wheels first encountered this car more than a year ago, when a team from Chrysler came out to Dubai to do some hot-weather testing. Back then it was a development mule, everything painted black, and stuffed full of data-logging equipment.
At the time, it was all a bit hush-hush, and we weren’t allowed to drive it or open the bonnet, so it was all very mysterious. Fast forward to the present, and we get a proper look.
Chrysler’s man in the Middle East was his usual diplomatic self at the launch, but there was no mistaking who Chrysler wants to take on with the new 200. It’s going head to head with the likes of Camry and Sonata, so it has to be a lot better than the outgoing Sebring it replaces in the Chrysler line-up. A low sticker price is the first hint that they’re dead serious. First impressions are certainly good.
It is a sleek, modern looker, obviously related to its larger 300 sibling, but not too outrageous. There are some nice highlights, bits of brightwork to add a sense of luxury and prestige, and some smart 17 or 18in alloys on the models with better specs. Three trim levels are offered, LX, Touring and Limited, but Chrysler’s proud boast is that every safety feature is standard on every car.
You also get a choice of engines, a 2.4-litre four-pot for those in search of economy, and a punchy 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 for those with the need for speed. In reality, they’re actually surprisingly close at the pump, so your choice may be more down to driving style than thrift.
The driving experience highlights a rather curious aspect of the 200 — it’s faster than you think. The engineers at Chrysler spent a huge amount of time and effort on soundproofing the car, so that very little road or suspension noise gets into the cabin — which is great for commuting and helps avoid driver fatigue.
But it also poses a problem — at several points on the test, I thought both the four-cylinder and the V6 were a bit asthmatic, and had to be worked hard to deliver reasonable performance.
In fact, the reverse was true, and it was only when I checked the speedometer that I realised I was travelling 20kph faster than it felt. So yes, the engines were working hard. But they sure were delivering what was being asked of them. Back off a bit, and everything is calm and serene. Both engines get a sixspeed automatic — what Chrysler calls Autostick.
This is simply their way of saying you can choose which gear you want manually, but the ’box works pretty well all by itself, so I left it to its own devices. Wafting it can certainly do, but the real surprise is on the bends. America has rediscovered corners. The 200 is surprisingly spritely, soaking up more than its fair share of abuse before complaining.
For the suspension, it’s got MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link system at the back. Roll bars are substantial, and even the mounting points to the body shell have been stiffened.
That was done to cut NVH, but the bonus is decent handling. The steering doesn’t give you a whole load of feel, but it is accurate, and though the suspension errs on the side of cruising, body control is good.
Sure, there are other more sporting cars in the class, but few combine fun with such a compliant ride. When things do get out of hand, there’s a safety net called Electronic Safety Control to catch you.
ESC combines with traction control and brake assist to keep everything tidy. The system prevents excessive under- or over-steering, and can even apply the brakes if necessary.
Inside, the safety theme continues, and every trim level comes with a full set of driver and passenger airbags as standard. Further protection is provided by Active Front Head Restraints, which help minimise the risk of injury occurring during a rear-end collision.
The seats themselves are cloth on the base models, but leather is available. Plastics are generally good, and the whole interior design is a marked improvement on what has gone before. Maybe it is the Italian influence, but this is actually really quite well-executed, comfortable and stylish.
The steering wheel is a four-spoke device just like that in big brother 300, and though some of the information display is shared with Jeeps, most of the controls and switchgear are modern and bespoke.
On our test drive, the large and clear satnav display still thought it was in America, but the radio was good. Middle East customers will get a proper U-Connect system that pairs with your phone, and offers Voice Command in three languages.
We drove the 200 hard on a hot and dusty day, and it did everything we asked of it with quiet efficiency. Has it done enough to carry the fight to the Japanese or the Koreans? It’s certainly a contender, and given that prices start at just Dh76,000 and stay under the hundred even for a top spec V6, a very worthy one.