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Click here for our main Chrysler Sebring information page.
by David Zatz
The overall look and feel of the Chrysler Sebring is consistent: it has an elegant big-car look, with elements from both the 300M and the Crossfire, taking the old LH styling still loved by many owners and mixing it up with the modern ribbed-hood, cloven-headlight styling common across all of the non-300 Chryslers. Inside, the styling is generally elegant, matching the exterior; and the ride is quiet and comfortable. (We should note that the styling has been rather controversial on the allpar forums!)
The driver faces the now-familiar three large pods, each containing a dark area underneath the sweep of the gauges – PRNDL and odometer on the right, trip computer/EVIC on the left – with the speedometer in center, a full-sized tachometer on the right, and the gas and temp gauges on the left. As befits of Chrysler, the typeface is elegant, with thin pointers and fine gradiations. Backlighting is the electroluminescient green from the 300M at night, and a grayish-silver during the day (which begs for the lights to be turned on at dusk). Other backlights are also green, including the center-mounted clock, power locks and windows, and heated seats.
As a Limited, our steering wheel was made of a natural-looking translucent brown tortoise-shell plastic; it matched insets on the doors and dashboard. Our gray (or silver, depending on whether you work in marketing) interior featured shiny chrome highlights on the gearshift, around the gearshift bezel, around the climate control knobs, and in other strategic locations; dull silver was used for other trim parts and the center stack bezel. The overall result is nicely upscale, an impression reinforced by the two-toned seats. Unfortunately, the seats looked better than they felt; they don't provide that nice sink-in feel.
Controls generally looked and felt good; the cruise control is on a Toyota-style stalk, and headlight controls are on the left-hand stalk. You can choose between automatic headlights or manual, but you can't shut off the daytime running lights, which are frankly obnoxious in their design – they run the bright lights at what seems to be nearly full strength. GM just moved away from that design, and it's a shame Chrysler picked it up. (What we find obnoxious is not the concept of daytime running lights, since we've gotten one or two letters misunderstanding our comment. We find the use of the vehicle's brights at nearly full strength obnoxious. The government research that prompted the installation of DRL in the first place said that 30% was the appropriate level, not 80%. More is not better because once the high beams are on, glare becomes a problem and then people start getting hit because oncoming traffic is blinded.)
Climate controls not only felt good, they were very easily to learn and very functional. The temperature dial works like a standard thermostat, instead of putting you through digital perambulations; and dial doubled as a pushbutton for a different function, apparently randomly assigned. A row of buttons above the dials controlled the heated seats, ESP, and trip computer. Overall, everything looked fairly well planned out. Our only gripe in this area was the fan setting, which didn't seem to have a “barely operating” setting, but always wanted to be moving lots of air around. The fan is generally quiet except on the highest setting; it also had an automatic level function.
Our Sebring Limited had the rare optional 3.5 liter V6, which has been the object of much interest among the remaining Chrysler loyalists. This engine, producing up to 255 horsepower in the past and 232 horsepower in this case, moved the five-meter-long 300M from zero to sixty in 7.5 seconds, despite the handicap of an inefficient four-speed automatic. In the Sebring – a considerably smaller car – the same engine, hooked up to a more efficient six-speed automatic, cuts about half a second off that time.
The 300M managed to get an EPA estimate of 18 city, 27 highway, which makes us wonder why the considerably smaller Sebring, with the benefit of a new six-speed automatic, could only reach 19 city, 28 highway. We found mileage to be considerably lower, though that may have been due to the engine not being fully broken in; and we were driving (along with most reviewers) a pre-production prototype.
The Sebring is tuned for greater comfort through gentler shifting, so shifts take longer and presumably have some torque management built in. For some reason, our test car - again, a prototype - insisted on going to each individual gear when shifting up or down, increasing the length of time it takes to suddenly zoom forward. That said, on the highway, the Sebring easily shot forward on demand, dropping one or two gears to get the 3.5 liter engine into its sweet spot on the right-hand side of the tachometer. Though it's no slouch in the lower revs, the 3.5 screams at the high end, and the result can be exciting.
