Review: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible

2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible – Click above for high-res image gallery

On paper, the Sebring seems to have what it takes, including three engine choices, an optional six-speed automatic, a sedan and convertible, and nifty cup holders that keep your drink hot or cold. We gave a top of the line Limited Sebring Convertible one week in the Autoblog Garage win us over, but things didn't go as planned. Read about what happened after the jump.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

We typically have one week to review a vehicle, but our time with the Sebring Convertible was really a tale of two drop-tops. We originally received the silver Sebring Limited cloth top convertible you see above. We only spent an hour driving it with the top down because some insurmountable mechanical issues occurred that ruined our fun. The first issue came when the top froze only a quarter of the way into its disappearing act. After a quick restart of the car it began to retract again, but after nestling itself in the boot, the trunk lid refused to close. Being no convertible mechanic, we made room for the Sebring Convertible in my own personal Autoblog Garage and parked it.

When we spoke with Chrysler about the situation, we were informed that this was the second time that week a top had frozen while in the hands of a journalist. A mechanic was dispatched to pick up the busted cabrio and when he couldn't fix it, the silver Sebring Convertible was carted off on a flat bed. Not a very good first impression, but we got our hands on a fully functioning replacement a month later.

Our first Sebring was a base Limited that carried what we consider to be an astonishing MSRP of just over $32,000. When we received our replacement, a fully loaded Inferno Red Chrystal Pearl Limited model, its $36,000 price tag set our knees a-warbling. It included the top-end 3.5L V6 mated to a six speed automatic, navigation screen, 20 gigabyte MyGig entertainment system, and a killer Boston Acoustics sound system. The only option not checked on our Limited model was the hard-top roof, which sets you back another $2,000. A $38,000 Sebring? Ouch!

Chrysler turned to its 2003 Airflite concept for inspiration when designing the Sebring, and the difference between the concept and production car is that while the former had smooth, tight packaging with a sexy roof-line that extended all the way to the rear bumper, the Sebring has odd proportions and a bulbous rear end. Chrysler also super-sized the Sebring's head lights, shrunk the grille, lifted the belt-line and made the trunk large enough to accommodate the roof and people's stuff. The sedan is just plain difficult to look at without flinching, though we thought the lines at least look better as a convertible.

On the inside, our loaded Limited was chock-full of cheap materials and sub-standard build quality. For example, the steering wheel had frayed strings of plastic undoubtedly from a bad press cut at the plant. The Sebring's dash material had a rubbery feel to it with Tupperware-grade plastics not befitting a $36,000 vehicle. The other odd omission was the lack of vanity mirror lights. It seems trivial, but on a convertible playing in the $30k segment, it's yet another reminder that the Sebring doesn't belong.

The seats up front were decently bolstered and comfortable, and although the leather surfaces were a little slippery for our tastes, our overall impression was favorable. The back seats, however, afforded only slightly more room than the smallish 2007 Volkswagen EOS we reviewed over the summer.

The news inside the Sebring isn't all bad, however, as some areas received high marks. Chrysler's multimedia interface with the 20-gigabyte MyGig system, large navigation screen and Boston Acoustics sound system was fantastic. The sound quality is as good as any in this price range, and the nav screen was bright and simple to use. The redundant controls for the radio, however, are located behind the steering wheel. It was an ergonomic nightmare that had us changing the radio station when we meant to raise the volume. We loved the heated and cooled cup holders up front, as they kept our Dunkin' Donuts coffee hot and our Dr. Pepper cold. This feature should reside within every Chrysler product, and fast.

When behind the wheel of the 235-hp Sebring Convertible, we received a driving experience that brought us back to a 1995 Buick LeSabre. It's as if Chrysler simply rushed the Sebring to market without hammering out the finer details of its handling. The steering feel was so light that we could have turned the car by sneezing at the dash. When taking corners at any speed above idle, the top-heavy convertible wallowed back and forth with the agility of 1993 GMC Jimmy. Even when changing lanes, it felt as though we were blindly guessing how much effort to apply to the steering wheel. This brought us to the simple conclusion the Sebring Convertible was designed with retirees and rental companies in mind.

While the acceleration of the 3.5L V6 was strong enough (other automakers can get a lot more than 235 hp out of 3.5 liters of displacement), the six-speed automatic would sometimes shift at odd times and jerk in lower gears. It wasn't nearly as smooth as the six-speed transmission shared by Ford and GM. On the fuel front, we averaged around 21 mpg with an even mix of city and highway driving .

With the top down, it's easier to forgive a soft, floating chassis and a cheap interior. The roof opens and closes easily with little more than the press of a button, and the entire car looks more appealing when the top is stowed. Wind noise is within expectations when enjoying open-air motoring in the Sebring Convertible, and the top can stay down when the temperature turns cool if you turn on the mighty heater.

As you can no doubt tell if you've made it this far, we weren't impressed with Chrysler's latest convertible offering. We were flat out unimpressed with its exterior design, interior materials and driving characteristics. The only attractive feature of the Sebring Convertible was its multimedia system, but that's no reason to drop $36k on any car.

Truth be told, however, the Chrysler Sebring Convertible doesn't have much competition. There's just the Pontiac G6 Convertible and Toyota Solara Convertible, as well as perhaps the Ford Mustang Convertible. We bet that none of those convertibles, however, enjoys as many fleet sales as the Chrysler Sebring Convertible. Ask any rental company for a convertible and the person behind the counter will probably ask you what color Sebring you'd like. With its hefty price tag, awkward design and floaty handling, we couldn't recommend this vehicle to a friend unless he were on vacation and planned to give it back in three days.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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