2002 Chrysler Sebring
MSRP
$18,005 - $29,300

Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

Alfresco motoring that's practical and affordable.Stylish, fun to drive, and affordable.Lithe styling, athletic performance, roomy accommodations.

Introduction

Chrysler's Sebring convertible combines a roomy interior, attractive pricing with a sleek design and top-down motoring. Maybe that's why it's America's best-selling convertible. 

Who says practicality has to be boring? Boring goes out the window with the touch of a button, as the Sebring's top drops behind the rear seat. This car looks good even with the top up. Completely redesigned a year ago, Chrysler's convertible sports smooth lines similar to the Sebring coupe and sedan. Beneath its sleek interior is a stiff structure with a suspension designed to provide sporty handling and a smooth ride. Quick acceleration is on tap from the available 200-horsepower V6 engine. 

For 2002, the availability of a four-cylinder engine has reduced the price of entry into Sebring's alfresco experience. This year, the LX model starts at just $23,075 and comes equipped with a 2.4-liter twin-cam engine rated at 150 horsepower. 

Midyear in 2002, Chrysler is introducing a GTC model that comes with the V6, a sports suspension, and a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Chrysler's Sebring coupe combines style, practicality, and sporty driving dynamics at an affordable price. 

The Sebring is a stylish sports coupe, yet there's enough genuine legroom in the back seats for two adults. This is a lot of sports coupe for $20,000, and a V6 engine is available for increased acceleration performance. Chrysler has been on the leading edge of design among American manufacturers in recent years and its Sebring shows that. The Sebring was introduced last year with all-new styling inside and out, a stiff new structure, a redesigned suspension, and the availability of a new V6 engine for the LXi model. In addition to the sedan reviewed here, there are coupe and convertible versions available (see nctd.com reviews). 

An optional sports suspension is now available for Sebring sedan LXi models. 

Lineup

Sebring convertible is available in three trim levels: LX, LXi and Limited. 

Sebring Convertible LX ($23,075) comes equipped with Chrysler's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a high level of standard equipment that includes 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. 

Sebring LXi ($26,160) comes standard with the 2.7-liter V6, a cloth-coated top, leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a CD player with six Infinity speakers, and 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels. 

Sebring Limited ($28,795) adds premium leather to the seats, instruments with bright white faces and electroluminescent lighting, an in-dash CD changer for four discs, a driver-interactive AutoStick shifter for the four-speed automatic transaxle, and ABS Plus. 

The new GTC model comes with the V6, a specially tuned Euro-sport suspension, P205/60TR16 tires on 16-inch painted aluminum wheels, a trunk lid spoiler, body color bodyside moldings, two-tone Ultrahide seat trim, a sport instrument cluster, and a premium sound system. 

Four-wheel disc brakes come standard on all Sebrings. Optional is a sophisticated anti-lock brake 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 coupe is available as two models: LX and LXi. 

Sebring LX ($20,020) is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. This single overhead-cam engine is rated at 142 horsepower. LX comes standard with air conditioning and power windows, mirrors and door locks. 

Sebring LXi ($21,710) comes with a 3.0-liter V6 rated at 200 horsepower. The V6 mates either to the standard five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic ($825) with or without Chrysler's AutoStick ($165). LXi comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes (replacing the LX model's rear drum brakes) and 17-inch aluminum wheels (instead of the LX's 16-inch steel wheels). LXi also gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a premium sound system with cassette deck and CD player, and a compass and outside temperature display. 

Optional safety equipment includes ABS ($565) for Sebring LX, and ABS with Traction Control ($740) for Sebring LXi automatics. 

An option for the LXi is the Leather Interior Group ($1045), which includes leather seats, a six-way power driver's seat, and a universal garage door opener. Chrysler Sebring sedan is available in two trim levels. There's a choice between a four-cylinder engine and the newly introduced V6. All models come standard with a four-speed automatic transmission. 

LX ($17,705) comes with a twin-cam 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower. Chrysler's 2.7-liter V6, which produces 200 horsepower, is available as an option for the LX ($1085). Base Sebring LX trim comes standard with air conditioning and power controls for windows, mirrors and door locks. Steel wheels with 15-inch tires are standard. 

The luxurious Sebring LXi ($20,280) comes standard with the V6, 16-inch tires on aluminum alloy wheels, a sportier touring suspension, eight-way power control of the driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a premium sound system with CD player, a trip computer, cruise control, remote illuminated keyless entry, fog lights, bright exhaust tips, along with a higher level of interior convenience features. 

Several safety systems are optional gear for both models, such as anti-lock brakes ($565) and side-curtain airbags ($390). An Enthusiast Group ($400) adds Chrysler's Autostick transmission, a sports suspension, firm-feel power steering, and an electroluminescent instrument cluster. A selection of options allows the buyer to add some of the LXi features to the LX model or further enhance the LXi, including a power sunroof ($695). 

Walkaround

Chrysler has been a leader in American design in recent years and the Sebring convertible is an example of that. Its fluid lines stretch smoothly over a long and broad form. The overall shape is dominated by a prominent hood and cantilevered windshield that rakes rearward at an extreme angle. The design is similar to that of the Sebring sedan and coupe, but there are key differences that go beyond the soft top. 

