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Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger coupes: Mitsubishi Mopars

2007-2010 Chrysler Sebring - 2007-2012 Dodge Avenger - 2001-2006 Sebring sedans - Review

chrysler sebring

Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger Coupes were built in Normal, Illinois, in what was once a joint venture plant between Mitsubishi Motors and Chrysler Corporation. Mitsubishi purchased the remaining interest in the “Diamond Star” plant from Chrysler, so Chrysler Sebrings were technically known as transplants.

The similar Dodge Avenger (which, starting in 2007, was a sedan made by Chrysler in Sterling Heights) was also assembled there, along with the closely related Mitsubishi Eclipse. The plant continued to build the Mitsubishi Galant and related models after Chrysler production stopped.

1996 Chrysler Sebring

The Sebring coupe owed most of its underpinnings to the Mitsubishi Galant and to the Eclipse and Talon. Basically, the Sebring coupe was an Eclipse with its wheelbase stretched to 103 inches for much more leg room and head room in the back seat. The dash was shared with the Eclipse/Talon.

The high performance four cylinder from the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon was not available on the Sebring, which instead used a 2.5 liter Mitsubishi V6 as its optional engine; standard on the LXi for most years, it was based on the 3.0 Mitsubishi engine.

The early four cylinder was manufactured by Chrysler, and was the same engine used in the Neon (DOHC version), with some effort devoted to reducing noise, a little less power due to a tougher air path, and the intake and exhaust manifolds swapped, presumably to fit into the engine bay. Most of the road tests in the major car magazines indicated that the 4 cylinder accelerated a bit faster than the V6, mainly due to having a manual transmission, but the V6 had an edge in smoothness. The horsepower difference was not enormous, but torque was far different. The four cylinder could be purchased either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic; the V6, with the automatic only.

1996Chryler FourMitsu. Six
Horsepower140 @ 6,000163 @ 5,000
Torque130 @ 4,800170 @ 4,350
Mileage22 / 3220 / 28

Sebrings differed from Avengers in a few small ways other than appearance. For example, the spring rates in the Sebring were more nearly tuned to a smooth ride, whereas the Avenger was set up for a slightly stiffer ride.

The Sebring convertible was built at a Chrysler plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, and was not related to the coupe but to the Chrysler JA cars — the so-called “cloud cars” (Stratus, Cirrus, and Breeze).

The LX came with driver and passenger front airbags, rack and pinion steering, reflector headlights, fog lamps, tinted glass, intermittent wipers, a double-wishbone suspension, antilock power brakes (front disc, rear drum), dual mirrors, remote gas cap release, 14-inch wheels, air conditioning, simulated woodgrain front console, remote trunk release, rear defroster, rear climate control outlets, four-speaker stereo, and tilt-wheel.

1996 car cabinThe LXi added the V6 and automatic, differently tuned springs, 16-inch wheels, four wheel disc brakes, bright exahust tips, cargo net, front and rear floor mats, premium stereo wtih equalizer, upgraded seats, power windows and locks, garage door opener, heated mirrors, remote and alarm, cruise, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a higher grade of interior trim.

Around half (55%) of the 1995 model-year buyers were women; the typical buyer was 30-44 years old, and had a household income of at least $50,000. 45% were college graduates and 45% were professional or managerial.

1997 Avenger/Sebrings

The front and rear fascia were revised; all of the plastic pieces below the belt line were changed somewhat. The most controversial aspect of the new design was the new grille. Larger and more prow shaped, the black area appeared to have pleats similar to the 1995-1996 design. The grille was integral with the lower fascia, instead of two separate pieces as in the 1995-96 design. The air intake remained below the grill, but its shape changed. Fog and parking lights appeared similar to the 1995-96 design.

The Chrysler 300 “cross hairs” design was gone, replaced by a Chrysler blue-ribbon logo with chrome wings that evoke Chrysler grille trim designs of the 1930s and 40s. The grille evoked the art deco look of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow and other Chryslers built prior to World War II. Nouveau retro was in.

The most apparent change to the side was in the cladding, which featured a pair of raised ridges that extended the length of the car. These ridges started on the side of the front bumper cladding, went across the doors and to the side rear cladding behind the rear wheels. Whether or not it looked better than the older, cleaner, design is a matter of opinion.

The new standard wheels for the LXi appeared to be a ten-spoke design, quite different from the 1995-96 version. They were 17 inches in diameter, riding on a P215/50 HR17 tire, a change from the P205/55 HR16 used in 1995 and 1996.

