by Kevin Ransom
Comfort with sports appeal.
Base Price $17,660
As Tested $23,325
If you're in the market for a mid-sized sporty coupe, there's a good chance that you're open to compromise. Sure, you want a car that will hustle in a pinch, give you a little rush when you're out on the twisties and make your heart go tweet-tweet when it's just lounging around in the driveway.
But you're not willing to accept a buckboard ride or skimp on backseat-legroom for your kin. So you're willing to give up a little in the road-burning department in return for comfort. And while you're not on a budget in the strict sense, you'd still like to get out the door for under $25,000.
That's where the Chrysler Sebring Coupe comes in. The Sebring coupe achieves a pleasing middle ground between the hot, cramped Mitsubishi Eclipse and the roomier, less nimble Chevy Monte Carlo.
The Sebring Coupe and its cousin, the Dodge Avenger, provide a smooth, quiet ride, ample legroom in front, a back seat that's big enough to keep folks from getting cranky on long hauls, and a suspension stiff enough to keep the tires planted in corners.
Chrysler introduced the Sebring as a 1995 model. For 1999, the company has added next-generation dual air bags, body-color mirrors and wheels for the LXi model, and two new colors, plum and shark blue.
The Sebring Coupe comes in two trim levels: $17,660 LX and $21,760 LXi.
Our Sebring Coupe LXi came standard with air conditioning, power everything, a CD player and aluminum wheels. Options included leather trim and six-way adjustable driver's seat ($630); anti-lock brakes ($600); power sunroof and multi-function rearview mirror ($640); and upgraded stereo ($325). Subtracting a $630 discount brought the total to $23,325.
By comparison, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo Z34 lists for $21,095, while a Toyota Solara ranges from $19,058 to more than $26,800.
The Sebring LX comes standard with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine and 5-speed manual transmission. Four-speed automatic transmissions are optional. A 2.5-liter, six-cylinder, 24-valve engine is optional on the LX and standard on the LXi. Five-speed manuals are not available on the LXi.
Our LXi sported an elegant "cafe latte" clear coat. Elegant is actually a good word to describe the Sebring coupe's all-around appeal. Its contoured and windswept lines, predatory-looking air dam, and compact grille convey a sense of motion and style.
The Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger share basic platforms with the Mitsubishi Galant and are built at the same Normal, Illinois, plant that assembles the Galant and Eclipse. The Chrysler Sebring Coupe should not be confused with the Chrysler Sebring Convertible. Though they share styling cues, they are built on entirely different platforms and have little in common other than their names.
The Inside Story
The Sebring's cabin is smartly laid out, with dials that are instantly readable and switchgear that is easily reachable.
When the driver's seat is pushed all the way back, it delivers enough headroom and legroom for a six-foot driver. Its 43.3 inches of front legroom is the same as the Camry Solara SE's, and surprisingly more plentiful than the Monte Carlo Z34. (At 190.9 inches bumper-to-bumper, the Sebring coupe is one inch longer than the Solara and 10 inches shorter than the Monte Carlo.) We wish the manually adjusted driver's seatback offered more precise adjustments.
Some two-doors are better than others when it comes to climbing into the back seat and the Sebring is among the better ones. An adult can easily pass through the driver's side opening -- as long as the driver's seat is slid all the way forward. That's accomplished easily, unless the driver is occupying the seat. The back seat offers sufficient legroom for two normal-sized adults -- 35 inches, compared to 34.9 inches in the Monte Carlo Z34 and 35.2 in the Camry Solara SE.
Nice features include the digital compass readout that appears in the upper right corner of the rear-view mirror; all cars should have compasses, but many don't. And instead of having to reach over and behind your head to locate a dome light switch, the Sebring provides good map lights accessed by three small, easy-to-locate buttons that run along the bottom of the rearview mirror. Recessed cupholders in the Sebring are far superior to those unsteady slide-out trays popular in other cars.
Ride & Drive
Earlier, we speculated that sporty-coupe buyers might be the compromising sort. But with the Sebring coupe, you won't have to compromise when it comes to ride quietness. Whether darting in and out of main-drag traffic or barreling along at 80 miles an hour on the E-way, the Sebring offers a quietude that rivals Chrysler's more up-market entries like the Concorde and Dodge Intrepid. It kept noise at bay even when flanked by 18-wheelers on a downtown-Detroit freeway.
On a winding, weaving Michigan road, full of hills and dips, the Sebring's speed-sensitive steering and independent suspension made it a pleasure to drive. The Sebring Coupe offers a comfortable ride quality that added to this pleasure on Michigan's rough roads.
A stable platform allows the Sebring to soar through sweeping corners with ease. Sharper curves induce some body roll, one of the compromises of the coupe's nice, quiet ride. So, while the Sebring can outmaneuver a larger, heavier sport coupe like the Monte Carlo, it's not as sporty as a smaller coupe, like the Honda Prelude.
The Sebring's 2.5-liter V6 deploys its 163 horses with little effort and minimal engine noise. It offers excellent performance for passing maneuvers, healthy low-end torque for driving around town and plenty of horsepower for high-speed cruising.
While we prefer the V6, the 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine costs less and offers better fuel economy. This engine is best paired with the standard five-speed transmission as the Sebring is no lightweight.
In the braking department, the Sebring's combination of discs in the front and drums in the rear bring the vehicle to an admirably quick stop, with no grabbing and minimal fade.
Sebring Coupe is in a category by itself. It's roomier and more comfortable than coupes like the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Honda Prelude, but smaller and more maneuverable than the Monte Carlo Z34. The Honda Prelude and Ford Mustang are faster and hug the road harder, but have niggling back seats.
The Sebring Coupe is proof that compromise can be a very good thing, indeed.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.