2004 Chrysler Sebring Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Three body styles, all roomy and affordable.
Chrysler Sebring offers distinctive styling, roomy interiors and big trunks. Sebring models come in convertible, sedan, and coupe body styles. All offer room for five, but the three body styles are quite distinctive and should be viewed individually.
For starters, the sedan, coupe, and convertible differ in their basic structure. The sedan is largely a Chrysler engineering effort, the coupe is based on a Mitsubishi platform, and the convertible uses some elements from each. There are interior differences and styling variations and the engines and transmissions differ.
The convertible stands out by combining style and top-down motoring with a roomy interior and attractive pricing. A restyled front fascia freshens the appearance of the convertible for 2004. Overall, the Sebring is a compelling choice for someone who desires the free spirit of a convertible, but also wants seating for five people. The Sebring serves the role of practical convertible well. Getting in and out of it is easy, which is important when running errands, and its big trunk makes it far more practical than most convertibles. Likewise, its smooth ride makes for a comfortable daily driver, whether riding around town or on long trips.
The sedan has a tougher row in a highly competitive field of midsize sedans. The Sebring sedan answers this call with distinctive styling, a pleasant, airy cabin, and a spacious trunk with a 60/40 split folding rear seat. It's also rated well in terms of safety: The Sebring sedan earned a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Administration in its frontal crash test and a favorable rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in its 40-mph offset frontal crash test. A restyled fascia freshens the looks of the sedan for 2004.
The coupe combines the sporty styling of a two-door with the practicality of a rear seat and a decent-sized trunk.
All three body styles are available with a V6 engine that delivers responsive performance. However, the base four-cylinder engine is quite competent. The Sebring model lineup has been revamped for 2004, but there are only minor changes to the vehicles themselves.
Regardless of body style, the standard Sebring comes with a 150-horsepower twin-cam 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A V6 engine comes standard on Touring, Limited, and GTC models. Sedans and convertibles use a 2.7-liter V6, while coupes get a 3.0-liter V6. Most models come with four-speed automatics, but five-speed manuals are available on coupes and the GTC convertible. Chrysler's Autostick is available, an automatic with a manual-shift feature.
The standard Sebring trim level comes with a cloth interior, air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, and an AM/FM/CD stereo. V6 is optional. Steel wheels with painted wheel covers and 15-inch tires are standard. Chrysler is phasing out its LX and LXi model nomenclature over the summer in favor of base, Touring, and Limited designations.
Touring sedans and convertibles come with the V6. Touring trim, formerly known as LXi, adds 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, eight-way power driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a premium sound system, trip computer, remote illuminated keyless entry, fog lights, bright exhaust tips, and a higher level of interior convenience features. Convertibles get a nicer, cloth-lined top and leather seats with ultra suede accents. The GTC convertible comes with the V6, sports suspension, and a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Limited models add leather trim to the sedan and convertible.
Side-curtain airbags ($390) and anti-lock brakes with traction control ($695) are optional.
Sleek design distinguishes the Chrysler Sebring from other mid-size cars. The Sebring sedan, coupe, and convertible are attractive cars with gracefully arched profiles and dramatically raked windshields. While all three look like they belong to the same family, distinctions give each its own personality.
The Sebring sedan and convertible share many components and roll out of a Chrysler assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The convertible uses elements of the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder platform. The coupe shares little in common with the sedan and convertible. It is built in a joint-venture assembly plant in Illinois alongside the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Dodge Stratus coupes, and shares the Mitsubishi's engines, chassis, and suspension designs.
Sedans and convertibles feature restyled front fascia, a new grille, and scalloped headlamps for 2004. Chrysler revised the front and rear styling of the coupe for 2003. New wheel designs are available for 2004.
Blackened center roof pillars on the four-door sedan give it the look of a two-door coupe. The roofline flows in a smooth transition from roof to body. The decklid incorporates a spoiler lip arched over large taillamps and thick monotone bumper. We found the outside door handles can be hard to hang onto, particularly when in a hurry. Also, the coupe's mirrors are small.
Inside the Chrysler Sebring is a pleasant place to be, whether it's a sedan, coupe, or convertible. The cab-forward design extends the base of the windshield forward, making for an airy cabin that lets in a lot of light. The seats feel firm and comfortable. The driver's seat gets six-way power adjustments on Touring and Limited models.
