Dramatic drop-top styling and a spacious cockpit too
by Bob Plunkett
Base Price (MSRP) $24,370
As Tested (MSRP) $27,395
For 2001, Chrysler rolls out a fresh design for the sleek Sebring Convertible. The new Sebring Convertible brings increased horsepower, while expanding the best attributes of the previous edition. For the past five years, the Sebring has scored as America's best-selling convertible, lauded for its sleek design, roomy back seat and attractive pricing.
This new Sebring Convertible was designed to maintain that leadership position, with generous room for backseat riders and best-in-class interior space. Its water-tight drop-top disappears behind the rear seat with the touch of a button.
Handsome new exterior styling looks dramatic with smooth lines similar to the new Sebring coupe and sedan. (Chrysler's Sebring Convertible, Sedan and Coupe have all been completely redesigned this year; they share the same sporty body style, but differ in engineering details.) Behind the slick shell is a stiff new structure, new suspension components that produce sporty ride traits, and a new engine charged to 200 horsepower.
Best of all, this new Sebring, like its popular predecessor, carries an attractive price, starting at just $24,370.
The new Chrysler Sebring Convertible is available in three trim levels: LX, LXi and Limited. All come with the same double overhead-cam 2.7-liter V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission.
Sebring Convertible LX ($24,370) comes with a high level of standard equipment, including a vinyl convertible top, premium cloth-covered seats, a floor console with cupholders and armrest, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and 15-inch steel wheels.
To that, the Sebring LXi ($26,830) adds a cloth-coated top, leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a CD player with six Infinity speakers, plus 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels.
Sebring Limited ($28,915) increases the luxury gear with premium leather on the seats, instruments with bright white faces and electroluminescent lighting, an in-dash CD changer for four discs, and a driver-interactive AutoStick shifter for the four-speed automatic transaxle.
Active safety equipment includes bigger four-wheel disc brakes. Optional is a sophisticated anti-lock braking system Chrysler calls ABS Plus ($565) designed to better balance braking forces at each wheel; this helps improve stability when braking and turning at the same time by counteracting yawing or swerving. ABS Plus comes with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), which distributes braking forces front to rear for better stopping performance.
Sebring Convertible shares its name and styling with a new two-door Sebring Coupe and four-door Sebring Sedan. Sedan and Convertible use similar chassis and suspension elements, and share the same V6 engine and automatic transmissions. Convertible and Sedan roll out of the same Chrysler assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
The Sebring Convertible is not simply a Sebring Sedan with the roof chopped and a soft-top added. Instead, it was designed from the outset to function as a two-door convertible. As a result, its reinforced structure is so strong that the topless Sebring feels as stiff as a hardtop car and behaves with sporty characteristics.
It's also drop-dead gorgeous.
Smooth sheet metal stretches long and broad over a taut form with fluid lines patterned after the slick coupe. The overall shape is dominated by a prominent hood and cantilevered windshield that rakes rearward at an extreme angle.
A broad nose focuses on the Chrysler signature of an exaggerated oval air intake port inset with a dark egg-crate grille ringed in chrome. Narrow headlamps wrap around front corners above round fog lights flanking the grille.
Side panels with rolled shoulders flare in rings around wheelwells to draw attention to large wheels that include multi-spoke designs in cast aluminum for the LXi, and chrome alloy for the Limited. At the rear a spoiler lip arches over large corner lamps and the thick mass of a monotone bumper.
Sebring's passenger compartment is an expansive space filled with form-fitting seats and stylish design elements like chrome highlights or leather and glossy simulated walnut wood.
Generous room for riders stems from architecture that extends the windshield forward, abbreviates space for the engine, and increases the length and width of the cabin. High-back bucket seats are standard in cloth fabric for Sebring LX; the LXi gets leather trim, while the Limited comes with softer premium leather trim. Seats feel firm and comfortable; the driver's seat has six-way power adjustments.
A dashboard collection of round analog instruments, tucked beneath an arched cowl and ringed with chrome bezels, employs easy-to-read white-on-black graphics for LX and LXi; bold black-on-white graphics and electroluminescent lighting add zest to the instruments in the Limited.
