The Chrysler 200 is the Motorola XOOM of Cars

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A few months ago, Motorola released a video hinting at their new tablet computer. It was snarky and condescending to all previous tablets from the Ten Commandments to the Apple iPad. With that much chutzpah, I knew that the XOOM was going to be a serious powerhouse wrapped in a sexy package.

The reality: it ended up being a much-panned and oft-overlooked tablet.

The lesson here is that good marketing is to be expected, but calling out your competitors means that you’re really bringing it.

Enter the Chrysler 200. The now-famous Super Bowl commercial from Chrysler featuring Eminem and scenes of Detroit replays on TV repeatedly. As a Detroit native, for the first few weeks after the Super Bowl debut, my friends and I forwarded the video around, as it became something of the viral hit for Chrysler. I thought that it was cool, gritty, and pretty accurate for us that still love Detroit.

But when you call out other automakers and point out that this car is “luxury” from the USA, you better bring your big guns. That means it better be damn good. And this is the point where things start falling apart for the Chrysler 200.

Buy what you sell

In sales, there’s a phrase “buy what you sell.” It means that you have to believe so much in the products you offer to customers that you happily use it to. I’m sure Steve Jobs uses an iPhone. I’m sure Elon Musk drives a Tesla. What I’m pretty sure is that Eminem doesn’t drive a Chrysler 200, and now I’m pretty sure anyone that likes true imported luxury cars is not putting the Chrysler 200 on their shortlist.

It’s not that the 200 is a bad car, nor is the Motorola XOOM really a bad tablet. It’s really that the 200 looks and feels like an evolution of the Sebring, which is something that Chrysler was trying to avoid (hence the name change). The Sebring wasn’t a bad car in my opinion, but it never claimed to be a BMW 330. It found its niche as a sharp but forgettable family sedan or as a rental-car workhorse. And that was fine.

The problem is that when you simply change the sheetmetal and christen it the savior of the American auto industry, you’ve made more outlandish promises than Obama did in 2008.

Now, I finally got my hands on a 200, and across the board, it’s better than the Sebring it replaces in about every way. The interior upgrades are the most notable, getting the standard Chrysler corporate upgrade that the Journey, Grand Cherokee, and 300 got with a much more polished (if not slightly generic) dashboard. The outside is a bit more mundane. The front end is good with better headlight proportions instead of the bulbous Sebring headlights that looked like a garage-built graft from a BMW 5-series. And the overall sculpting of the metal looks more solid than the art deco treatment on the Sebring.

Unfortunately, everything from the A-pillar back looks almost indistinguishable from the previous generation. In my opinion, the 200 (and the Sebring) suffers from an unfortunate design decision to give the front end a long (almost dramatic) hood and an unimpressively stubby trunk. The greenhouse sweeps to the midline on the trunk and looks more like a fastback or the similarly offensive Porsche Panamera. For me, this is the first major missed opportunity on this redesign. Chrysler could’ve keep the same wheelbase and extended the trunk further out back. They could have disguised the length of the cabin with a more abrupt end to the rear window and the whole package would’ve telegraphed a much larger car, with much more dramatic sweeping lines, and a stance that looked more like it’s leaning into the wind. However, on the redesign, even the taillights are only modestly changed, and so simply from a styling standpoint, the 200 is a letdown because you have this eerie sense of deja vu.

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