NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- One of life's saddest realities is how outdated reputations lag a new reality. This works both ways: Products that used to be great maintain their reputations long after they have lost their competitive edge.
It also works the other way around. Consider Chrysler, for example. Now part of FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), Chrysler is one of the group's many bewildering brands, with others including Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Dodge, RAM and Jeep.
Chrysler itself has only three nameplates, amazingly:
1. The Town & Country minivan: The upscale sister car to the Dodge Caravan, it's now celebrating its 30th anniversary as the original minivan. The need for a redesign is acute.
2. The 300: Based on a multiple generations-old Mercedes E-class, this large sedan is also overdue for a major redesign.
3. The 200: This midsize sedan, wildly out of date, has been a favorite among rental car companies for years. Until now.
Forget the old Chrysler 200. The all-new 2015 is arriving in Chrysler dealerships and it's as different from the old 200 as today's China is compared to Mao's Red Paradise circa 1974.
Including destination charge, the Chrysler 200 starts at $22,695 and goes over $30,000 depending on various engines and other equipment. It competes across a wide range of the best-selling midsize sedans such as Toyota (TM) - Get Report Camry, Nissan (NSANY) Altima, Honda (HMC) - Get Report Accord, VW Jetta, Ford (F) - Get Report Fusion and General Motors' (GM) - Get Report Chevrolet Malibu.
From an exterior design standpoint it is very neutral. Anyone wishing to travel and park anonymously will like the new Chrysler 200. Here is the thing, though: It does not look bad. In fact, I can't find a bad line on the car. It is very much following the Audi sedan philosophy and, other than the front of the car, it looks like an Audi A7.
The exterior has a couple of different trims, taking a cue from Mercedes E-Class and the all-new 2015 C-Class. The Sport version has blacked-out trim and another version has more chrome. Both are executed very well but my favorite is the sport trim in solid black all around.
The interior is where it gets extremely interesting. All in all, it is one of the best interiors I have experienced in any car and it's most likely the best one in this price range.
So what's so good about it? First of all, the materials. The leather is miles better than in any other car typically priced below $50,000. What looks like wood is real wood. Also, it's not shiny. The color schemes are very tasteful and remind me more of Lexus, Bentley and Rolls Royce than any lesser entries. I am only slightly exaggerating the fine taste of this car interior.
The single best part about the interior is the center stack and its associated controls. Almost all cars above $25,000 have become infuriatingly difficult to use. They all fail what I call the "rental car test." That's the ability to jump into a new car quickly and not feel lost just by trying to perform basic functions.
Most important functions use real easy-to-press buttons and knobs, and even the touchscreen is easier to use than all competitors anywhere near this price range. Aside from ease-of-use, the center stack is also one of the most beautiful ones in the industry and the best one at this price. The drive selector is a round knob instead of a bulky shifter.
Not only does the innovative round knob shifter look great, it also saves a lot of space. This paved the way for the best storage space in the business, with furniture-grade sliders and cubbies. I hope the other car makers take note because this is the best yet.
The seat comfort and seating position are okay but not better than average. Everyone should learn from BMW and Volvo here as they are the best in the business. The seat makes you sit a little bit too high up and the steering wheel doesn't telescope enough. This means you cant lean back as much as you want, having to sit too upright. Just go copy any BMW or Volvo as they are superior.
In the back seat, the Chrysler 200 has adequate foot and knee room but suffers from the same problem as so many other cars these days: too little headroom. It needs another two inches in order to fit a reasonably tall person. The luggage space is reasonably large enough.
On the road, I found it to have reasonably good handling. Not class-leading, but perfectly good enough to satisfy most consumers. I drove both the front-wheel drive version as well as the four-wheel drive version. It is one of the few entries in the segment to offer four-wheel drive and it's an excellent system for improved grip.
Four-wheel drive is only available with the larger 295 horsepower 3.6 liter V6. The standard engine is the 2.4 liter four-cylinder with 185 horsepower. Fuel economy is relatively typical for the latest non-electrified/hybrid cars of this class today: 23 miles per gallon city and 36 mpg highway for the four-cylinder, but falls to 19/32 for the six-cylinder versions. Four-wheel drive drops those to 18/29.
If you are not looking for a diesel, hybrid or some form of plug-in car -- in this size and price segment -- I think the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 rises to the top of the game. While I prefer the plush suspension of the Ford Fusion, it pales in importance to the richness and ease-of-use of Chrysler's class-leading interior.
Unless you have too big of a problem with the front seat comfort or frequently have passengers too tall to fit comfortably in the back seat, it is hard not to recommend the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200. The center stack controls, overall luxury and tasteful design of the interior, plus availability of four-wheel drive, make it a top pick among conventional gasoline engine cars in this price range.
There is a new king in the volume midsize sedan competitive game, and his name is Chrysler 200. This is a great example of going from dead last in the class to becoming the leader. America is a country of upward mobility and now it's just a matter of the reputation to catch up.
Chrysler's most important and iconic car is the Town & Country minivan. It is one of my absolute favorite cars of all time. Driving the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 makes me optimistic for what we can expect of the all-new Town & Country that shouldn't be more than a year away. Sign me up!
At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.