with the top up
 with the top up
 sleek gray interior
 enough room for another two
 from the side with the top down

DETROIT - During the last decade, Chrysler sold more drop tops than any other manufacturer. So why mess with the Sebring Convertible?

Rather than simply replace it, Chrysler has opted to offer consumers three versions of the drop top. Two are soft tops, vinyl and cloth, while the third is a retractable hard top. Thus, Chrysler will be the only manufacturer that will offer three different convertible tops on the same model.

We were curious as to why Chrysler went through the extra developmental expense of creating three versions of the 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible. The answer was, in a phrase, Chrysler wants to expand the market by enticing people into convertibles who might never have considered purchasing a drop top.

It's all in the pricing. The Chrysler Sebring, equipped with a vinyl top, starts at $26,145. That's not bad for a mid- size convertible. What's more, Chrysler said the Sebring costs $645 less than the model it replaces and it has almost $3,000 more content.

A 2008 Chrysler Sebring Touring Convertible starts at $28,745 while the Limited model starts at $32,345. They are equipped with a 173 horsepower four cylinder engine, a 2.7- liter V6 that makes 189 horsepower and a 3.5- liter V6 with 235 horsepower respectively.

The four- cylinder and the smaller V6 have a four speed transmission and the 3.5- liter V6 is mated to a six speed automatic gearbox with manual shift capability. The retractable hardtop is a $1,995 option.

The vinyl- topped entry level Sebring convertible is meant to make open air driving accessible to more people. And the retractable hard top option does the same thing. It takes away security concerns as well as the inclement weather impediment that prevents some consumers from purchasing a convertible for year- round driving.

With its pricing lined up, Chrysler has a surprising target buyer. It's been a while since we've not heard the word young or the phrase active lifestyle when an automaker is describing its target buyer. But neither was at the cutting edge of Chrysler description of who it is targeting with 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible. Try Baby Boomers.

That's right, Chrysler is targeting buyers 40 to 60- years- old and a 50- 50 female male split. Sixty percent have college educations and they have a household income of $90,000. That's middleclass not affluent. What's more, that's an awful lot of potential buyers.

What these folks are going to find is a capable convertible for the bucks. We drove a Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible from here to an estate in Simi Valley. We found that the 235 horsepower V6 had enough oomph to get up and over the hills here. Acceleration was good and the car was pretty comfortable.

In hilly terrain, we recommend the 3.5 liter V6 because we found the 2.7 liter V6 somewhat lacking in terms of power to climb the hills here without working hard. This engine along with the four- cylinder would be fine in the flatlands of the Midwest and Southeast. The other thing we think Chrysler should do is tighten the Sebring's steering. It could have responded better to driver input.

Still, the Sebring was very capable. The suspension provided a smooth ride, cornering was crisp and interior materials were petty nice.

Our test vehicle was chock full of goodies. It had Chrysler's 20 gigabyte hard drive which meant you could load CDs as well as DVDs directly onto the drive. There was satellite radio, Bluetooth that turns compatible cell phones into hands free car phones and of course there was navigation system.

We were also surprised to see on the equipment list that our test vehicle was equipped with an engine block heater.

One of the things that we liked the most about the old Chrysler Sebring Convertible was that it really could hold four adults comfortably. However, we didn't get a chance to check out the back seat of the new model.

Nor, did we get the chance to test the four cylinder engine. But we've got time this summer. Hopefully we can get the Sebring in our world for a week- long test. The Sebring goes on sale this spring and it promises to keep Chrysler ahead of the bunch when it comes to drop tops.

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