CHANNELING STYLE | The Sebring 200 Limited goes from meh to marvelous. The body looks the same, but the nips and tucks include chrome for bling and LED lights to give it some high-tech glow.

Chrysler’s Sebring redo, the 200 Limited, melds style with speed

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

One of the most attention-grabbing commercials during this year’s Super Bowl was a Chrysler 200 spot that featured Eminem with the tagline, “Imported from Detroit.” Both the pitchman and car are Detroit natives — the former famously, the latter materially. It was all part of the creative re-branding of Chrysler as an uber-American purveyor of urban conveyances for the trendsetters … and all coming from Motor City. The question is this, “Will that strategy get people to buy a face-lifted Sebring that was not exactly one of Chrysler’s blockbusters?”

When designers whipped up the last-generation Sebring for 2007, they tried their best to create a roomy sedan with the classic style of a Crossfire coupe. An eggcrate grille, arching roofline, wrap-around taillamps and stylish Mercedes-inspired interior all worked together well, even if the theme didn’t translate perfectly from spankin’ sports car to buff sedan. If only the chassis, engine and transmission had lived up to the exterior’s promise.

Now under Fiat control, the less-successful Chrysler products are undergoing a thorough makeover.

Of all things the Chrysler 200 imports, style is its best asset. The body shell remains, but everything attached to it is new. Chrysler’s stylized chrome grille with revised winged logo dominates the front, 18-in. chrome alloys fill the fenders and wrap taillights grace the rear. Look closer and you’ll notice LED light pipes around the front projector beam headlamps and additional crisp LEDs in the center brake lights. A new hood is more delicately formed. All of this adds up to a design that is more cohesive, precise and upscale.

The drama continues inside. Our test car came with heated black leather seats, beefy steering wheel with the best-feeling leather outside of a BMW, piano black finish around the center controls, and the results of a determined effort to make the cabin seem as expensive as the exterior. I’m glad the Mercedes-inspired instrument cluster and gated gear selector remained; a small analog clock is appropriate in an aspiring luxury tourer.

DRIVER ON BOARD | Chrysler upped the game on its Sebring revamp with slickness and power.

In-dash navigation, dual-zone climate control and thumpin’ audio system with XM Satellite Radio and USB input for iPods satisfies everybody. It’s a place where you want to be and is no longer polluted by cheap materials that seem as though they were procured from a goat.

It’s also quiet. Forty-five new sound deadening treatments were added, like acoustic glass usually found in much more expensive vehicles. Vibrations throughout the vehicle were scrutinized and eliminated while a new three-point engine mount was adapted to the four-cylinder engine to tame its transgressions.

The Sebring had a willing chassis, but it clunked and bunked over rough pavement and only begrudgingly hit the curves. Engineers touched virtually every part. The track is an inch wider and the car has been lowered several millimeters for more stable handling. There’s less body roll, noticeably reduced suspension jitter over rough pavement, more precise-feeling steering. I wish engineers would have tuned in a little more weight to the steering, especially at speed, but it is pleasant enough for a near-luxury sedan.

Drivers will really appreciate the new powertrains. They could choose the base 173-HP 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine for the best fuel economy, but I’d cruise right on by that and opt for the 283-HP 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Both engines are available with six-speed automatic transmissions, but to save a few bucks, a four-speed transmission can be matched with the smaller engine. Four-cylinders achieve 20/31-MPG city/hwy, while the powerful V6 delivers 19/29-MPG.

I liked the Sebring before, even if it wasn’t particularly exciting. Designers gave it their all and engineers tried their best, but the bean counters apparently had their way and insisted on us driving around with an interior that never quite made the cut. That’s all fixed — from the divine steering wheel to the quieter interior, improved powertrains and revised chassis. We’ll have to see if buyers respond, but this is one car that Detroit should be proud to export.

Sill, I wonder if Eminem really drives one…

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 27, 2011.