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Detroit show: 200C to lead Chrysler revival

Surprise package: The Chrysler 200C is based on a decade-old Mercedes-Benz E-class platform.

Shock RWD Camry rival steals Detroit show and restores hope for struggling Chrysler

13 Jan 2009

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in DETROIT

BELEAGUERED Chrysler performed nothing short of a Motown miracle at the North American International Motor Show in Detroit this week with its show-stealing 200C sedan.

Officially still a concept car designed to test public reaction, the unexpected mid-sized four-door rear-wheel drive sedan is destined for production within the next two years, according to a well-placed source at Detroit.

In the event that the 200C is produced, it is expected to supplant or even completely replace the unloved front-wheel drive Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger mid-sized sedans in the Group’s line-up, giving the American company a much more alluring competitor against the big-selling (and all front-drive) Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion in the US.

Styled by 31-year-old American Nick Malachowski, the 200C aims to replicate the design-driven worldwide success achieved by its larger but now ageing stablemate, the 300C.

However, unlike the slammed and square-cut 300C that has tugged hearts with its nostalgia styling, the 200C reveals a modern, athletic and very cab-backward coupe-like styling regime with proportions recalling Holden’s VE Commodore – albeit shrunken to a medium sedan.

11 center imageMr Malachowski told GoAuto that achieving youthful elegance was his goal over the year or so that the 200C Concept took to create. “It’s like a man wearing an expensive suit and showing off a tattoo,” he said.

As a four-seater show car, the 200C concept plugs into the 2009 NAIAS show zeitgeist by being an electric vehicle, boasting Chrysler’s newly-christened ENVI range-extending lithium-ion battery technology and a 55kW electric generator mated to a super-ultra low-emission petrol engine.

The batteries are located in the tunnel running the length of the car. There is a much smaller fuel tank than usual, and the electric motors are within the rear wheels.

Producing around 200kW of power and 400Nm of torque, the 200C Concept is claimed to sprint to 100km/h in around seven seconds, hit the 400m mark from standstill in a V8-like 14.5 seconds, approach 200km/h and yet achieve a total driving range of up to 644km – or 64km if driven purely on electric power.

Of more pertinence to most potential buyers in the Camry class are the conventional internal combustion engine options slated for the productionised 200C. These include Chrysler’s as yet unseen Phoenix V6 engine family that is said to stretch from about 2.5 litres to more than 4.0 litres (to accommodate a range of passenger cars and SUVs in the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep families).

Whether the Mercedes-sourced 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesels featured in the 300C will get a look-in remains to be seen, and there is no word on what the expected four-cylinder engine family may be.

The platform is Chrysler’s ex-Mercedes-Benz W210 E-class architecture that first saw the light of day way back in 1995, and which means independent front and rear suspension, and possibly recirculating ball power steering.

However, the chassis has been shortened by about 100mm for a wheelbase of 2948mm (the same as the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang-shadowing Dodge Challenger, which the 200C shares many components with), in a vehicle that is 4879mm long, 1870mm wide and 1455mm high.

Using an old platform suggests that a sizeable chunk of the 200C’s development costs have already been amortised, which has led to speculation that Chrysler may price entry level versions very close to its front-wheel drive rivals.

Inside, the 200C Concept’s interior presentation is a complete departure from the angular shapes (and maligned plastic surfaces) that have come to define the Chrysler Group’s cabin architecture, with flowing lines, expensive-looking trim and high levels of electronic and multi-media functionality.

Should Chrysler give its unexpected Detroit concept superstar the green light, we have been told to expect an interior that – although toned down – pays close lip service to the 200C show car.

Much speculation is already surrounding the newest mid-sized Chrysler, with suggestions that it is the personal mission of 37-year-old former Toyota veteran and now Chrysler chairman Jim Press to pummel the Camry with a head-turning rear-drive Mercedes-engineered competitor.

According to ENVI president and Chrysler Group advanced vehicle engineering vice-president Lou Rhodes, the precedent has already been set for the 200C Concept when it comes to the likelihood of production.

“I think the best thing to do is look back at the history of Chrysler – we are rich in our history of showing concept vehicles (and) we are also rich in our history of bringing all of those concept vehicles to production,” he said.

“When we show a concept vehicle, it is a much more mature idea, and now it is just a matter of the business case and (how it matches with) the rest of our portfolio.

“Each one of these concept vehicles is driveable, we’ve already had one of our best reactions ever … and it is a wholly functional vehicle.

“We do all the engineering, even at the concept phase, so we do have a viable path to production, if we choose to take it.”

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