A beautiful new mid-size sedan complements Chrysler's new coupe.
by Bob Plunkett
Base Price (MSRP) $17,945
As Tested (MSRP) $24,560
Chrysler has introduced an all-new mid-size sedan for 2001 called the Sebring.
Though it shares its name and styling cues with the sleek Sebring coupe (totally redesigned for 2001), there are key differences: The sedan offers the convenience of four doors to access a spacious cabin and comfortable seats aboard for a family of five. And the Sebring Sedan and Sebring Coupe are built on two different chassis, so they each have their own character in terms of ride quality and handling.
Sebring Sedan drives as sporty as a coupe, thanks to its stiff new structure and exacting handling components. Its pavement manners make it easy to control, matching those good traits of the Japanese mid-size Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Suspension tuning, while precise, favors smooth riding comfort.
Four-door sedans are available in two trim levels with a choice of powertrains. The base LX sedan ($17,945) packs a twin-cam 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 150 horsepower through a four-speed automatic transaxle. Chrysler's 2.7-liter V6, which produces 200 horsepower, may be added to the base Sebring LX for $800. Base Sebring LX trim comes standard with air conditioning and power controls for windows, mirrors and door locks.
The luxurious Sebring LXi ($20,830) comes standard with the V6, leather seat upholstery, eight-way power control of the driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a premium sound system with CD player.
Several safety systems are optional gear for both models, such as ABS ($565) and side-curtain airbags ($350). There's also a premium package available with the AutoStick transmission, electroluminescent instruments and 16-inch chrome alloy wheels ($1,295).
Chrysler Sebring Sedan replaces Chrysler's Cirrus. The Sebring structure began with the Cirrus chassis on a 108-inch wheelbase. But the new body is longer, taller and stiffer. More important, it does a far better job of resisting tendencies to twist and bend when set in motion; this more rigid construction is the key to a smooth, refined ride quality without resorting to mushy shocks. Chrysler's new package also excels in controlling noise and vibration. The result is an uncommonly quiet passenger compartment.
Chrysler's four-door version of the Sebring stretches long and wide over a slinky package that quickly shows a sedan can look crisp and sporty like a coupe. Chrysler has been a leader in design in recent years and the Sebring's exterior styling borrows design cues from the Concorde and LHS. As a result, Sebring's gracefully arched profile features a dramatic rake to the windshield. A broad but stubby nose focuses on Chrysler's signature grille design, which features an exaggerated oval air intake port inset with a shaded egg-crate grille pattern. Headlamps, shielded by polycarbonate lenses, wrap around the front corners, while available round fog lights flank the grille.
Flat side panels flare in rings around wheelwells to draw attention to the large wheels, which flash in bright highlights from optional chrome alloy multi-spoke designs. Above the beltline, blackened center roof pillars diminish definitions for doors and mimic the look of a pillar-less coupe.
Curvy back pillars flow down into rolled rear flanks in a smooth transition from roof to body. The tail incorporates a spoiler lip arched over large corner lamps and the thick mass of a monotone bumper. At the bottom of the bumper, an edgy flat facet interrupts otherwise fluid contours, extending around each corner and along low side rails to the front corners as a subtle linear foundation for the package.
Sebring's airy passenger compartment is a refined environment rigged with form-fitting seats and stylish design elements like chrome highlights or leather and glossy simulated walnut wood. The cab-forward architectural structure carves out generous space for riders by extending the windshield forward to the firewall and increasing the length and width of the cabin while abbreviating space up front for a transversely mounted engine.
Two high-back bucket seats clad in soft leather trim for the deluxe LXi edition flank a center console. The rear bench seats three with 60/40 folding split seatbacks and access into the trunk. LX models come with cloth fabric upholstery on all seats.
A dashboard collection of round analog instruments, tucked beneath an arched cowl and rimmed with chrome bezels, employs bold black-on-white graphics. Although the dashboard is essentially flat and linear, there's a wrap-around feel to the cockpit. Window and lock switches are mounted on the driver's door. The center console houses the transmission shift lever and a padded armrest. Above the console, a central stack of audio and climate systems contains large rotary dials in a simplified and easy-to-operate scheme.
