by: JOHN M. VINCENT - The front of the 2015 Chrysler 200 is the new face of Chrysler. Fluid lines grace the coupe-like profile.When Chrysler first showed the 2015 200 at the North American International Auto Show in January it set the industry abuzz with its handsome aerodynamic looks and impressive specifications. There were lots of eyes on this midsize sedan because it’s set to compete with some of the top-selling vehicles in the American market. About one in six cars sold in the U.S. is a midsize sedan, and most models are all-new or have been heavily refreshed in the last two years.

But the truth comes in how well it drives, and the verdict is in. Chrysler now has a serious contender in the midsize segment. It meets and often exceeds features and performance of its entrenched competition. With the Sporty 200S model, a standard 9-speed automatic transmission and an option for all wheel-drive, the 200 reaches for customers whose performance and capability needs aren’t met by other automakers. Where other automakers are content with maybe a basic vanilla, a slightly sporty and a somewhat upscale trim level, the 200’s diverse and interesting offerings are more akin to Baskin-Robbin’s 31 flavors.

For Chrysler, it’s been hard to gain traction — especially in the import-heavy Northwest market — with their previous offerings, but it’s time to put the unloved Sebring and previous generation 200 completely out of your mind. The Alfa Romeo-based 2015 200 is all-new, with a coupe-like profile wrapped in a smart, clean exterior design. The nose shows a new design direction for the company that we’re likely to see on future products.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - By using a small rotary transmission selector, Chrysler designers created a great deal of hidden center console storage.As has been said about all of the recent products from the Chrysler Corporation, they’ve once again raised the bar for interior design, innovation and quality in the segment. They’ve been able to completely reimagine the center console by employing a small rotary transmission selector in the place of a more cumbersome T-handle shifter. The result is a large amount of flexible storage, with a hidden cluster of connectivity and power ports for mobile devices.

There are four trim levels offered, with all wheel-drive offered on the premium 200S and 200C models. The lineup starts with the $21,700 LX with some unexpected features for a base model, including the 9-speed transmission, a smart center console with a hidden charging area, pushbutton start and LED tail lamps.

Chrysler expects most retail buyers to opt for the 200 Limited model that adds projector headlamps, Bluetooth telephone connectivity, sound insulating glass and a touchscreen media center. Pricing for the Limited starts at $23,255.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - 200S models feature a unique black with blue trimmed interior.The top two models are designed for completely different audiences. The range-topping 200C is the luxury and technology showcase, with its chrome trim hinting at the luxury within. Leather seating is standard, as is a customizable instrument panel display, automatic temperature control, and 17-inch wheels. The 200C is the only model to offer the optional SafetyTec package, which includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward collision warning and lane departure warning. 200Cs start at $25,995.

Slotted just below the 200C in the lineup is the sportiest sedan offered in the segment. The 200S features a more aggressive look, with gloss black accents replacing the chrome bits. Standard on the $24,995 model are a performance suspension setup, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and unique black and blue seats. From driving both models back to back, it’s more than just appearance -- the 200S is the definite choice for spirited driving.

Available on both the 200S and 200C is Chrysler’s exceptional UConnect 8.4 navigation and connectivity package. Through years of refinement, the UConnect system has become the most stable and intuitive systems on the market. If you’re looking for connectivity with simplicity, don’t even bother looking at the Ford Fusion with its MyFordTouch interface, Chrysler’s the new king.

Two engines will be offered, starting with a 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder. Producing 184-horsepower and 173 ft-lbs. of torque, the “MultiAir2 Tigershark” I-4 provides a decent balance of power and expected 35 mpg/highway efficiency. Ample sound insulation isolates passengers from much of the coarseness heard in many competitive 4-cylinder offerings. This will be the engine choice for most buyers, and with the 9-speed transmission it’s a nicely tuned package. The only powerplant offering in the segment that could match this is Honda’s 4-cylinder Accord and it’s best-in-the-industry continuously variable transmission.

If more power is what you’re looking for, Chrysler’s got your back with the improved 3.6-liter V-6. Upgraded to 295-horsepower for 2015, the Pentastar works well in nearly every vehicle Chrysler puts it into, and the 200 is no exception. Available on the 200S and 200C trims, and standard on AWD models, the engine produces more than ample oomph along with a healthy exhaust note. Using a 200S model’s paddle shifters on a particularly twisty section of road produced something unheard in this segment – honest to goodness exhaust burble. Like a real sports car. Although 4-cylinder models seem to have a bit more balanced handling, the V-6 is the choice for driving enthusiasts who have to drive a midsize sedan.

MacPherson strut suspension does the work up front, with a “twist-blade” multilink rear suspension in back. The goal was European-style handling on American roads, which is a challenge for any car. For the most part they’ve succeeded, with a little more of an edge of handling capability over plushness than many in the segment. Buyers of the sporty 200S are rewarded with one of the best handling setups in the class, on par with the Mazda6, Honda Accord V6 and Kia Optima SXL.

Electric power steering has come a long way in the past few years, and the 200 is another example of a car that gets it right, with appropriate weight and feel across most driving conditions.

Chrysler has invested nearly a billion dollars in the Sterling Heights assembly plant in Detroit that builds the new 200, and much of that money was spent on technology and facilities dedicated to improving quality. The investment shows even in the pre-production models driven for this test, with very good body panel fit and nary a squeak or rattle.

2015 Chrysler 200

Models: LX, Limited, 200S, 200C

Base prices: Range from LX $21,700 to 200C $25,995 (plus $995 destination charge)

Type: 5-passenger 4-door midsize front or all wheel-drive sedan

Length: 192.3 inches

Weight: 3,473 lbs. (base vehicle)

EPA Estimated Mileage: Not yet announced. 35 mpg highway expected.

Final Assembly: Sterling Heights, Michigan

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