The rear of the car had changed too. A curved convex panel where the license plate was now contained the Blue Ribbon Chrysler logo and Sebring label (Gold on the LXi). The rear bumper had changed too with the twin ridges extending around the rear of the car, and the bumper now accommodating the license plate. A new spoiler similar to the one used on the Dodge Avenger was standard on the LXi.

Despite the lack of sheet metal changes, the exterior was different from the 1995-96. Overall length was up to 191.1 inches, from 187.4 inches, probably because of the new prow-shaped grille. This was getting to be a big car! Curb weight was up 15 pounds on the LX (to 2,959) and 40 pounds (to 3,197) on the LXi. Overall width was down from 69.7 inches to 69.4 inches.

New colors were Indy Red (brighter red than on the 1995-96 Avenger), Paprika Pearl Coat, a bright orangish-rust metallic, and Pewter Blue metallic, a color that appeared to travel to Iris overtones. Gone were Light Autumnwood, Medium Gray Metallic and Spanish Olive Pearl Coats. The most important change was the total elimination of the two-tone cladding that was mandatory on some colors in previous years, but not used on others. These two-tone colors worked better on some colors (such as the Mercedes-like white and silver) than on others. The LXi featured gold exterior badging, which I presume meant that the lettering on the rear was in gold on the LXi, but chrome on the base LX.

1997 Chrysler Sebring Coupe interior and equipment changes

The fake wood grain extended all the way up the dash to cover the plastic piece that enclosed the heater/AC controls; and the ashtray cover was wood grain instead of black. There was a new two-tone black and tan interior color combination. Basically, the portion of the dash at glove box level was tan, but the remainder of the dash was black. The tan trim also extended upward to the arm rests on the door panels. The interior was available in a butter tan color to match the dash and door treatment with carpet of the same color. This tan color was quite different from the brownstone available in previous years. The gray interior apparently remained all gray, with no two-toning.

Engine and transmission options remained unchanged. There was a (possibly) new door beam system called Dynamic Side Impact protection. The standard LX radio and cassette system had six speakers instead of four. The LXi standard system included 6 speakers, a 3-band equalizer and a combination cassette and CD unit. An automatic electrochromatic day-night mirror was standard on the LXi. The standard LX wheel covers were changed from 1996.

2000 to 2006 Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger

For 2000, the Dodge Avenger/Chrysler Sebring Coupe, Chrysler’s Mitsubishi Eclipse takeoff, got a standard 2.5 liter V6 with automatic, a new silver color, and a fabric change on the Sport interior. There were barely any buyers for these cars; the Mitsubishi Eclipse was not a barnstormer, either.

2000 Chrysler Sebring coupe

In 2001, Chrysler changed the Avenger name to make it the Stratus Coupe (though it shared little in common with the Stratus Sedan or Convertible). The Sebring was joined by the former Cirrus sedan, which became the Sebring sedan, though again the two models were completely different. The coupes had an updated 200 horsepower Mitsubishi engine as an option, with a 2.4 liter Mitsubishi engine as standard; the sedans had a 150 horsepower 2.4 liter Chrysler engine standard with a 200 horsepower 2.7 liter Chrysler V6 engine optional.

2007-2010 Chrysler Sebring - 2007-2012 Dodge Avenger - 2001-2006 Sebring sedans - 2000 Chrysler Sebring Coupe review

1995 - 1996 Sales Literature

The 1995 Sebring Coupe model year was short, and the only reason it was dubbed a ’96 (given that it was launched in April 1995) was because the Avenger had been introduced the previous fall, so dealers could not be selling 1995 Avengers alongside 1996 Sebrings. Legally, however, all Sebrings could have been called 1996 models.

The changes between 1995 and 1996 were as follows:

  • The V6 was increased from 155 to 163 horsepower; there were no externally visible changes, and Chrysler did not reveal where the boost came from. Either the same engine was simply re-rated (which happens) or there were changes in the electronics.
  • The optional dash-mounted Infinity CD player added a cassette, and if the CD player was dealer installed in the trunk, the cassette unit included switches to control the trunk-mounted CD player
  • The universal garage door opener was built into the sun visor, and standard on the LXi model.
  • The 1995 Char Gold Pearl Coat was replaced with Spanish Olive Pearl Coat and Medium Blue Metallic was replaced with Light Autumnwood Pearl Coat. The dark green changed slightly, from Deep Green Metallic to Polo Green Pearl Coat. The Pearl Coat designation was of interest, in that it indicates a color that “travels” — a metallic paint that changes color depending on lighting. All of the Sebring colors except Bright White, Black, and Medium Gray were pearl coats for 1996. As an example, sometimes the Silver Mist Pearl Coat looked pure silver, but at other times it had a blue tinge, while under other color conditions, it appeared to be gold.

