You can think of it as 'Mission: Impossible 3', but you can leave the couch-jumping to the experts here. That's because the new Chrysler Sebring's task is merely to unseat some shoppers from the Honda Accord and the best-selling Toyota Camry and put their backsides in a Chrysler instead -- not to transcend all levels of self-intoxication.
The Sebring is now in its second generation as a four-door and its third as a new-generation Chrysler mid-sizer (it started back as the Cirrus, if you can recall). But in this case it's a first: the first vehicle the Chrysler Group will build on the new D-segment platform that will also be used for the upcoming Dodge Avenger and more. In all, 10 models will be built on the same flexible assembly line in Sterling Heights, Mich. -- in which the Chrysler Group invested $500 million -- including a new Sebring convertible yet to come
Chrysler hopes the Sebring will build on the momentum of the Chrysler 300 and the Caliber, though the former is beginning to slump in its golden years. The mid-size segment home to the Sebring is a huge one -- it's good for 2 million units a year, representing 28 per cent of the passenger car market -- and Chrysler has a small to nonexistent image in the segment.
All this explains the Sebring's grabber styling and long list of options, but does it mean that Chrysler's now reached the same lofty plateau of its Japanese competitors?
Range of Motion
The second-gen Sebring hits showrooms in three models: Sebring, Touring and Limited. The base version will be available with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder world engine developed by DaimlerChrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai. It delivers 173 hp and has 166 lb-ft of torque. It's the same engine we also approved of in the Caliber.
The Touring gets the 2.7-liter V-6 with flex-fuel capability, meaning it can run on gasoline or E85. It has 189 hp and maximum torque of 191 lb-ft. Both the four-cylinder and this V-6 work together with a four-speed automatic transmission.
The Limited is the nicest, priciest version. It will be powered only by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 235 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque. This V-6 is mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick.
During our test drive near Palm Springs, we focused on the 2.7-liter Touring model. Chrysler expects the 2.4-liter four to be by far the most popular engine (80 percent of sales, they think). This engine will also be available in export markets, such as Europe, which will also get a smaller 2.0-liter four as well as a 2.0-liter diesel.
Riding on a longer wheelbase (108.9 inches), the Sebring is also longer overall at 190.6 inches, wider at 71.2 inches and taller at 59.0 inches than its predecessor. Predictably, interior space, especially rear leg room, benefits from the girthing up. But trunk volume goes up as well, to 13.6 cubic feet, which should be enough space to haul luggage for four or five people spending a weekend in the country, unless that country is Afghanistan or Iraq.
The interior also gets some flexibility through the rear seatbacks, which fold down to pass through to the trunk. The front passenger seat also folds flat, so that a long object (say, a boogie board, or Grace Jones) can be carried without having to borrow a buddy's pickup. The front passenger seatback can also be used as a table, if it's so inclined.
Thoughtful touches grace most of the Sebring's mid-grade-plastic interior. Yes Essentials fabrics upholster the base cars, and provide protection against microbes, static, water and dirt. The Limited comes standard with two-tone leather seats and a leather shift knob, while handsome tortoiseshell details are applied to the dashboard, door panels and on the steering wheel.
Our two favorite options are hallmark Americana. There's a cooled and heated cupholder that keeps coffee at 140 degrees or Diet Coke at a cool 35 Fahrenheit. Even better is the MyGig communication/entertainment system, a $1,700 option with a touch-screen interface that controls a 20GB hard drive and has a USB port so that you can transmit music, video and pictures to your car and leave them there, no CDs, no iPod to worry about. MyGig also has a voice memo recording function that stores up to three minutes of you singing along to SexyBack, which should rightfully embarrass you.
The Sebring rides on stock 16-inch wheels with 215/65-16 tires. The Touring version comes with 17-inch wheels, while the Limited rolls on 215/55-R18 rubber.
Smooth Execution, Sybil Styling
The Sebring derives some of its look from the 2003 Airflite concept, the company says. Surfacing on the four-door sedan shows the influence of the Crossfire coupe too, particularly on the ribbed hood and deeply lined sideview. It's a "clear alternative to the European and Japanese competition," chief stylist Trevor Creed said in a release. It's undoubtedly an American look, something the Accord and Camry shrink away from visibly. But doesn't Ford's Fusion carry off the idea more easily, more comfortably? Exactly how many pens were at work in grafting the Sebring's unrelated nose, cabin and tail together?
Once you get past the exterior, though, the cockpit's spacious, easygoing manner takes over. Take a seat and you can appreciate an excellent driving position as well as the nicely executed console and dash.
Most of our driving time with the Sebring came behind the wheel of the Touring model. The V-6 runs smoothly, but it lets you know when it has to work during acceleration, especially in the mountains, with a distinct growl. Cruising is quiet, though, and the engine responds swiftly with decent torque in highway passes. However, the automatic transmission shifts gears a bit too noticeably, with even more pronounced shifts in the four-cylinder model. The lack of a fifth gear, when Honda's Civic sports the extra cog, is a glaring omission. Fuel economy is rated at 24/32 mpg for the four-cylinder, and 22/30 mpg for the 2.7-liter V-6.
Steering is direct and obedient, while the independent suspension is firm enough for a stable and secure feel during emergency situations and in tight corners. The Limited, with its more powerful V-6 and fatter rubber, is more agile and quicker than the other two versions. With the six-speed transmission and its shorter gear ratios, it also provides a quieter ride than with both other engines, while fuel efficiency is estimated at 19/28 mpg.
Four-speed automatic aside, the Sebring is a good performer and a good value. Whether the same drivers who crave the anonymity of an Accord or Camry will cotton to its outrageous style remains an open question.