The "Sebring" name on Chrysler's previous entry in the midsize sedan segment may have conjured images of racing glory, but its sales were slower than a school-zone speed limit — a mere 38,585 in 2010.
In December of that year, Sebring headed for the pits, making way for its replacement, the Chrysler 200. Good call.
Sales of 200 in 2011 totaled 87,033, more than double that of its predecessor's final-year sales. And, judging from the first six months of 2012 — the latest figures available at press time, 200 this year is on track to move nearly 140,000 units.
So you can see why Chrysler has changed 200 nary a wit in its sophomore year. Why mess with success?
The 2012 200 is available in four trim levels — LX, Touring, Limited and S. All, save S, come standard with a 2.4-liter, 173-hp four-cylinder engine. S, which is what we drove, gets Chrysler's marvelous 3.6-liter, 283-hp Pentastar V-6, an engine that's optional on Touring and Limited.
The four-cylinder's power is managed in LX by a standard four-speed automatic transmission. All other 200s, regardless of cylinder count, feature a standard six-speed automatic, which is optional on LX.
On the road, our S didn't exhibit quite the refinement of such competitors as the Ford Fusion or Chevy Malibu, feeling looser through the wheel and exhibiting notable torque steer under heavy throttle, but its overall demeanor was pleasant enough to overcome any initial misgivings.
At speed, 200 is quiet inside — a big improvement over Sebring's raucous cabin — while the smooth acceleration of that Pentastar V-6 is gratifying.
Of special note is 200's poise on its fully independent suspension. Only over the most egregious pavement flaws do the tires — 18-inch Goodyear Eagles on our S — telegraph unpleasantness to passengers.
Room inside is good all around, particularly in light of the fact that 200 casts a smaller shadow than most of its rivals. Front seat room is fine, even below the optional sun roof we had, while the rear seat can accommodate a six-footer behind a six-foot driver.
Boasting 200's top-of-the-line trim, our S featured a monochromatic interior theme — black leather, black suede and piano black appliqués, all tastefully accented by metal trim on the steering wheel, doors and dash. Also worth noting is the dashboard's old-school analog clock, which adds a welcome elegance above the centerstack's modern infotainment touch screen.
Speaking of that touch screen, I still find Chrysler's infotainment interface among the easiest to use. All screen controls are straightforward and intuitive. In addition, many navigation, audio and phone functions are controllable via voice commands. Meanwhile, the good old-fashioned rotary controls for the climate system are as big as door knobs and extremely easy to modulate.
Regarding exterior styling, we find 200 suffers from the same debit as did its predecessor — a rear decklid so severely truncated in profile it looks as if designers simply ran out of metal.
Otherwise, 200 is stylish with its projector beam headlights, long hood, classy "200" emblem on the C-pillar and a rear view smartly accented with a horizontal chrome bar and big Chrysler winged logo. Also, our car's 18-inch wheels, like S's grille, were accented in black, adding a sporty touch. (17-inch wheels are standard on 200.)
Prices for 200 start just under 20 grand for a base LX. Our loaded S, complete with leather, navigation, sun roof, satellite radio, heated seats, snappy Media Center infotainment interface (complete with 40 GB hard drive, including 20 GB of available storage), power everything, V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, still rang the register at under 30 large.
For the record, 200 also is available as a convertible.