PALM SPRINGS, California - While Chrysler in modern times has been known for moderate-luxury automobiles, the midsize Sebring has attracted a diverse crowd of customers. Essentially a family four-door sedan with a touch of class, the Sebring has shared its basic structure with the Dodge Stratus.
Now that Chrysler has substantially redesigned the Sebring sedan as a 2007 model, its Dodge counterpart has disappeared. Under the Chrysler badge, though, the Sebring comes with a variety of powertrains in a trio of trim levels.
At a glance, the 2007 Sebring looks a bit bigger than before, despite the stubby deck at the rear. Increased height and width doubtless contribute to the perception of growth.
While the recently-introduced 300 "heralded the return of the great American sedan," according to senior brand manager Scott Slagle, Sebring designers chose to follow a different path. At first, they did try to adapt the basic 300 design to a midsize sedan. The result was "nice," said senior design manager Mark Hall, but not good enough.
As an alternative, designers turned in a direction inspired by Chrysler's Airflite concept car, which displayed an "international flavor." Up front, Chrysler's winged badge sits above an eggcrate grille and ahead of the straked hood. Large flowing headlamps, in a "keyslot" theme, serve as a distinct design element.
Hall considers the three-quarter rear view to be "very dramatic," adding that overall "the car looks a little sneakier." There's also a hint of an "interlocking frame" on the side, as seen previously on the Crossfire sport coupe. A subtly integrated spoiler sits at the trailing edge of the trunk lid.
Developers must differentiate between "what's expected" and "what's wanted," Slagle said. They expect reliability, durability, safety, and efficient powertrains. That's the "price of admission" in this league. But they also want style, craftsmanship, performance, and up-to-date technology.
Interior designer Bill Zheng points to three "C" points for the 2007 Sebring:
1. Chrysler inspiration: Zheng believes it's necessary to "harmonize the interior and exterior design, so there's a connection between the two."
2. Color and contrast: "One important design practice is repetition," Zheng noted, including such elements as seat details.
3. Craftsmanship, in terms of fit/finish and body gap tolerances.
Three powertrains are available for the 2007 Sebring:
+ 2.4-liter four-cylinder "world engine," developing 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque, driving a four-speed automatic transmission (offered on all three trim levels).
+ 2.7-liter V-6, yielding 189 horsepower and 191 pound-feet, capable of operating on a blend of ethanol and gasoline (E85); also four-speed automatic (optional on Touring model).
+ 3.5-liter V-6, rated at 232 horsepower and 235 pound-feet, mated to a new six-speed automatic (optional only on Limited).
EPA gas mileage estimates range from 24 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway for the four-cylinder engine, to 22/30 mpg for the 2.7-liter V-6 and 19/28 mpg for the 3.5-liter engine.
Safety equipment includes standard seat-mounted airbags and curtain airbags, as well as antilock braking (with rear drums on the base model) and a tire-pressure monitor. An Electronic Stability Program is available. Underneath the Sebring, increased suspension travel aims to improve the sedan's ride/handling balance.
Dave Lauzun, senior manager of vehicle development, points out the "purposeful technology" that enhances the driver experience in a Sebring. "Yes Essentials" seat upholstery, for instance, promises easy-clean usage. "You cannot stain these seats," Lauzun said.
MyGig, one of the available accessories, provides a slew of entertainment options for technologically aware drivers. When stopped, it's even possible to view a DVD movie on the front screen, if the MyGig system is installed.
Rear seats are split 40/60 and fold flat. A fold-flat front passenger seat is optional, while the center console moves fore and aft by 3 inches. Remote Start and windows-down operation can be controlled from the key fob.
Base-priced at $18,995 (including destination charge) for the entry-level model, this Sebring is said to be $1,700 lower than its predecessor. The Touring sedan stickers for $20,195, while the top-of-the-line Limited commands $23,995.
Even in its most basic form, with a four-cylinder engine, 16-inch wheels and no options whatsoever, the Sebring delivers plenty of car for budget-minded motorists who need midsize space. As expected from the horsepower/torque figures, performance isn't a strong point. In mountain driving, even on moderate upgrades, the four-speed automatic "hunts" and shifts gears often.
Nevertheless, the base-model Sebring keeps on rolling with reasonable dispatch, though a considerable number of downshifts may be needed to maintain any pace. That's true even when the incline isn't all that steep. Automatic-transmission shifts are crisp, but clearly noticeable.
"What's missing from Sebring is noise," said brand manager Slagle. True enough while cruising, but both the four-cylinder and 2.7-liter V-6 engines emit significant sounds while accelerating, especially on upgrades.
Even the 2.7-liter V-6 sounds almost like it's struggling a bit, and the transmission keeps downshifting rather often. Noise is a subjective occurrence, of course, but the blare from the smaller V-6 can be even more annoying than that of the four-cylinder.
Handling with surprising ease and grace, the Touring model with 18-inch tires also delivers rather elegant ride quality - a definite cut above the midsize norm. Steering isn't overly assisted, and roadholding exceeds expectations.
In a Sebring Limited, the 3.5-liter V-6 is definitely smoother. Quieter overall, it doesn't struggle, and the six-speed automatic transmission does not need to hunt through gears. Even so, acceleration with the top engine is less stirring than might be expected.
Deep-set gauges are reasonably easy to read, and the driver manipulates a gated gearshift lever. Despite gray plastic interior components, the instrument panel looks rather stylish.
Seat bottoms are good in a generally roomy interior, though the front-passenger seatback in one Sebring felt somewhat hard. With a sunroof installed, front headroom lacks much surplus, but it's easily adequate. Front leg space is ample, and elbow room bountiful.
Interior details really are well thought out, though grab handles are installed only in the rear compartment. Rear headroom is greater than in the front seat, and leg space is pretty fair, but the Sebring's headliner looks a little on the cheap side. The base-model interior looks just about as attractive as the Touring's, with the same stay-clean "Yes Essentials" upholstery fabric.
Sebring rivals include the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Lincoln Zephyr (now called MKZ). "The market leaders sell about 80 percent of their vehicles with the four-cylinder engine," Slagle said. So, most Sebrings to reach customers are likely to be four-cylinder models.