Acceleration was quick from any speed, but not harsh; the engine seemed to have been tuned for a luxury feel more than pure performance. This type of tuning makes the car feel more refined and upmarket, but tends to disappoint the enthusiast (not unlike the Lexus GS, where very rapid acceleration is barely felt, leaving a vehicle less fun than a stick-shift 1995 Neon.) In short, the 3.5 Sebring is quick indeed, but not by any stretch of the imagination is it a sports car.
That's especially true given the slippage of the front tires when taking off suddenly; perhaps better tires would solve much of the problem, but with the stock radials, the Sebring was good for an instant squeal when taking off with any sort of enthusiasm; torque steer was evident as well. Turns, also, were a disappointment, with the Sebring squealing in protest around hard corners. The car handles perfectly well under normal conditions, but there's no real attraction for the performance enthusiast, who would be better off with an Impala or a used 300M. What's a bit scary for us is the knowledge that the 3.5 liter comes with a beefed up, firmer suspension. Though that means the standard Sebring must be able to pass for a Lexus to blindfolded passengers, it also means the standard Sebring probably is even more squeal-prone.
The 3.5 liter engine seemed quiet most of the time; the exhaust wasn't tuned for a performance sound, so the deep vroom of most new cars with top-end engines was absent. The transmission generally shifted smoothly, with some flare-up and other issues which we would attribute to the car's prototype status as well as its presumably hard test-fleet life. When decelerating, it stayed in each gear for a second or two, an odd thing to hear and feel. This may not be normal; the Pacifica had no such quirks, with the same automatic, and the Pacifica's automatic felt perfectly smooth at all times.
When all is said and done, acceleration with the 3.5 liter engine is similar to that of the V6 Accord, V6 Ford Fusion, and Malibu SS. However, given the general nature and feel of the Sebring, acceleration is not the whole story, and most buyers will probably we willing to give up a couple of 0-60 seconds in favor of greater comfort and refinement than the Accord or Fusion can offer - indeed, more than the Camry offers.
The ride and quietness are simply far better than most cars in this class, with road feel passed through, but all bumps and imperfections nicely damped down. The addition of greater suspension travel means that the Sebring can take potholes in stride, and it was quite nice to drive along nasty roads without undue jiggling and commotion. At high speeds, the Sebring remained surprisingly quiet and felt perfectly stable. The 3.5 was especially welcome on the highway, but with its increased torque, the 2.7 probably feels good as well.
Though many journalists will no doubt play this angle down - what, an American car feeling more refined than Japanese competitors? - the Sebring really does feel tighter and quieter than the Camry and certainly the Accord. The Accord does have an edge in curve performance and the Camry in straight-line performance, but there's a lot of comfort to give up in both cases, not to mention the satisfaction of buying a car that was not only built in America, but engineered here as well.
As with most Chrysler vehicles, the Sebring lets you get any stored fault codes from the computer; just turn the ignition switch to RUN, and then, not too quickly and not too slowly, go to Accessory and back to Run three times. The codes (or a set of hyphens) will appear in the odometer space, followed by the word “done.” Code lists are available in all sorts of places, including allpar.com – the codes are standardized across makers now.
Visibility is good, with just the one usual blind spot in the rear quarter; the mirrors are nicely sized and the headlights brighter than in past models. Sun visors slide along their supports for greater coverage and flexibility. The only real issue with visibility is the usual auto-dimming rear-view mirror; these things never really do an adequate job, compared with a manual day/night mirror.
Both front windows have auto power up and down – in other words, a single press of the switch sends them all the way in either direction, a nice time saver for tollbooths and the like. The sunroof has the same feature, saving the driver from distraction as the glass slides open (or closed).
The trip computer takes some getting used to, but provides average gas mileage, distance to empty, and a timer; allows the driver to easily change various locking, lighting, and other settings; shows the tire pressure in each individual tire; and provides the compass, temperature, and radio station in the window with a press of a button. Putting the controls underneath the radio was a nice usability feature, as was putting the ignition switch on the dashboard. Speaking of usability, the AutoStick automatic gearshift is gated well; you can slide down to Drive with nary a care, but are prevented from going that extra step into AutoStick, a setting rarely used except to sell cars.