Although the dashboard is essentially linear, there's a wrap-around feel to the cockpit. From the driver's seat you can easily reach the shift lever and the window and lock switches mounted on the door. A center console houses the transmission shift lever and a padded armrest. Above the console, a central stack of controls for the audio and climate systems shows large rotary dials in a simple scheme.
At the top of the dash, an available display provides compass headings, outside temperature readings, trip mileage, fuel economy and estimated distance to an empty tank -- useful information on trips or when out and about.
Unlike some convertibles, the Sebring provides enough room in the backseat for two adults to sit comfortably; and it's fitted with three-point seatbelts. Twin cupholders extend from the rear of the floor console. Front seatbacks tip and slide forward quickly for easy backseat entry, and the front seatbelts do not impede entry because anchors are integrated in top corners of the seatbacks.
Trunk space is also good for a convertible; the trunk will accommodate two golf bags stacked together.
The convertible top is a snap to operate. Simply unlock two latches located above windshield visors, then touch a single button on the dashboard and the lid folds quickly into a well behind the rear seat. Continue to depress the button and side windows will also drop out of sight. Reverse the process to seal the top shut -- it's quick.
You can hide the collapsed roof by covering it with a smooth boot that locks in place with Velcro taps; when not in use, the boot folds and stows in the trunk.
The streamlined styling of the Sebring positions this new convertible as a prime choice for cruising down the boulevards. Yet behind this slick skin are the ingredients of a sporty car charged with power and rigged with tight and precise mechanical elements that make it fun to drive over a curvy course.
We cruised the broad boulevards of Palm Springs in a Sebring LXi with the top down, basking in the warm California sun as the compact disc player spun a tune. It wasn't until we headed out of town, climbing high into the Santa Rosa Mountains on the switchbacks of snaky route 74, that the Sebring revealed its dual personality as both boulevard cruiser and sporty performer.
Step on the pedal to leap around traffic and it pounces like a cat catching prey. The V6 engine, displacing 2.7 liters out of an aluminum block fitted with dual overhead cams and multi-valve technology, produces 200 horsepower spread over a broad torque band. It can charge off the line at a stoplight, but still have enough guts at speed to surge ahead of other cars in a quick lane change. Despite the muscle, it earns respectable fuel economy and operates on 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline.
The electronically controlled four-speed automatic shifts quietly and efficiently.
To enrich performance, Chrysler adds to Sebring's Limited edition the AutoStick for shift-it-yourself control like a manual stick. Although the AutoStick is fun to play if you're in a sporty mood, for everyday use in urban traffic the standard automatic employed on LX and LXi editions may be more practical.
Sebring's steering mechanism, with power assistance linked to a crisp rack-and-pinion device, reveals a nice neutral feel.
The suspension, fully independent in short- and long-arm arrangement up front and a multi-link rear rig with stabilizer bar fore and aft, fashions smooth ride sensations. It excels in a set of curves by maintaining an impressively flat stance, even when pressed through a hard-cut corner. The super-stiff body, fortified by lateral braces to compensate for the convertible's lack of a unifying roof structure, plays a key role in achieving Sebring's taut ride traits.
All three trim choices use the same suspension components, but wheels and tires differ. The LX has 15-inch wheels, but the wheels for LXi and Limited bump up an inch larger and carry Michelin all-season tires. The larger tires feel more aggressive when turning, and ultimately improve Sebring's agility.
Chrysler's Sebring Convertible dazzles the eye with its sophisticated styling. It also comforts the body with a luxury-lined passenger compartment that carves out best-in-class space for four riders.
The power-operated pop-top drops in seconds with one-button ease to let the sun shine in or closes equally fast to block a sudden shower.
With strong power from the V6 engine and precise road manners derived from a stiff platform and independent suspension elements, Sebring defies the image of a loosy-goosy boulevard convertible and instead acts like a toned hardtop sports coupe.
All three trim choices contain the same essential ingredients including power-operated luxury gear, but prices skew to fit different budgets. Even the top edition, Sebring Limited, draws the bottom line well below $30,000.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.