Review: 2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible a vast improvement over old ragtop

Better suspension, interior and a V6 easy on the gas make Chrylser 200 attractive.

  • Driver

SAN DIEGO, CALIF. — It’s often said that the first step in fixing a problem is in admitting that the problem exists.

Chrysler has done exactly that: it confesses that its Sebring turned into a lackluster model that really didn’t have much clout in the midsize market.

It’s making amends with the replacement 2011 Chrysler 200, previously launched as a sedan and now as a convertible. It carries some of the old model forward, including its basic platform and available four-cylinder engine, but this is definitely not just a Sebring with a new name. It’s a huge step up from its predecessor, with better suspension, vastly improved interior and a V6 engine with fuel economy so close to the four-banger that only the difference in price should sway you.
Related: Chrysler 300 gets major overhaul For all its flaws, the old Sebring convertible had two major factors on its side. It was inexpensive for a ragtop — you could get it down into the mid-$20s with incentives — and it could viably seat four people. And no matter what, much can be forgiven when it’s a sunny day and the top goes down.

It’s still well priced for a convertible, starting at $29,995. It still seats four people, and this time around, there isn’t a lot that needs to be forgiven.

That base price is for the LX trim, which gets the carried-over 2.4 L four-cylinder with four-speed automatic (a six-speed auto can be optioned to it), producing 173 horsepower and 166 lb.-ft. of torque.

Review: 2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible a vast improvement over old ragtopThe cars Chrysler brought for us to drive featured the new “Pentastar” 3.6 L V6 engine, named for the company’s historic five-pointed star logo, and producing 283 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s mated exclusively to the six-speed automatic.

The V6 comes in two trim levels: the Touring at $36,495, and the car I drove, the top-line Limited at $38,495. By comparison, the 200 sedan version ranges from $19,995 to $27,995.

A power-operated cloth top is the default on all models, while the Limited can be optioned with a retractable hardtop for an additional $2,500.

The new styling is clean if a bit bland. Except for an ugly stick antenna on the deck lid to power the satellite radio (standard on Touring and Limited), the conservatively-chromed back end is more interesting than the horizontal-bar front grille that it shares with the new Chrysler 300. The company says that the 200’s arguably better-looking sibling, the Dodge Avenger, won’t be having its top lopped off.

The 200’s interior, on the other hand, moves this up toward the big leagues. The previous dash, a hodgepodge of shapes and materials on a foundation of industrial-strength plastic, is now a cohesive design with softer materials.

The three-dial climate control remains, and that’s a good thing: it’s simple and easy to use when you’re driving. A white-faced analog clock mimics the shape of the 6.5-inch stereo touch screen, which in turn matches the outline of the front grille.

The new steering wheel is far more graceful with its metallic accents than the old four-spoke-and-plastic-shield design, which always reminded me of a turtle with its legs sticking out.

Standard on the Limited are heated leather seats — the two lower models get cloth that’s heated on the Touring — with side bolstering that’s high enough for comfort, but not so much that it’s a pain to get in and out of the seat.Review: 2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible a vast improvement over old ragtop

The new V6 made the most recent Ward’s Ten Best Engines list, and justifiably so. This is one sweet power plant: strong, responsive, and with a pleasantly growly exhaust note.

The six-speed automatic is tuned toward fuel efficiency and on some inclines would hold a higher gear a bit longer than expected, but nothing enough for a serious complaint. Either a bit more throttle or a tap of the manual shift mode solved it.

The difference in the suspension is almost as extensive as the interior overhaul. It’s still no sports sedan (and isn’t intended to be), but it’s a decent tourer thanks to a firmer ride and quicker steering response.

The Sebring’s ride could often feel floaty, but the 200 is firmly planted. To make up for the missing roof, which normally supplies much of the body stiffness, the convertible has extra bracing and an additional cross-member. There’s still a little bit of cowl shake over rough roads, but overall it feels tight and cohesive.

The roof is completely automatic, requiring no fiddling with latches. Standard on the Limited is a wind screen that sits behind the front seats and does a decent job of cutting down on one’s hair blowing around. It fits entirely over the rear seat, though, so it’s strictly for two-passenger motoring.

The trunk, always a tighter fit with convertibles, has a capacity of 390 litres when the roof is up, and 187 litres when it’s down. A plastic shelf, which must be fitted in place before the top will lower, keeps cargo and roof separate.

Chrysler has morphed this model from dreary to decent, and its greatest challenge now will be in convincing consumers that this isn’t just a new name.

Between the price and the product, consider this car a whole new player in the drop-top game.

Transportation for freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the automaker.

  • Review: 2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible a vast improvement over old ragtop 2011 Chrysler 200 - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels Re: Chrysler 200 - 2 of 2 emails On 2011-01-30, at 11:17 AM, Jil McIntosh wrote: Please cascade to Wheels - 2011 Chrysler 200 convertible - photos by Jil McIntosh 2 of 2 emails

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