A fun and highly rated ragtop in its first generation, the Chrysler Sebring became more substantial and quiet in the second. The engine gained substantially in power, as the Mitsubishi engine was replaced by a superior Chrysler 2.7 liter engine, which produces more power and less noise. Sound insulation is far better, with little wind noise even at illegal-in-most-states speeds when the top is up. Handling and ride are well balanced, thanks to a softly sprung but still moderately stiff suspension which inspires confidence around turns.As it enters the second generation, the Chrysler Sebring is changing in the way we would expect. It feels more substantial, sounds quieter, and costs more than it used to. The Mitsubishi V-6 has been supplanted by a superior Chrysler 2.7 liter engine
Note that the Sebring is still designed to be a convertible, and is still based on the Sebring sedan rather than the Mitsubishi-designed coupe - though we expect that will change in 2005-06 or so, when Chrysler abandons all pretence and switches to all-Mitsubishi platforms.
The "guppy" styling works well on the Sebring, which manages a moderately aggressive smiley-face when not equipped with a front license plate. We suspect Chrysler's styling would change quite a bit if Michigan required front license plates, but as it is, New Yorkers and Michigan residents have better-looking Chryslers than most other Americans.
Interior space is very good for a compact convertible. Four passengers can fit in the car in some comfort. The trunk goes below the roof storage area, so large but not tall objects can be stored there - there is also a "traditional" trunk area.
The 2.7 liter engine, borrowed from the Intrepid, is very quiet even when revving high. Until the GTC came in 2002, it was always and sadly coupled to the usual four-speed automatic, with an optional AutoStick. While quiet and smooth, the standard transmission doesn't like to kick down on acceleration, making us wish for a sport mode or, better, a manual transmission to take advantage of the 2.7's rev-happy nature. The GTC brought us that manual transmission, and as we suspected, the Sebring felt substantially faster - but no more economical (20/27 - the same as the 20/27 for the base automatic, both on regular gas. For comparison, the 2.4 liter engine gets 21/30 with the automatic).
We liked the smooth-riding clutch, with a stick that glided easily into place and the ability to either dump quickly into gear for fast acceleration or to change so gently passengers could not tell the difference. Overall, the manual transmission is, to us, a must-have feature. At high revs, the 2.7 was surprisingly quiet, though the air conditioning whined a bit - nothing too noticeable. We were always pleasantly surprised by the lack of wind and tire noise.
Engine maintenance is minimal with the 2.7, with 100,000 mile spark plug and wire changes, 7,500 mile oil changes, and infrequent antifreeze changes as well; there is no timing belt to replace, since the dual-cam engine relies on a tougher chain instead. The 2.4 engine, which is only available with an automatic, has more frequent spark plug changes and a 100,000 mile or so timing belt change, but is otherwise relatively maintenance-free. Both engines have generated a good reputation so far, despite some early 2.4 liter head gasket issues which appear to have been solved.
One other nice feature is allowing customers to access the computer codes by turning the ignition key with a certain pattern; any errors recorded by the computer are then displayed in the odometer area (a full list is here.) In addition, customers can easily set some preferences, such as automatic locking and whether the horn chirps when the remote is used, according to instructions in the owner's manual; no visit to the dealer is required. An option which we haven't seen yet (but is listed in the manual) is the trip computer, which provides temperature, gas mileage, and compass readings.
Our base model's Goodyear Eagle LS tires squealed around turns, though it felt as though the car was not losing any grip. The GTC had better tires, and took turns with surprising agility for a convertible. The ride on both is an interesting mix, as you can feel the bumps in the road, but they are well cushioned; our 2002 GTC model seemed to have a smoother, more luxurious ride despite better handling.
Visibility is good (as one would expect) with the top down, but the convertible top brings blind spots in the rear sides. The rear view is poor for backing up, because the headrest blocks the driver's left-hand rear vision. These problems are endemic to convertibles, though.
After frequently putting the top down and bringing it back up, we also wished for a single "window up" control for all four windows. Only the driver has control over the back side windows, and all four are automatically lowered when the top goes down. We will commend Chrysler for very clearly marking the top with instructions to avoid having the rear glass get damaged by car seats and other obstructions.
Controls are surprisingly well-designed, and can be operated with gloves on. A locking center console and glove compartment, and a trunk release which only works when the key is in the ignition, may prevent thieves from tearing the roof open to get easy pickings within. The clamps which attach the top to the windshield are much easier to use than the Chevrolet clamps.
The center console has a power outlet, a pen clip, a small tissue holder, and a coin holder which only holds two sizes of coins. A small padded area between the center vents holds small knicknacks.
The instrument panel is standard for new Chryslers, with their elegant chrome rings around circular dials. Even the base model has wood grain tastefully applied to the dashboard. The end result shows that Chrysler can still look more classy than Mercedes, at least inside the vehicle. (Oddly, the GTC uses a Dodge instrument panel, with black rings around the dials instead of chrome, and a flashy plastic applique across the length of the dashboard. We suspect that was a cost-saving measure, so that a single panel could be used for both the Dodge Stratus R/T and Chrysler Sebring GTC, but wish that both had used the elegant Chrysler panel instead of the similar, but not quite as upscale, Dodge panel.)
The dashboard has Chrysler-standard green backlighting, including a helpful dim green light for the optional CD changer and cupholders. On our GTC, the backlighting tended to wash out the numbers a bit, but the gauges were always legible.
For a convertible, the Sebring is not too pricey, with the GTC version having a base sticker price (including destination) of under $26,000 - and that's before the thousands in rebates we've come to expect. The GTC includes the V6, stick, four wheel disc brakes, rear window defroster, remote entry, air conditioning, lighting package, tilt steering, compact disc six-speaker stereo, power trunk release, and nice wheels. Our test vehicle also had the cold weather group ($40), security alarm ($200), upgraded Infinity stereo with cassette deck ($250 for the cassette and CD changer, plus $500 for the Infinity speakers and amplifier), and a full size spare ($250). The total, about $27,000 with destination, is not unreasonable for a convertible - but is in 300M range.
The Chrysler Sebring convertible is generally rated as being the best in its class - not surprising, since its predecessor was also top rated! Detroit News found the Miata crude and the Solara coupe not up to par, by comparison. The Solara has generally been criticized for too much body flex, and does not have the same power, interior features, or general "good feel" as the Sebring. While the Mustang has more power, it also costs more and does not feel as refined - or anywhere near as large inside. We suspect you'll come to the same conclusion, and we hope Chrysler can get the word out. The Sebring is, once again, best in class.
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