First Drive

2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible

Sedan update spills over to mid-size Chrysler convertible

2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible

SAN DIEGO, CA – Spring is officially here so it’s OK to think and talk about convertibles. One of the most popular convertibles has been the Chrysler Sebring. But that popularity was pretty much limited to airport rental car lots in warm climates from Florida to Hawaii. It was all but shunned by consumers and panned by the media.

Chrysler, well aware of its shortcomings, has addressed most if not all of them in a major makeover of the sedan version of the Sebring sedan’s replacement, now called the 2011 Chrysler 200. The convertible is the happy recipient of those improvements as by-productl.

The duo are but two of 16 new or heavily revised vehicles the new Chrysler is bringing to market within an 18-month span. They all boast more value, improved fuel efficiency, all-new interiors, redesigned exteriors and improvements in, ride, handling and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).

The change from Sebring to 200 is so complete that the new name is well earned. The Sebring sedan was an also-ran in the family car segment and the convertible similarly invisible leaving dealer lots. But that has been addressed face-on with a new exterior design, entirely new interior, new drivetrain, heavily revised suspension and a big dollop of value.

Exterior changes are relatively minor. The hood, front fenders and fascia, grille, head and fog lights and mirrors are new. And the interior is transformed.

Klaus Busse, the lanky German in charge of interior design for Chrysler said the inside of the 200 started as a sketch on a piece of scrap paper. "We had done what we thought possible under the circumstances; put Band-Aids on the much-criticized interior. But," he said "the new management said that was not good enough, they demanded a better interior and we were only too happy to get the go-ahead, to bring that sketch to production."

The difference is dramatic. The driver and front seat passenger face a sweeping, single-piece instrument panel precisely fitted with premium soft-touch materials. Almost everything you see and touch is new as are the greatly reduced levels of noise, vibration and harshness.

The multi-function steering wheel fronts a trio of analog instruments with digital displays incorporated in their lower quadrant. The center stack is dominated by a large multi-colour display that incorporates audio, and in some trim or option levels a navigation system. HVAC is handled by an extremely simple and effective trio of round knobs.

The 200 Convertible comes in three trim levels. The base at $29,995 comes with a carry-over 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. That price is an obvious effort to ensure the 200 is Canada’s lowest priced convertible.

It’s a fairly significant step up to the $36,495 Touring and $38,495 Limited trim levels but a huge leap in content. First off is a terrific engine. Chrysler’s new 3.6-litre Pentastar replaces the raft of old-generation sixes from a variety of genetic backgrounds offered previously.

Named one of Wards 10 best engines for 2011, it is s

ilky-smooth and quiet. It not only produces more power than any previous Chrysler V-6, it is much more fuel efficient.

Paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission, the result is a transformation from boring to exciting. The two higher trim levels also get electronic stability control, automatic climate control and a driver information center.

So, you’ve got a fresh new look, heavily upgraded interior, wonderful new engine and transmission (on the top two trim levels) and a load of useful features. The next big surprise comes when you hit the road. Where the Sebring feeels like the top had been chopped off with little concern for structural rigidity the 200 feels rock solid.

This additional chassis strength allowed the engineers to revise or replace almost every component in the steering and suspension systems. Instead of having to make up for all that flex these pieces could now be tuned to control the wheels.

All trim levels get a power-operated soft top and a retractable hardtop is available as a $2,500 option on the Limited model. With or without it, there is sufficient room for four adults and a reasonable amount of luggage.

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