The front of the convertible is set off with 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. 

The Sebring convertible shares its name and styling with a two-door Sebring coupe and four-door Sebring sedan. The 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. (See separate reviews of the sedan and coupe at NewCarTestDrive.com.). The Sebring coupe is elegant in shape and style. Introduced for 2001, it's a slick design that looks bold and dramatic. 

Fluid lines flow over an oval format featuring a curt prow and exaggerated cabin clustered behind so much glass. The windshield initiates a graceful arching profile that extends over sensuously shaped doors to merge thin rear roof pillars in a swoop to the high deck of a tail. 

Up front, a broad oval grille features an egg-crate pattern and round foglamps. Above the bumper are ovoid multi-lens headlamps flanking a bulging hood. Rolled side panels flare in rings around the wheel wells to draw attention to the large wheels, including optional seven-spoke chrome wheels. Following the arching roofline, shapely back pillars slide down into the coupe's rear flanks to form shoulders of the high tail, which bows over bold corner lamps and the thick mass of a monotone bumper. 

In spite of the shared name, the Sebring coupe does not share its chassis, power trains, and engineering with the Sebring sedan and convertible. Chrysler Sebring coupe shares engines, chassis, and suspension designs with the Dodge Stratus coupe and Mitsubishi Eclipse. The Sebring coupe is built in a joint-venture assembly plant in Illinois that produces the Stratus and Eclipse coupes. The sleek body of Chrysler's Sebring four-door sedan shows a sedan can look crisp and sporty like a coupe. Its 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. The Sebring shares some design cues with the beautiful Chrysler Concorde. 

Flat side panels flare in rings around the wheel wells to draw attention to the wheels, a design best complemented with the available 16-inch alloys. Blackened center roof pillars above the beltline diminish definitions for doors to 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. 

Our only complaint with the exterior is with the door handles: they can be hard to hang onto, particularly when in a hurry. 

Though it shares its name and styling cues with the Sebring coupe, there are key differences: The sedan offers the convenience of four doors to access a spacious cabin and comfortable seats for a family of five. It may come as a surprise that the Sebring sedan and Sebring Coupe are built on two completely different chassis, giving each their own character in terms of ride quality and handling. 

Interior

Sebring's passenger compartment is an expansive space filled with form-fitting seats and stylish design elements. Generous room for riders stems from cab-forward 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. Sebring LXi gets leather trim, while the Limited comes with softer premium leather trim. Seats feel firm and comfortable; the driver's seat gets 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 cup holders 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 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. It's 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. This is a roomy coupe. The design offers generous space for riders by extending the windshield forward to the firewall, increasing the length and width of the cabin, and abbreviating space for the engine. 

Up front is a pair of high-back bucket seats clad in cloth fabric or optional leather. The rear bench seats three, with folding seatbacks split 60/40 for access to the trunk. 

Unlike some sport coupes, the Sebring has a chassis long enough to leave room in the backseat for adult riders. We crawled into the rear seat and found that long legs fit neatly -- even comfortably -- behind the driver's seat. Further, we could extract ourselves easily from that space because the front seat slides forward sufficiently to permit a quick exit. 

The look and tone of appointments in the Sebring coupe is more sporty than it is luxurious. A dashboard collection of instruments, tucked beneath a bowed cowl, contains round analog gauges including a tachometer. Sculptured pods on either side of the central console define notched cockpit spaces for the driver and front passenger. From the driver's seat you can easily access window and lock switches mounted on the door. 

Audio and climate systems contains large rotary dials in a simple scheme that are easy to operate. 

Excellent outward visibility for the driver is afforded through broad, tall expanses of glass bordered by relatively narrow windshield A-pillars. 

Safety features begin with the rigid structure that wraps around the passenger compartment. Anti-lock brakes are optional; ABS allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in an emergency stopping maneuver. Passive measures include three-point seatbelts for all five seat positions and dual-stage frontal airbags. Sebring's airy passenger compartment is a refined environment. 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 with a transversely mounted engine. 

Bucket seats flank a center console. LX models come with cloth fabric upholstery on all seats. LXi comes standard with similar upholstery, but with vinyl bolsters, woodgrain trim and other trim details. LXi comes with eight-way power-adjustable seats, replacing the manually adjustable seats in the LX; LXi also gets a reclining passenger seat. The rear bench seats three with 60/40 folding split seatbacks and access into the trunk, handy when carrying long items. 

Round analog instruments with bold black-on-white graphics are tucked beneath an arched cowl and rimmed with chrome bezels. 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 as God intended. 

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. 

The Sebring provides excellent outward visibility for the driver with broad and tall expanses of window glass and relatively narrow windshield A-pillars. The glass is thicker than usual, which 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 reduce noise. 

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-impact airbags. 

Driving Impression

From the outset, Chrysler designed the Sebring to function as a two-door convertible. With that in mind, the structure was designed to be highly rigid, and the Sebring convertible feels as tight as a coupe. Completely re-engineered for 2001, this latest-generation Sebring represents a huge improvement over the previous-generation convertible. 

