The Chrysler Sebring was the best selling convertible from the day it was brought out in 1996 until the late 2000s. The car’s main advantage was the fact that, unlike most competitors, it was designed from the start to be a convertible, not a sedan or coupe with the roof torn off and heavy braces added to keep the body together.
While the original was designed by the Small Car Platform Team, the new car was designed by the Large Car Platform Team, presumably because of the timing. Production was moved from Toluca, Mexico (a plant now dedicated entirely to PT Cruisers from 2001-05) to Sterling Heights, where the sedan version was made.
As one would expect from a new Chrysler vehicle, the Sebring convertible maintained its large interior (90 cubic feet plus 11 cubic feet of cargo volume), and added more structural rigidity for better handling and a more solid feel. Bending had been reduced 44%, according to Chrysler.
New to the Sebring was Chrysler's 2.7 liter V6, which replaced the pokey Mitsubishi 2.5 V6. This added 32 horsepower and 22 lb-ft of torque, while increasing gas mileage by almost 10%. The engine, which used regular gas, had 200 horsepower at 5,900 rpm, and 192 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. It included an active intake manifold for higher usable torque levels, and an optional AutoStick manumatic.
The ignition system eliminated secondary wires, placing individual coils directly above each spark plug. This "coil-on-plug" ignition system, combined with platinum-tipped spark plugs, provided a maintenance-free ignition system for 100,000 miles.
The 41TE automatic transaxle used in the Sebring Convertible and sedan were fully adaptive and electronically controlled. It was the simplest, lightest, most compact transaxle of comparable torque capacity in the industry, according to Chrysler. The GTC included a manual transmission - and used the Dodge Stratus instrument panel.
The Sebring Convertible also had a revised steering system, stiffer front suspension crossmember, rebound springs on the shock absorbers, and new sway bar isolators.
A short long-arm (SLA) front suspension system was used with a rear multi-link suspension. Standard tires were 15-inch P205/65R15 on the LX model, with optional P205/60R16 tires (standard on LXi and Limited). A full-size spare tire was available for the first time.
Stiffness was improved with increased structural ribbing of the transaxle case and the transaxle-to-cradle mount. Noise was reduced with cylinder block water flow passages that maintained uniform temperatures, and refined dual, hydro-elastic powertrain mounts. While not mentioned by Chrysler, we believe they also increased the thickness of the window glass and added insulation.
More front door beams were added, and a more effective safety cage was used; seat belts were still integrated into the front seats, making it easier to use the belts and avoiding a barrier to rear seat access. The head restraints were higher, and the airbags were safer multistage versions.
Beefed-up underbody rails and a new stamped front suspension crossmember also enhanced crashworthiness. This crossmember, which held the vehicle's steering gear, lower control arm and sway bar, slid back in a severe frontal collision, improving occupant safety by more effectively managing the energy generated in a crash. A stamped bracket built into the side rear window cavity added body stiffness and managed crash energy in side collisions.
Energy-absorbing molded plastic ribs were incorporated into the hard trim and molded honeycomb structures were used in the steering column cover and the glove compartment.
Seat backs were two inches higher and head restraints were repositioned to reduce whiplash-type injuries; the structural seat backs were deformable so they absorbed crash energy.
The lock cylinders had more tumblers to make them harder to pick, and a sidebar alignment notch on the key reduced the potential for theft by using substitute keys (or of accidentally unlocking the wrong car with a similar key). Remote keyless entry systems used rolling codes for security. SentryKey, which used a chip embedded in the key, added more security.
A headlamp time delay kept the headlamps illuminated briefly after the car was turned off, providing additional security for drivers who return to an unlit home after dark.
A larger four-wheel disc brake system was standard, and a new optional antilock brake system (ABS Plus) was designed to increase effectiveness in turns by controlling yaw in full and particular situations. ABS Plus included Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), a new technology that automatically distributes braking forces between the front and rear axles, depending on how they can best be used, regardless of road surface. EBD replaced hydraulic proportioning valves and worked even when the tires had full traction, unlike most systems.
Other brake enhancements included optimizing front/rear brake balance with electronic brake distribution on ABS-equipped vehicles, increased brake durability with larger front rotors, thicker brake linings and corrosion-resistant rotors and brake lines. Corrosion-resistant, larger, wider and vented rotors in the front, along with bigger brake calipers, improve brake responsiveness. Openings in the front fascia and the wheel openings help cool the brakes. This minimized brake fade. New, thicker brake linings were made of a low-metallic material to prolong brake life and reduce noise.
Another welcome improvement was 25% brighter headlights, with an improved light pattern.
The bar was raised again, this time with a four-window-down system that operated in conjunction with the convertible top - so that pressing a single button lowered all windows and the top. The top had a full cloth headliner for better sound and temperature insulation, and included a solid glass back window with an electric defroster.
Chrysler offered four versions of America's best-selling convertible for 2004: Chrysler Sebring Convertible, Chrysler Sebring Convertible GTC (manual transmission), Chrysler Sebring Convertible Touring, and Chrysler Sebring Convertible Limited.
All 2004 models featured a restyled front fascia with scalloped headlamps, new grille and wheels. A new "Radiation" 16-inch painted aluminum wheel design was standard on Touring and available on the base model. New "Bladerunner" chrome-clad aluminum wheels were standard on Limited.
Inside, the 2004 Chrysler Sebring Convertible featured audio steering wheel controls for improved driver convenience as standard on Touring and Limited.
For 2004, Chrysler Sebring Convertible was equipped with BeltAlert(TM), Chrysler Group's new enhanced seatbelt reminder system. If the vehicle was driven without the driver being properly belted, the BeltAlert system will periodically activate a chime and illuminate a light in the instrument cluster to remind the driver to buckle up.
The second generation (2001-2006) Sebring Convertible was the last to bear the name which was solely a Chrysler design; the third generation had significant DaimlerChrysler “oversight,” and was on an expanded Mitsubishi platform (set of dimensions).
The 2001-2006 model actually had more usable interior space (1.7 inches of rear legroom) and the dashboard had more leg clearance, allowing a tall front passenger to move their chair further forward. The turning circle was slightly tighter, and weight was lower. However, gas mileage was nearly identical on paper, and probably worse in real life, as the third generation was measured according to stricter 2008 standards. Part of the reason was a slight improvement in aerodynamics for 2008; engine tuning and drivetrain and accessory-efficiency improvements probably accounted for the rest.
The 2008 models added the the 3.5 liter V6, downrated to 232 hp (possibly because there was not enough room for proper airflow), and a new transmission, the six-speed automatic, whose low first gear helped acceleration. The third generation also brought a hard convertible top option, but the interior was substantially less attractive, and the Karmann-made convertible tops, both hard and soft, suffered dramatic quality deficits compared with the original, American-made ASC tops.
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