---- — The freedom-infused spirit of summer ebbed gracefully away last week as we ticked toward the Labor Day holiday. With summer cottages closing, vacations ending and schools reopening, the Chrysler 200 Convertible I evaluated seemed almost nostalgic, a car for last season. I powered down the top and drove with my head in the air at every chance, a salute to summer's passing pleasures.
But the 200 Convertible doesn't need summer or sparkling Sunday drives to earn its keep. This is a practical, everyday convertible that owners use in all weather, rather than keep as a fancy showpiece. The open roof is an added treat to enjoy – weather permitting – while the car performs ordinary transportation tasks.
“People buy it and use it for their everyday car,” stated Kevin Bihl, internet sales manager at Bill DeLuca Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Haverhill. With a starting list price of $28,520, the 200 Convertible is more affordable than many other drop-top models, he noted. So it just doesn't cry out for pampering.
What's more, the Chrysler 200 Convertible is set up for practical hauling. It's a two-door auto, so the climb into the back requires a forward flip of the front seat and a squeeze through the opening. But once inside, rear-seat riders find ample room even when the top is buttoned shut.
And when it's opened, my principal driving joy last week was my glimpse through the rearview mirror of 13-year-old Madeleine Zygmont and 8-year-old John Wilson, sister and brother, laughing and joking and swaying and waving in the back seat as a rush through the endless sky lifted their spirits as high.
The trunk of the 200 Convertible remains usable even when the top is down. The model is a clam-shell style roadster, with the big hatch in back that jaws open while you hold the single button that brings down the top.
Sure, you lose a lot of cargo space after the roof stows itself out of sight in the rear. And yes, the large trunk lid is heavier, more awkward to open than a normal trunk. But a big section remains available for bags or boxes or whatever. I fit in the load of grocery sacks I typically take from Market Basket without any struggles.
When the roof is snugged overhead, the trunk lid remains as weighty, but you gain as much cargo space as you find in the back of any medium-sized coupe. And importantly, with the top closed, the Chrysler 200 Convertible seals tightly to exclude wind and road noise, riding as quietly as a comparable hardtop. The fabric top on my evaluation model sealed so snugly that I forgot I was a driving a convertible – during those rare rides when I didn't let in the sun.
Still, with our climate, convertibles of any character have limited appeal here. Therefore Kevin Bihl sees just occasional demand for the soft top at DeLuca Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, part of the DeLuca family of dealerships that also includes Bill DeLuca Chevrolet Buick GMC in Haverhill and Woodworth Chevrolet Cadillac in Andover.
On the other hand, the four-door, five-passenger, hard-top sedan version of the Chrysler 200 is a steady and reliable seller. So far this year, in the U.S. as a whole, the Chrysler 200 is the top selling passenger car for Chrysler Group, which includes the Dodge, Jeep and Ram brands in addition to Chrysler brand cars. The only Chrysler Group vehicles currently outselling the 200 are the Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee SUVs, and the Ram pickup.
It helps that at the moment Chrysler is aggressively promoting the 200.
“It's already competitively priced, and they're putting the incentives and good lease programs on top of that,” said Bihl. “It's working. It's getting people to come in and drive it. They find that it has a good ride. They see that the finish is good and it's a nice, good looking car. They look at the equipment they're getting for the price, the safety and the convenience, and they see that it's a great value.”
The sedan version of the 200 starts at a list price of $20,690. The base model comes with a 173-horsepower four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission. The combination earns a government fuel-economy rating of 21 miles per gallon in city driving, and 30 mpg on the highway.
You can also purchase the 200 with a 283-horsepower V6 engine and six-speed automatic. The six-cylinder motor adds $1,400 to the base model. Its fuel-economy rating drops by 2 mpg.
That drop is enough to dampen demand for the larger, more powerful engine. The four-cylinder is the overwhelming favorite among the model's buyers at DeLuca, Bihl reported. While its better fuel economy is the primary reason, more and more drivers also realize that the power available from today's four-cylinders is enough to give an auto snap, poise and traffic command, he said.
Bihl noted that a wide range of options and trim levels further boosts the popularity of the 200. Drivers who opt for economy by sticking to a basic 200 LX still get floor mats, remote locking, visor mirrors, adjustable steering wheel with audio controls, split folding rear seat-back, and other such features.
\A step up to the 200 Touring brings items like a power driver's seat, leather dash trim, satellite radio inside an upgraded sound system, trip computer and tire-pressure display, console storage bin, LED outside lights, and alloy wheels. The top-line, 200 Limited includes leather upholstery on heated front seats, touch-screen control panel for a multi-functional media center, voice-command connection system for cell phone, and the V6 engine.
“You can go with the basic model and keep the price down, or you can go with the Limited for a really loaded version,” said Bihl.
You might also choose the ultimate option and buy the 200 Convertible. If you get one now and drive it through autumn and winter, you may even forget it's a convertible – until summer arrives again next June.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2014 Chrysler 200 Convertible Vehicle type: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-wheel-drive mid-size convertible Price range: $28,520 to $34,015 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles roadside assistance Engine: 2.4-liter I4 Power: 173 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 166 lb.-ft. torque at 4,400 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Fuel economy: 18 mpg city; 29 mpg highway Wheelbase: 109 inches Length: 195 inches Width: 73 inches Height: 58 inches Weight: 3,898 pounds Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons Turning circle: 36.5 feet