For real-world en­thu­si­asts, good gets bet­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - CARS - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­

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.


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