Mustang has more than 20 additional horsepower and an available six-speed manual gearbox. The 200 Convertible counters with more room in the rear seat and a suppler ride.
While Chrysler presented the 2011 200 Convertible as being a much better driving car – and it is – it's not a driver's car. Not by any means. And that's no surprise. In any of its three trim levels (Touring, Limited, and upcoming S model), it's a car for cruisers as epitomized by the stereotypical mid-line cruise ship patron; middle-age and middle-income, without any particularly stellar automotive ambitions or requirements.
The automotive market is a diverse community, and the new 200 Convertible, starting at just over $25,000, should serve its target audience well, including rental fleet managers who might notice that their customers are slightly less enthusiastic about returning the keys.
Photos copyright ©2011 Chris Shunk / AOL
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