For real-world enthusiasts, good gets better
A theory: Most of us have graduated from the zoom-zoom philosophy that characterizes so much of the coverage of the global car industry.
In our daily driving lives, we are not terribly concerned about a car that finishes a quartermile run in 12.2 seconds at 119.5 mph vs. another that does the job in 12.3 seconds at 118.1 mph.
Nor are most of us obsessed with moving from 0 to 60mph in 3.7 seconds, nor are many of us eager to spend an extra $8,150 for a “full carbonceramic brake package,” nor in parting with as much as $89,035 for a car that can reach its full performance potential only on a sanctioned racetrack.
The real world: Most of us are automobile enthusiasts. At least, we are enthusiastic about the cars we buy with our own money, the ones we use to routinely transport our loved ones, the cars we drive to and from jobs that pay most of us nothing near the money needed to afford an $89,000 or an even more expensive (think nearly thrice that much) performance automobile.
Instead, most of us who do buy new cars — barely 15 percent of the U.S population, which is a generous assessment — are lucky to afford the financing of the country’s current average new-car transaction price of $33,560. And the car industry’s financial reporting indicates that most of us aren’t paying cash. We’re accumulating debt, often taking as long as seven years to pay off.
I think about these things when I hear colleagues “enthusing” over highpriced, high-powered cars that can move super-fast in a world that practically cannot accommodate them with any regularity to justify their value. Some of those colleagues laughed at me last week when I bypassed the available speedy, more expensive metal at a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles event to select a comparatively lowly 2016 Chrysler 200C sedan as this column’s subject car.
Blame my late father. I once drove home to New Orleans in a superexpensive automobile, easily costing more than his $200,000 house, thinking I would impress him. He looked at me, looked at the car and bluntly asked two questions: “How many of your readers can afford that? How many reporters at The Washington Post can afford that?”
And that is why you see mostly affordable, or somewhat reasonably affordable, cars in this space. Welcome the 2016 Chrysler 200C midsize family sedan, the top of the Chrysler 200 line, but this model equipped with a base 2.4-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and costing $33,195 fully loaded.
Several things: It moves from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, unimpressive next to supercar stats but still fast enough to get you into trouble in most jurisdictions. It has one of the most elegant, best-equipped midsize car interiors available. It can tirelessly and smoothly cruise high-speed highways at 70 mph and stop surely on dry roads within 110 feet of the spot where you apply the brakes at that speed.
I love the Chrysler 200, now in its second year on sale in the United States. It was well received in its first year on sale here. I expected Fiat Chrysler to succumb to a once-typical Detroit pattern and just stick a new model-year number on the latest car. It didn’t.
Exterior and interior styling are discernibly improved. The new car, especially the top-line C version, has an overall luxury feel. “Fully equipped,” in this case, refers to a suite of advanced electronic safety equipment — advanced brake assistance, rainsensitive windshield wipers, lanedeparture warning and lane-keeping assistance, automatic high-beam control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, electronic parking assistance, and onboard navigation featuring an 8.4-inch touch screen.
I drove this one more than 300 miles without once worrying about 0-to-60 acceleration times. I was grateful that it ran quite well on 89-octane gasoline, getting up to 36 miles per gallon on the highway.
And even with its four-cylinder engine, it was no slug. It had enough get-up-and-go for most of us — 184 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque delivered to the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission.
An all-wheel-drive version, with a 3.6-liter gasoline V- 6 (295 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque), is available.