Tom Binney, a Sebring owner, wrote:

The Pearl effect is due to the use of Mearl Corporation’s pigments in the newer cars; it tends to give a red/blue, red/green or other specific combination “iridescent” effect to the paint similar to the “mother of pearl” effect. I’ve been in the paint related industry for 30 years and some of these special effects have been around for twenty years or so and are just starting to get into the commercial auto market. Wait until they start to use “Flip Flop” overcoat colors - you won't know what color to expect when you go back to the parking lot to get your car! They can create drastic color changes due to type of light and angle of reflection.

The 1995 and 1996 Sebring sales brochures were high quality, nicer than the Dodge Avenger books. In a new model in the first year, it was expected that there were going to be some errors in the sales brochure that were later corrected in subsequent printings or in the subsequent model years. The 1995 Sebring book contained few errors; the corrections appear in the 1996 sales brochure. Many of the photos from the 1995 brochure were re-used in the 1996 brochure. Here are the significant differences (many are errors):

  • The V6 engine on page 8 of the 1995 brochure was different from the one used in the car (there was no container with a yellow cap, for example). The V6 engine was correctly illustrated on page 10 of the 1996 brochure.
  • The photo on page 15 illustrating the cargo net in the 1995 brochure showed a Dodge Avenger, not a Sebring! This photo was corrected on page 13 of the 1996 brochure.
  • Study carefully the Dark Green Metallic Sebring on pages 20-21 of the 1995 brochure and compare that with the Polo Green Pearl Coat on pages 18-19 of the 1996 brochure. They are the same photo, but the Polo Green has been lightened in the 1996 brochure.
  • There are subtle interior changes between the 1995 and the 1996 brochures on pages 10 and 11 of the 1995 brochure versus pages 8 and 9 of the 1996 brochure. The most obvious difference was that the 1995 car shows perforations in the leather, whereas the 1996 does not. My Sebring has a cloth interior, but, as I recall, the 1995 Sebrings I looked at did not have the perforations. The stereo dial has also changed; this is probably correct because of the upgraded Infinity stereo. The shininess of the leather in the 1995 brochure appears to have been toned down in the 1996 illustration. There are other subtle changes in the dash button colors. All of this appears to have been done by retouching the original photo via computer.

The 1995 version contained photos of the dark green model. A photo in this brochure showed a black ash tray cover (the one used in the Avenger) in the wood grained Sebring console. I have not seen this brochure for 1996, or determined if this error has been corrected.

Road Tests

Road tests of the Sebring coupe appear in the following magazines.

  • Car and Driver, June 1995
  • Motor Trend, May 1995
  • Auto Week, November 4, 1995 (Check out that owner's voice in Lexington, KY)

Mystery Sebrings

I was in New Orleans, Louisiana in early February, 1995, several weeks before the Sebring had been announced. Six Chrysler Sebrings drove up to the underground parking area of the hotel. All of them were in deep green metallic, and all bore Louisiana manufacturer license plates. Why Louisiana was a great mystery.

Apparently, the Sebrings were in New Orleans for a pre-show for the dealers. The cars were clearly labeled as Sebrings, and looked identical to the model that was introduced several weeks later, with one exception: the grille had a honeycomb appearance. Apparently, the grille texture was a last minute pre-production change, based on dealer comments — as the honeycombs on the recent Ram had been.

Common Dodge Avenger / Chrysler Sebring problems

Avenger/Sebring door handle repair - step by step

2001 Dodge Stratus CoupePotentially, the most serious problem is a malfunction in a brake light sensor that keeps the brakes ever so slightly engaged when the car is going down the road, resulting in premature shoe wear. There is a Chrysler service bulletin out on this. The battery in mine died after 4,300 miles of ownership; it’s a no-name, but has a Magic Eye on it! The type number is 86, a weird size. Another owner wrote of problems with the coil. Interestingly the J.D. Power initial quality survey showed a high defect rate, over 200 per car in the first six months of ownership, but the Consumer Reports data look quite good, well above average.

Mr. Hernandez warns owners of models with the V6 engine to avoid deep puddles, since this engine is a “bottom-feeder” and can suck water into the intake, resulting in expensive rebuilding or replacement. This is also a problem with many VW engines.

On the 1995-99 coupes, according to Jon, the lower ball joints on the front suspension have a recall that can be repeated infinitely. Chrysler has acknowledged that the lower ball joints wear prematurely and can cause severe loss of control to the vehicle if failure occurs while driving highway speeds.

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