The Sebring maintains an impressively flat stance in corners, even when pressed hard. The stiff chassis, 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. The suspension is fully independent, with a short- and long-arm arrangement up front and a multi-link design in the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars reduce lean in corners. Sebring's steering mechanism, with power assistance linked to a crisp rack-and-pinion device, reveals a nice neutral feel. 

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 are shod with Michelin all-season tires. The larger tires offer better grip and turn in more crisply, improving the Sebring's agility. 

Step on the pedal to leap around traffic and the Sebring pounces like a cat catching prey. The V6 engine produces 200 horsepower spread over a broad torque band. The 2.7-liters V6 uses an aluminum block fitted with double overhead cams and multi-valve technology. It can charge off the line at a stoplight. It also has 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. The Limited models comes with the AutoStick transmission, which allows the driver to shift into a semi-manual mode. This can add to the fun quotient when you're in a sporty mood. But for everyday use in urban traffic the standard automatic employed on LX and LXi editions work just fine. The Sebring coupe offers confident road manners with a pleasant ride. 

The suspension tips toward the plush side to favor softer ride characteristics. This is a new chassis, introduced for 2001. It offers greatly improve rigidity over the previous generation and rides on a completely new suspension. The front suspension uses MacPherson struts with lower A-arms, shock tower bracing, and an anti-roll bar. In the rear are upper A-arms with lower lateral and semi-trailing links, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. 

With 200 horsepower from its V6 engine, the Sebring LXi offers exhilarating acceleration performance. It surprised us with its authority. 

The LXi's standard short-throw manual 5-speed moves effortlessly fore and aft, with smooth clutch engagement and easy up-shifts. The 4-speed automatic contains an adaptive controller tied to a computer that quickly learns a driver's habits and manipulates shift patterns to suit the driving style. Take it easy and the automatic interprets that style by shifting gently at relatively low engine speeds. Pep it up and the transmission holds it in a lower gear longer to increase acceleration performance. Tackle a long downhill descent and it drops down a gear to add engine braking. With the optional AutoStick, you can slide the automatic shift lever down to a manual mode and create a shift-it-yourself option without the hassle of pumping a clutch pedal. 

Fuel economy for the LX model's four-cylinder engine is not significantly better than that of the V6: 21/28 mpg for the LX, 20/28 for the V6-powered LXi with an automatic transmission. The Sebring feels tight and precise. It feels nimble when cornering, but offers a smooth ride. And there's plenty of power from the V6 engine that's standard on the LXi, optional on the LX. 

The V6 produces crisp acceleration. It leaps to action from a stoplight start, and it's quick to respond for passing maneuvers at freeway speeds. 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 exhaust emits a pleasant burble when idling. 

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 your budget 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. 

Rack-and-pinion steering gives the Sebring a crisp, 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, delivers a smooth ride. The Sebring remains composed even when dropping the right wheels off the pavement to feel an irregular shoulder. LX and LXi share most suspension components, but the LXi gets a rear anti-roll bar for reduced understeer (i.e., better handling). Wheel sizes and tires differ as well: LX has 15-inch steel wheels, but LXi gets 16-inch aluminum wheels. 

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. 

Summary

The Chrysler Sebring is the convertible for people who don't want to be cramped in a sports car. It offers a roomy, comfortable interior. It's stylish and fun and it won't break the bank. If it does, drop the top and your cares will be whisked away. 

A powerful V6 engine and leather upholstery in the LXi and Limited models turn the Sebring convertible into a little luxury cruiser. But this is no loosy-goosy boulevard cruiser; it acts more like a sports coupe. Chrysler Sebring coupe manages to fit a spacious passenger compartment inside the sensuous lines of a coupe. With its powerful V6 and smooth ride, the Sebring LXi adds luxurious appointments yet holds the bottom line to a reasonable number. Chrysler Sebring sedan delivers a spacious and comfortable passenger compartment wrapped in a sleek, sporty skin. It offers some of the benefits of the mid-size imports, yet beats them considerably in pricing. Sebring LXi comes loaded with luxury gear, but still holds the bottom line to a reasonable number. 

Model Lineup

LX ($23,075); LXi ($26,160); Limited ($28,795). LX ($20,020); LXi ($21,710). LX ($17,705); LXi ($20,280). 

Assembled In

Sterling Heights, Michigan. Normal, Illinois. Sterling Heights, Michigan. 

Options As Tested

ABS Plus ($565). Leather Interior Group ($1,045) includes leather seats, 6-way power for driver's seat, universal garage door opener; ABS with traction control system ($740); power sunroof ($695); automatic four-speed transmission ($825) with AutoStick ($165); 17-in. chrome aluminum wheels ($750). side-curtain airbags ($390); ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution ($565); Luxury Group ($1265) includes leather seating surfaces, anti-theft system, automatic central locking, 120-watt audio with six premium speakers, electroluminescent instruments, cargo convenience net, universal garage door opener; Enthusiast Group ($250) includes Autostick, firjm-feel power steering, sports suspension; power sunroof ($695). 

Model Tested

Sebring LXi ($26,160). Sebring LXi ($21,710). Sebring LXi ($20,280). 

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