For a while now, when someone said the words "Chrysler 200," people usually responded with various forms of cringing and grimacing. Let's just get this out of the way right now: The 2015 Chrysler 200 sedan changes all of that. Now when you say you own a 2015 Chrysler 200, it will no longer be met with furrowed brows. This all started back in 2009 when bankruptcy was the watchword in Detroit. Chrysler had the latest-generation 200 in the can, but its future was unknown just like the rest of the company. The American auto industry has pulled through since then, and after being acquired by Fiat, Chrysler now has the cash needed to never make the same mistakes again.

Suit and Tie

We'll start with the obvious, the 2015 Chrysler 200 is all-new for the latest model year, and it's a sharp midsize sedan both inside and out. The new 200 has been redesigned from head to toe and, unlike other Chrysler Group products, the interior design is exclusive to it. Of course, there are some button and gauge sharing here and there, but the overall design is specific to the all-new 200. Gone are the days of straight lines and a dreary interior. Instead, curvy exterior styling is paired with an interior that could go up against any competitor in the midsize-sedan segment. When tasked with penning the insides, Klaus Busse, Head of Interior Design, Chrysler Group aimed to use furniture-grade materials, which can be seen in features like the real wood with an exposed edge on the dashboard.

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Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne allowed designers and engineers to start with a fresh slate when research and development on the 2015 200 began and it shows. With a coupe-like profile, sleek lines guide your eyes from the front to the back of the 4-door 200 which is a momentous change over the model it's replacing. Up front, the new Chrysler badge appears to be floating in the grille and is book-ended by projector headlights. Chrysler was aiming for a "timeless, exciting design," one that will be used as a template for future products. While the latest 200 only debuted earlier this year at the 2014 Detroit auto show, Chrysler is already banking on this fresh design to become the face of the company.

Build it (Better), They Will Come

Although you see it first, the exterior of the 200 sedan wasn't the only thing to get redesigned for the 2015 model year. Sixty percent of the body structure now consists of high strength steel and every driving component has been retuned solely for the 200. The team responsible for producing the latest 200 had a simple plan: Make it better and more efficient than what the competition offers, and they will come. If you make a product that makes people want to buy the car, then sales will take care of themselves. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, not so fast. On paper, that strategy sounds like one of the easiest things you'll do all day. Except building a car, let alone one with less than a sterling reputation, is anything but. Chrysler had a healthy amount of self-awareness when it came to the 200 and took it all into consideration when redesigning the new car. This self-awareness was immediately evident as we sat down in the all-wheel-drive 200C AWD. The interior materials felt solid, the infotainment system worked exactly as it was told, and the new dial transmission knob hopped into place with authority. After getting situated in the cabin, it was then time to see how the entire package came together when rolling down the road.

Underneath the hood, Chrysler offers two options in the form of a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Tigershark engine and its touted 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Both are linked up with a 9-speed automatic transmission making this combination a first for the industry. Using a 9-speed automatic transmission allows the new 200 to take off quicker in first gear and achieve better fuel economy when cruising on the highway. We had a chance to sample both combinations and came away enjoying the 3.6-liter V6 and all 295 of its horses. If you opt for the smaller motivator, you get 184 horsepower, and while the EPA isn't finished certifying it yet, Chrysler has hinted at a 35 highway mpg number. The EPA is also in the process of certifying the 3.6-liter V6 engine, but no word on what to expect yet.

On the Road

During our time with the 2015 Chrysler 200, we sampled a few different trim levels of the midsize sedan including a 200C FWD (for front-wheel drive), 200C AWD, 200S FWD and a 200S AWD. As expected, the 200C FWD with the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine felt a little underwhelming, with power taking its time to show up. This was quickly rectified when we hopped into the 200C AWD with the 3.6-liter V6. Acceleration was plentiful and getting on the highway was a breeze. The Tigershark engine, on the other hand, needed some more time and space to do the same thing. As usual though, fuel economy benefitted from the smaller Tigershark engine but the Pentastar V6 mill was still registering in the mid-20 mpg range.

The transmission worked harmoniously with both engines and even played along when ordered into Sport mode. On the S model, paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel do a fine job for a vehicle in the midsize segment, and don't hinder the volume and tuning toggles hidden behind the spokes. Once on the open road, road and engine noise was kept to a minimum due in part to acoustic treatment of the wheel wells and an optional acoustic windshield and front windows. A new carpet lining the bottom of the interior also helps keep external noises at bay.

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A few of the trims we tried, including the 200C AWD, featured Customer Preferred Package 26N (an additional $1,295) which tacks on safety features like Advanced Brake Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Full Speed Forward Collision Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control. There were a few stretches of road along our drive route that allowed us to test out the Adaptive Cruise Control, and we came away pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use and how well it worked. Other features in this option package include rain sensitive wiper blades, Blind Spot Cross Path Detection and Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist with Stop.

The Verdict

This is not your DaimlerChrysler's Sebring. In fact, it's not even remotely close to anything offered to the first-generation 200 model it's replacing. The 2015 Chrysler 200 is so far removed from its predecessor that it's literally a different car. And that's a really good thing. Like the rest of the segment, the 200 will no longer offer a convertible variant, but we think that's a good thing. It will be interesting to see how the 2015 Chrysler 200 stacks up against the competition once we get our mitts on it again. For the time being, though, Fiat-Chrysler should be proud because they gave one of their weakest offerings a real fighting chance in the most competitive segment. That in itself is an enormous accomplishment.

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