The Chrysler Sebring LXi Coupe

In 2000, Chrysler sold a pair of rebadged Mitsubishis as the Avenger and Sebring. We don't know why, but they also called their Cirrus convertible a Sebring. Perhaps they felt that all sporty Chryslers should be Sebrings.

For 2001, Chrysler announced some changes. The Cirrus was henceforth be called a Sebring, resolving any confusion over the convertible model. However, the Mitsubishi-built Sebring would remain... a Sebring. So the sedan and convertible are made by Chrysler, while the coupe is not. Confused yet? Hold on, it gets better. Both Mitsubishi and Chrysler use a 200 horsepower V6 as their top engine, and a 2.4 liter four as their base engine. Still, when you get inside the cars, the difference is clear. The Mitsubishi Sebring has a gimmicky instrument panel with deeply recessed gauges. The only concession to the Chrysler name is shiny faux wood surfaces in the center, and a smoother ride.

One nice feature which Chrysler would do well to imitate is a light which gently illuminates the padded "catch-all" area underneath the center stack, where drivers will throw their EZ-Pass, coins, and sunglasses. A compass and outdoor thermometer are backlit at night, making them easier to read than the more common LED setups.

Since it is basically an Eclipse, the Sebring Coupe has very good handling, improved from last year by increased body stiffness. The seventeen inch rims on our test car probably helped as well, especially with 50 aspect ratio tires.

Ride quality is good considering the handling, and surface roughness is filtered well. Heavy bumps are handled with aplomb, with no shaking or deep booming.

Unlike earlier Sebrings, the engine now matches the looks, with 200 smooth horsepower and good low-end response that can too-easily burn rubber unless traction control is ordered.

Putting power to the wheels is a manual transmission that is a pleasure to work with. While the stick has a good feel, the real strength is a clutch that allows very fast, smooth shifting by even unskilled drivers.

A new antilock braking system, from Teves, includes a yaw control system that takes advantage of other sensors, so it does not cost too much to install. It is not standard.

The LXi's standard Infinity stereo system has clear sound with strong bass on tap. The center console's cup holders are almost nonfunctional.

Most controls are well designed, including the cruise control, which has its own stalk. The horn is hard to push, though, and the 140-mph, half-circle speedometer has very small gradations. The standard tach is appreciated on this fast-and-high revving engine.

The trunk is surprisingly large, but the opening is too small. Spare tire access is easy, but getting large objects into the trunk is not - though they fit once inside.

The nature of the coupe design leads to large, heavy doors, and a long, sometimes painful reach back to the seat belts. It is not hard for passengers to get in or out of the back seats - for a coupe. Interior space is large for the class.

Styling is interesting, with a modern Chrysler/classic English front clip, 300M rear, and Eclipse middle. It works well, though, giving the car a neater appearance than the Eclipse.

With the five speed and V6, the Sebring is a well mannered performer. The Sebring compares favorably with other coupes, given its combination of being easy to drive, fast, nimble, and relatively large inside. Still, for the $25,000 our test car cost, we'd have to take a long look at the Intrepid R/T, Toyota Solara, and - for those who will never have back seat passengers - Volkswagen GTI.

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