Texas®

As excited as I am to think about the coming cars from the new Fiat/Chrysler, there seems to be that awful lag time between what will be and what is now. Trapped in that limbo of low standards and trying to make the best of a bad lot is the Chrysler 200.
 
During the Mercedes years, Chrysler benefited hugely from the information transfer that allowed them to base their large cars (300c, Magnum, Charger and Challenger) on the fantastically stout and resilient E-series Mercedes engineering platform. This foundation has allowed for rapid development and execution of well sorted-out cars that literally hit the market here in the states squarely between the eyes. Big, strong and sexy looking; the large cars from Chrysler have become as good as any in the market.
 
After driving the Fiat 500 a couple of weeks ago and loving it, I can only hope Chrysler can find a way of taking one of Fiat’s great middle-sized cars and getting it in the market, ASAP. This time though, critical – almost emergency – was really driven home by every mile I spent behind the wheel of the Chrysler 200 Convertible.
 
The 200 has been touted by Chrysler as the “rebirth” of Detroit, but that baby is still a little premature. While the 200 is leaps and bounds better than the car it replaces, the Sebring, Stratus “Cloud” cars, it is not up to the changes in the market. Chrysler’s middle-of-the-road cars were leapfrogged by the Japaneese back when Toyota introduced the Camry, but now the Korean companies Hyundai and Kia have literally stomped on the Detroit icon. The Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata are proof that you can have a small economical car that works well, and looks great. Unfortunately, it’s like rubbing salt in an injured warrior’s wounds to point that out.
 
This used to be Chryslers forte; building cars just a little cheaper than Ford or GM. The company was looked upon with almost heroic “Mom, Apple Pie, and Baseball-style” Americana reverence, but the number three underdog was standing on a foundation of sand that each new competitor shoveled out a little more. When the global financial crisis hit and Chrysler’s credit lines evaporated, the company ended up spending all their time on survival and the efforts to design a replacement for their small sedans were shelved.
 
I honestly believe that part of the problem during the Venture Capital ownership period at Chrysler was exacerbated by the fact they had installed a senior management team from outside the automotive industry. These non-car guys just didn’t seem to understand the lead times and development investments in such a complex product.
 
The 200 and its Dodge Twin Avenger are the result of a muddling lack of vision.
 
Driving around in the 200 actually made me angry, partially because of how the car was simply not what I thought it would be, but more so because I had read a couple of articles touting how good the car was by so-called journalists or Autowriters whose objectives I have to question.
 
There is a fine line of balance in this business of reviewing cars. In my case, I see my “End User” as the person reading this article trying to find information to make one of their largest financial commitments in their lives. Thankfully, at Best of Texas, I don’t have the issues some local publications have of trying to generate advertising revenue via their editorial content. It is not that the manufacturers directly try to influence the editorial content at a local newspaper, but that business is so dependent on the Auto advertiser the last thing they need to do is annoy or offend an advertiser. This leads to picking up the paper and reading a review that is written by an Advertising Copywriter whose goal is to sell cars – not to give an unbiased opinion.
 
This is why you see canned pieces, rewritten press releases and stock photography in most of the publications out there. It’s just something that has crept into this business and there are very few reviewers out there who have insulated themselves from the pressure of advertising. There are others who have completely sold their souls, and that makes me mad.
 
The other balance point is finding a way to both entertain and inform. If the article is not compelling, the reader’s attention would have long since moved on to the next thing in the visual and technological barrage of information out there.
 
As I was annoyed with the Chrysler 200’s not-quite-there driving inputs, lethargic acceleration and dismal handling, I was thinking that it wasn’t really that awful. After all, if you really want a convertible, I was figuring the 200 would be a reasonable option if it came in around $25-27k. But here is a little secret of how I write my reviews. I purposely don’t look at the information the manufacturer provides to me until I have given the car a chance to either impress or depress me. I don’t look at the price until I have driven it for a couple of days. Oh, wow. When I did, all I could do was think of things I would rather do with $37,000.
 
That is where the anger came in.
 
I can’t in good conscious recommend this car. I might have at a far lower price point, but at 37k there are simply too many better options out there. I could happily own a Fiat 500 and the motorcycle of my choice for that money. Or, if you need a drop-top, I would be driving people out of Chrysler showrooms and down the street to buy a Mustang convertible. I was staggered they could put this car that still has roots back in the K Car days out for that price. For that matter, I know you can find a slightly enjoyed BMW for that money, and let me tell you: The 200 is certainly not in that area.
 
Chrysler needs to run, not walk, to figure out how to rebadge one of Fiat’s platforms, ASAP. Italian car division Lancia has a couple that pop to mind. I really want to see that and it is not every day I say this, but the 200 sure as hell looked better leaving than it did with me.