The stereo is the new corporate unit, with built in Uconnect buttons (apparently, whether your car came with Uconnect or not). If you get the rear seat video, you can control it with some practice from the front stereo, by pressing Setup and then using the right-hand knob (turn and press) to start and stop the rear video and such. An auto-start feature is built in. You can put the rear video over all speakers, or use the two sets of supplied wireless headphones; rear seaters also get their own remote. Sirius satellite radio, with over a hundred largely commercial-free stations, is also available, and well integrated into the stereo. There is now an auxiliary jack on the face for iPods and other such devices. If you get the navigation system as well, there's now an automatic traffic rerouting system.
Stereo quality in our optional unit was less than ideal, with a great thudding sub-woofer and less than perfect articulation. The subwoofer muddied the sound and detracted from the overall balance; we'd strongly recommend against it unless you're one of those people who wants their beat heard for blocks around, in which case you may well want to buy it. Put some money aside for hearing aids later.
In terms of gadgetry, the Sebring goes beyond the UConnect cell phone system and the well-implemented trip computer, adding an integrated key / fob (lock, unlock, and remote start buttons are integrated into the key). The remote start system is easier than General Motors' implementation; just press the remote start button on the key twice, wait a few moments, and the engine will start right up (press again and it'll shut off). There is also a heated/cooled cupholder - just one out of the two cupholders is so endowed, using a sensible switch. Press hot and it heats up; press hot again, or press cold, and it stops heating. Then there's the rear-seat video system, folding out from the center console; it has a big screen and accepts external video input. The DVD itself, intelligently enough, goes into the stereo head unit up front, saving the fragile discs from young hands.
Interior space is slightly better than in the previous edition, and remains similar to the Camry, with adequate space for all. People taller than six feet might run out of head room in the back, but legroom and shoulder room are both good. The trunk is smaller than the prior generation but still generous for the class.
Storage compartments include map pockets on all four doors, a slight amount of space inside the glove compartment, a small center-console cubby (that is probably much larger if you don't get the rear video), and a bit of space next to the cigarette lighter (the latter is unlit). With the rear video, it's a bit hard to get into the center console.
At night, one of the “oo” features is clearly visible: the use of LEDs instead of traditional bulbs for interior lighting. With practically no heat waste, these bulbs provide bright light with little power; Chrysler has them on swivels, with push-switches so you just have to find the light and push on it to turn it on and off (our preferred way of doing it). There is a map light for each passenger, as well as a bright dome light style set of lights. The result is a brilliantly illuminated cabin with that distinctive pure-white cast.
The Sebring comes in the usual base, Touring, and Limited models. Even the inexpensive base model is well loaded, complete with antilock brakes, front side airbags, curtain airbags for both rows, air conditioning, CD player with input jack, cruise control, tire pressure monitor, and sixteen inch wheels. The Touring level gets an interior trim upgrade and a longer options list; the Limited brings automatic climate control, leather, a speaker upgrade, and the tortoise-shell accents to bring a higher sense of luxury.
The most incredible thing about these cars in many ways is their price. Our Limited model, the top of the range, started at $24,180. That includes a four-cylinder engine with a four-speed automatic, but it also includes the aforementioned airbags, ABS, etc.; alarm; power locks, windows, and mirrors; SentryKey theft deterrent; universal garage door opener; rear defroster; eight-way power driver's seat; auto temperature control; Boston Acoustics speakers; trip computer; tilt-telescope steering column; fog lights; and power heated mirrors. Our test car ran all the way to $28,605, with the major options being the rear seat video system ($1,200) and luxury group, with heated front seats, 18" chrome clad wheels, and air filtering ($1,000). These features seem rather unnecessary to us; the air filter can probably easily be added by owners after buying the car, and the wheels, well, are wheels. We also had some very minor options, the smoker's group ($30) and daytime running lights ($40 and please don't buy them.) In between were the electronic stability control with traction control, a good deal at $425; the six-speed automatic at $200; the 3.5 liter engine at an amazingly inexpensive $305; the power sunroof at $775; and a rather odd combination, the navigation system radio with satellite radio and UConnect ($1,900) with the navigation system delete credit (-$1,700) for a total of $200 to get satellite radio and UConnect.
Overall, it's going to be a tough fight for Chrysler to get people into these cars, and to get people to trust them; but the Sebring seems like a very solid car and a very good buy for those who want a little comfort, elegance, and refinement in their lives.
Click here for our main Chrysler Sebring information page, with more photos, specs, and information.
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