2015 Chrysler 200 a fashionable mid-sized sedan

Like some supermodel sashaying down the runway, the Chrysler 200 made its much-anticipated entrance at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.

Was it worth the wait?

If first impressions count, the answer is yes. The Detroit-built high-fashion sedan with its decidedly Italian underpinnings is a far cry from the previous-generation model, both in style and content.

The 200 is an important car for Fiat Chrysler since it competes in the high-volume midsize bracket that's the bread, butter and jam for Toyota, Ford, Honda and Hyundai et al.

The outgoing model, which began as the Sebring before being updated for the 2010 model year and rechristened the 200, was actually a decent enough car when properly equipped, but was clearly outgunned by the competition. Its sales strength was predicated on steep price discounts and clever advertising, which helped keep it in the game.

The 2015 200 shouldn't have to resort to giveaways to make its way in the world. From any angle it has a leading-edge contemporary look that's very easy on the eyes. There's some roofline similarity with the Ford Fusion and a passing resemblance to the Dodge Dart (both it and the 200 share the same basic platform), but none of that takes away from the 200's considerable attractiveness.

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Size-wise, the 200 varies only slightly from the outgoing version and is closely similar to the midsize-pack leaders. Interior room and trunk space are increased slightly, as is the car's width, although the distance between the front and rear wheels is reduced by about an inch.

The interior is as attractive as the sheet metal, with easy-to-view primary gauges, plus-sized control knobs and optional 8.4-inch touch-screen display (a five-inch screen is the base unit). But what really stands out is the absence of a floor shifter that has been replaced by a console-mounted knob, just like the one in Chrysler's Ram 1500 pickup.

An issue with the previous 200 was the old base four-cylinder engine that was shy on power and fuel efficiency. That has been rectified with a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 184 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque (up from the 173/166 rating of the previous  2.4). The engine, which is standard in Chrysler's Jeep Cherokee and optional in the Dodge Dart, connects to a nine-speed automatic transmission that helps the 200 achieve 23 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway.

The nine-speed is also mated to the optional 3.6-liter V6 that's a mainstay in other Chrysler products. This particular iteration makes 295 horsepower and 262 pound-feet.

Although a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the 200 can be had with all-wheel-drive, but only if the V6 is ordered. In normal operating conditions, the rear axle is completely disconnected, which Chrysler claims reduces parasitic losses by up to 80 percent when compared with other systems with their continuously rotating axle shafts. That helps fuel economy and likely saves wear and tear on various drivetrain components. In slippery road conditions, the rear wheels can receive as much as 60 percent of the engine's torque. AWD is permanently engaged when the driver selects Sport mode. Here, throttle response and transmission shift responses become sharper and the electronic stability control becomes less nanny-like.

The starting-point 200 LX, which rings in at $22,600 including destination charges, includes numerous power-operated and comfort features plus keyless push-button start.

The up-level Limited, S and C levels are likely where most buyers will shop since they include plenty of extras and are necessary if you want the V6, AWD and numerous impact-avoiding electronic safety systems, infotainment systems and luxury-oriented creature comforts.

Ultimately though, it's the Chrysler 200's glamour-like appearance and power train improvements that will make the difference as it dogfights its way back into contention in the midsize field.

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What you should know: 2015 Chrysler 200
Type: Four-door, front-/ all-wheel-drive, midsize sedan.
Engines (hp): 2.4-liter SOHC I4 (184); 3.6-liter DOHC V6 (295)
Transmissions: Nine-speed automatic

Market position: Chrysler is stepping up its game in the midsize category with the kind of styling, content and power that will make most sedan shoppers forget all about the automaker's previous Sebring/200 efforts.

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Points: All-new look is right on the money and outclasses many of its competitors; Base four-cylinder engine delivers impressive fuel economy and the V6 has a reputation for impressive power; Rotary-dial shifter saves space and de-junks the console; North American design and Italian structure makes for an interesting and competitive combo.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front knee airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 23/36 (2.4)
Base price: (including destination) $22,600

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