2012 Chrysler 200 S review: Adding twinkle

2012 Chrysler 200 S

2012 Chrysler 200 S

You have to give Chrysler credit for trying. Well, you don’t have to, but we think that the Chrysler deserves a Most Improved award for its transformation of a lackluster Chrysler Sebring to the semi-sparkly Chrysler 200. With the 2012 Chrysler 200 S, the semi-sparkle twinkles a little brighter.

By now, the Chrysler 200 is a fairly well known entity. The 200 received a thorough going-over from Chrysler engineers and designers as part of the general refurbishing of the Chrysler Group lineup. The 2011 Chrysler 200’s makeover was more extensive than most, from revisions to the chassis and suspension to taking the interior from tacky to artful.

2012 Chrysler 200 S headlight

The 2012 Chrysler 200 S headlight cluster has the popular LED element.

For the Chrysler 200’s sophomore year, a new trim level was added. Above the base Chrysler 200 LX, the mid-range Touring and upper-range Limited of 2011, is the 2012 Chrysler 200 S. The S of the 200 S—identified by a simple “S” badge on the car’s rump—is essentially trim. It makes the ubiquitous Chrysler Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 standard equipment, and the 200 S also adds Boston Acoustics premium audio system, leather seating with suede inserts—the front “S” seats heated—a perforated leather steering wheel are standard inside.

2012 Chrysler 200 S seatback

The 2012 Chrysler 200 S exclusive seats have an “S” embroidered in the seatback.

Outside, the S is distinguished by a glossy black painted grille topped by a Chrysler winged badge with a black inlay. It’s only on the 200 S.  While the 2012 Chrysler 200 Limited has 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, the 18-inch polished aluminum wheels of the 200 S have painted black inserts. Also just for the 200 S are shiny exhaust tips and body-color door handles and outside rearview mirrors.

By feature count, that’s not a lot of difference between 200 Limited and the 200 S, and what one is paying for in part is exclusivity and making optional equipment standard.).

Otherwise, the 2012 Chrysler 200 S is dynamically no different from the 200 Limited, the V-6 engine and six-speed transmission producing equal performance. The 283-horse V-6 is a gem in the Chrysler 200 as much as it is everywhere it’s used in Chrysler and Dodge models. The suspension was substantially reworked in changing the Sebring into the 200, vastly improving handling and ride. However, torque steer, the tendency for a front-drive car to dart to one side or the other when power is applied, particularly at low speeds, wasn’t tamed, and the Chrysler 200 with the 3.6-liter comes off like a minor league tyro on the mound, fast but wild.

Wheel size and tires also the same, as is suspension tuning. Chrysler engineers did what they could with the old Sebring setup, but truly sophisticated ride and handling will have to wait until the Fiat Group-developed replacement model arrives in 2013.

The 2012 Chrysler 200 S has the 3.6-liter engine as standard equipment.

The 2012 Chrysler 200 S has the 3.6-liter engine as standard equipment

Until then, Chrysler’s upgrades to the 200’s interior improved the touch and feel of the Chrysler’s mid-size sedan remarkably. Adding the S to the 200 makes it an even cozier envelope. The standard seats of the 200 have been subject to complaint, but the seating of our test 200 S was acceptable if not best in class.

One inconvenience evident in daily use is the high lift-over for the trunk. While the trunk has a 13.6 cubic foot capacity, hoisting suitcases into the back will mean a 31-inch lift before dropping them into the cargo area. The high lip also means a significant lift up when removing items from the trunk.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.