Review: 2013 Chrysler 200 Limited Convertible

Back when nearly every automaker had a handful of convertibles on offer, it wasn’t uncommon to see one in just about every garage in suburban America.

Times have changed.

Much to our chagrin, buyers have trended away from expressive colors and bodystyles, leaving the automotive landscape full of beige and grey midsize sedans and crossovers.

In many ways, the  Chrysler 200 Convertible is the last of a dying breed of convertible versions of mainstream four-doors. But is this a case of survival of the fittest, or has Chrysler simply been reluctant to pull the plug?

What is it?
A thoroughly facelifted version of the unloved Chrysler Sebring, the 200 arrived with a bevy of refreshed Chrysler products for the 2011 model year shortly after Italian automaker Fiat invested in the automaker.

Sedan and convertible versions are available, the latter of which is offered with either a folding steel or cloth roof. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder is standard, but  upper trim models use Chrysler’s terrific 3.6-liter V6 mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.

Cleaner looking outside, composed of higher quality materials inside and powered by a world class V6, the 200 is undoubtedly an improvement over its predecessors.

Yet we have always thought that it still comes up short. So short, in fact, that we named it to our list of the 10 Worst New Cars. Chrysler took notice and suggested we check out the 2013, which saw a barrage of suspension updates for the new year. Admittedly, we went into this evaluation highly skeptical, but we agreed to look at the 200 with as open a mind as possible.

Our Limited grade tester slots in above the base Touring and below the style-oriented S. It came with the V6 and lacked for few options aside from the available folding metal roof.

What’s it up against?
Truth be told, the 200 has outlasted all of its direct rivals – it’s the last of a shrinking class of not particularly sporty convertibles. Still, we think the pricier, folding hardtop-only  Volkswagen Eos should be on your shopping list.

Toss in V6-powered versions of the  Ford Mustang and  Chevrolet Camaro, plus maybe the  Volkswagen Beetle Convertible and you have an eclectic day of shopping ahead.

What’s it look like?
Sharing its proportions with the old – and not particularly balanced – Sebring, the 200’s styling is perhaps most notable for its gigantic decklid, which stretches out into the horizon. Because of the packaging constraints of the optional folding hardtop, the lid needs to pivot in two directions in order to stow the roof. Raising the 200’s top further emphasizes the huge, flat surface. Paint a big “H” on it and wait for the helicopters.

Moreover, the big decklid is inconceivably heavy to open, even though it uses gas struts. Even the strongest among us found that opening the trunk required using both hands. And the interior of the trunk is haphazardly finished, which made us wonder if our car was missing some panels (it wasn’t). On the other hand, closing the trunk is a cinch – just tug on a strap and the heavy lid slams itself – and there’s a lot of room there when the roof is raised.

Up front, the 200 is clean if a little anonymous, but that’s something that could be said for any product with Chrysler’s latest “wave”-inspired grille design. We are fans of the stylish 18-inch alloy wheels and their champagne flute-style spokes that were fitted to our tester.

And on the inside?
Though the 2011 updates added some much-needed higher-grade materials, the 200 inherits its predecessor’s odd ergonomics. You sit low in the 200 with your legs stretched out, like you would in a car conceived in the 1980s. That might work for a sports car, but not for a cruiser.

Further drawing ire from drivers and passengers alike are the 200’s poorly contoured front seats. Not only are they covered in stiff, cheap-feeling leather, the cushioning feels unnaturally convex. Moreover, the hard plastic base protrudes into the lower bolstering just enough to make sliding in and out rather painful.

The 200 does have the most usable rear seat in the segment, but this isn’t a great choice for those who regularly carry more than one adult passenger.

On the infotainment front, the 200 has yet to receive Chrysler’s big 8.4-inch Uconnect screen. That’s a shame since it’s the best such unit on the market, while the old, much smaller touchscreen on our tester is feeling awfully outdated these days.

Still, we can respect the fact that the 200’s interior is covered in soft touch plastics almost everywhere, including the doors and the dashboard. That can’t be said about most other moderately-priced droptops.

But does it go?
Though the 200 shares some of its architecture with the blindingly fast  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, there are a lot of branches of the family tree between these two cars.

Sending 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft. of torque to the front wheels of any chassis is asking a lot, but we expected at least a little more control than the 200 offers. Accelerate hard and the steering wheel tugs hard to the right, a telltale sign of torque steer. At highway speeds, the situation isn’t quite as bad, though the front end feels awfully light as the car’s weight transitions to the rear when the skinny pedal is depressed. Apply the throttle on the way out of a sweeping corner and the 200 will move quickly in a white-knuckled sort of way.

For 2013, the 200 gains stiffer springs and thicker sway bars, which do seem to help it maintain composure better than its predecessor. But there’s still a long way to go.

At least the V6 sounds pretty good when pushed and its six-speed automatic always seemed to be in the correct gear. Slotted into the right application, Chrysler’s V6 is a winner, but it needs a better composed and stiffer chassis to excel.

In more sedate driving, the 200 generally feels more relaxed. Some suspension retuning for 2013 has improved impact absorption and reduced wallow over bumps. The constantly quivering rearview mirror, however, serves as a reminder that this droptop’s structure isn’t notable for its rigidity. On the other hand, that extra dose of body flex does give the 200 a soft ride. If you can look past the wiggling, the 200 is reasonably comfortable for casual top down driving.

It’s also fairly quiet inside with the top raised and relatively normal conversation is possible with the top down and the wind deflector (which prevents anyone from sitting in the rear seat) deployed.

Driving gently, we averaged a bit less than the EPA-estimated 19/29 mpg. Paradoxically, the V6 nets better fuel economy than the base four-cylinder.

But that’s just one of the many ways the  Chrysler 200 Convertible doesn’t really make much sense

Leftlane’s bottom line
We appreciate Chrysler’s decision to upgrade its droptop’s underpinnings, which does address some of our concerns. But are they enough for us to recommend the 200 Convertible?

Nope. It’s better than its predecessor, but if ever there was a time to damn a car with faint praise, this is it.

If you’re in the market for a four-seat not-too-sporty droptop, the Ford Mustang V6 and Volkswagen Eos feel so much more modern.

2013 2013 Chrysler 200 Limited Convertible base price, $32,095. As tested, $34,260.
Boston Acoustics audio, $475; Navigation, $695; Destination, $995.

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