The sedan and convertible cabins are roomy. The rear bench seats can seat three adults. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down to provide space for carrying long items. 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. Coupe models do not offer a lot of rear-seat space. Getting in and out is not easy and the front seat does not automatically slide forward when the seatback is flipped down. The pass-through feature has a relatively small passageway, but is useful for accommodating longer items. The coupe's trunk looks big, but the opening is relatively small.
All Sebring models come standard with cloth fabric. Several interior finishes are available, varying by trim level and body style. New interior amenities have been added for 2004, including the availability of an electrochromic rearview mirror and steering wheel radio controls, and revisions to the trim.
The convertible's power top drops in seconds with one-button ease to let the sun in and closes quickly 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 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.
There's a wrap-around feel to the Sebring cockpit even though the dashboard is essentially flat and linear. Window and lock switches are mounted on the driver's door. 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.
The center console in the sedan 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. HVAC controls are rudimentary dials and look like those of a compact car, but they work well.
The Sebring provides excellent outward visibility for the driver with broad and tall expanses of window glass and relatively narrow A-pillars. The top of the windshield features a shade similar to that used on Mercedes cars. The glass is thicker than usual, which helps dampen external noise. It combines with the structural streamlining and 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. Optional curtain-style side-impact airbags are hidden in the headliner.
The Chrysler Sebring is an enjoyable car to drive, whether coupe, convertible or sedan. It's no sports car, but feels tight and precise at speed, and nimble and confident without a lot of body lean in corners. At the same time, it offers a smooth, comfortable ride. There's plenty of power from the available V6 engine and we enjoyed the base four-cylinder.
When equipped with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the Sebring feels energetic through the gears. The electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission is quiet and efficient and works surprisingly well with the four-cylinder engine. Geared for stop-and-go city driving, the Sebring feels quick and accelerates briskly onto the freeway.
The optional V6 is smoother and generates more thrust. It delivers crisp acceleration performance from a standstill and responds quickly for passing maneuvers at freeway speeds. The 2.7-liter V6 used in the sedan and convertible uses an aluminum block fitted with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. It delivers 200 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 190 pounds-feet of torque at 4850 rpm. It also offers respectable fuel economy (an EPA-estimated 21/28 mpg) and operates on regular-grade gasoline. The exhaust emits a pleasant burble when idling. The 3.0-liter V6 in the coupe generates 200 hp at 5500 rpm and 205 pounds-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. It's a single overhead-cam design with four valves per cylinder.
Chrysler's optional AutoStick provides shift-it-yourself control of the automatic. The AutoStick is fun to play with when you're in a sporty mood. But the standard automatic mode works just fine for everyday use, where it shifts quietly and efficiently. The available 5-speed manual gearbox is easy to shift with smooth clutch engagement and easy up-shifts.
The Sebring suspension is fully independent and remains composed even in bumpy corners. Sedan and convertible share most suspension components, but a rear anti-roll bar on some models reduces understeer for sportier handling. Rack-and-pinion steering gives the Sebring a crisp feel. The coupe delivers a nice ride quality, but you do hear and feel bumps.
Anti-lock brakes are optional, but we recommend them. Chrysler's ABS Plus includes 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.
The Chrysler Sebring line comes in three body styles. The sedan offers a spacious and comfortable passenger compartment wrapped in a sleek, sporty skin. It offers value when compared with mid-size import sedans. The coupe manages to fit a spacious passenger compartment inside the sensuous lines of a two-door. The convertible works well for people who don't want to be cramped in a sports car, but want to feel the wind in their hair and look good. Unlike most convertibles, the Sebring offers a roomy, comfortable interior. It's stylish and fun, but won't break the bank. If it does, drop the top and whisk those cares away.
Sebring Sedan LX ($18,640); Sedan LXi ($21,215); Coupe ($20,750); Coupe Limited ($23,025); Convertible LX ($24,590); Convertible LXi ($27,515); Convertible GTC ($26,190); Convertible Limited ($30,325).
Sterling Heights, Michigan; Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.
Options As Tested
side-curtain airbags ($390); ABS ($695) includes four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and traction control; Luxury Group ($1,075) includes leather-trimmed bucket seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, steering wheel audio controls, 120-watt audio with six premium speakers, electroluminescent instruments; Enthusiast Group ($250) includes Autostick, firm-feel power steering, sports suspension; power sunroof ($695).
Chrysler Sebring Sedan LXi ($21,215).
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