Chrysler 200, a rental-car redemption story

The outgoing Chrysler 200 underscored the ability of Chrysler engineers and designers to make something from nothing, as they turned the awful DaimlerChrysler Sebring into the unexpectedly tolerable Chrysler 200. It might have still been a rental car, but at least it wasn’t a cringe-worthy rental car anymore.

The redesigned 2015 Chrysler 200 that debuted in Detroit shows what the company can do when unfettered by unrealistic cost constraints. This stylish new mid-size sedan is built on Chrysler’s compact US-wide platform, underpinnings derived from the lovely Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

"The goal was to not just meet, but to trump, the competition," said Al Gardiner, president and chief executive of the Chrysler brand, on 13 January at the car’s Detroit auto show introduction. "We wanted to expand the definition of the mid-size sedan at an attainable price," he added.

While the 200 looks nothing like an Alfa, it is clearly a turnaround vehicle for Chrysler, something that sit in buyers' consciousness alongside mid-size stalwarts such as the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion. The sporty “S” model has gloss black exterior trim that sets it apart from more mundane-looking family sedans. This should boost the car’s sluggish retail sales, especially if its launch is backed by the kind of high-profile Super Bowl commercial it premiered during the 2011 game, starring Eminem and a Detroit on the redemption trail. It is not a stretch to believe that spot’s impact inspired the hidden “Easter egg” silhouette of the Detroit skyline on a rubber console mat.

Chrysler’s first interpretation of this Euro hardware was the Dodge Dart compact sedan.  The hot-selling Jeep Cherokee is a closer cousin to the 200, though, featuring similar powertrain options and lavish optional cabin features.

Base engine is a 184-horsepower 2.4-litre four-cylinder using Fiat’s MultiAir technology and a nine-speed automatic transmission to deliver 35mpg in highway driving. The powertrain marks a 13% efficiency improvement, with 6% higher horsepower and, at 173 pound-feet, a 13% increase in torque.

As with the Cherokee, more serious motivation is available from an optional 295hp, 262lb-ft 3.6-litre V6 engine, which also uses the nine-speed automatic transmission. Available all-wheel-drive features a one-speed transfer case that can disengage the system when all-wheel-drive traction is not needed, which should conserve gas.

Inside, Chrysler has lavished the car with design and materials unheard of during the DaimlerChrysler era of cost controls. An available 7in LCD display for the instrument panel, plus an 8.4in infotainment display, make that statement emphatically.

The 200 arrives in US dealers by June, with a starting price of $22,695 inclusive of $995 destination charge – in line with its competitors – but look for that number to climb into the mid-$30,000 range when the 200 is fully kitted.