With the broad and tall expanses of window glass and relatively narrow windshield pillars, Sebring sets up excellent outward visibility for the driver, which becomes a factor for safety. The glass, thicker than usual, serves a secondary function as an insulating property to dampen external noise. It combines with the structural streamlining and additional layers of insulation added to doors, body cavities and the floor and ceiling to forge the quiet interior environment.
Sebring's safety systems begin with a rigid structure that encases the passenger compartment. Passive measures include three-point seatbelts for all five seat positions and dual-stage frontal airbags. Also, the headliner has been engineered to accommodate optional curtain-style side airbags.
Sebring the sedan surprised us with its competent road manners and the tight and precise way mechanical equipment functioned. We really liked the stiff yet smooth ride characteristics and discovered through experience that Sebring could be downright nimble in navigating a set of curves, or quick to respond when prodded in the passing lane.
Our tests of a Sebring LXi edition across the length and breadth of Seattle included a range of urban and suburban venues, from commuter-clogged freeways like the I-5 to stop-and-go treatment downtown on Fourth Street and residential romps such as Mercer Way that meanders along the shoreline of Lake Washington.
The V6 engine (standard on the LXi, optional on the LX) produces juicy acceleration. It leaps to action from a stoplight start, and at freeway speed still has guts to pop ahead of other cars in a quick lane change. This 2.7-liter V6 uses an aluminum block fitted with dual overhead cams and multi-valve technology. It delivers 200 horsepower but still earns respectable fuel economy figures. As a bonus, the V6 operates on regular-grade gasoline.
The electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission is quiet and efficient. Gear ratios for the transmission have been calibrated to produce fast-clip getaways in stoplight derbies and typical stop-and-go in-town driving situations. Thus, the Sebring feels quick and can transform a freeway entry into an easy maneuver.
For added driving enjoyment, Chrysler offers its optional AutoStick for shift-it-yourself control of a manual stick with the convenience of an automatic. The AutoStick is fun to play with when you're in a sporty mood. For everyday use in urban traffic, sliding it in the standard automatic mode works just fine.
Sebring LX, when equipped with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, feels energetic through all gears. This engine was carried forward from the predecessor Chrysler sedan, the Cirrus. If the bottom line is a primary concern, this is the engine to pick. The main cost difference is that initial $800, however. EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers differ by only a single point per gallon between the two engines. Order the LX with a V6, and you get a stylish mid-size sedan with V6 power for less than $20,000. That makes the V6 option hard to resist.
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 a short- and long-arm arrangement up front and a multi-link rear arrangement with stabilizer bar attached fore and aft, fashions smooth ride sensations. The Sebring remains composed even when dropping the right wheels off the pavement to feel an irregular shoulder. Trim choices of LX and LXi employ the same suspension components, but wheel sizes and tires differ: LX has 15-inch wheels, but LXi bumps up an inch larger and rolls on more aggressive Michelin all-season tires.
Anti-lock brakes are an option. The Sebring's anti-lock brakes, called ABS Plus, include a software extension that senses when you're braking and turning at the same time, a tricky situation from a car control standpoint. Chrysler's system aids the driver in this situation by controlling the vehicle's yaw for improved stability. This is particularly useful on varying road surfaces, when the right side of the car is on a different type of surface than the left side. Other brake improvements include electronic brake distribution, which balances the brakes front to rear for improved stability and shorter stopping distances. Larger brake rotors and thicker linings are designed to increase durability. Brighter headlamps with an improved light pattern help visibility on stormy nights.
Chrysler Sebring Sedan's sleek skin hints at the sporty lines of a coupe, but inside is a spacious and comfortable passenger compartment. With V6 power and precise road manners, it compares in behavior to mid-size imports yet beats them considerably in pricing. The top edition, Sebring LXi, loads luxury gear aboard but still holds the bottom line to a reasonable number.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.