The 2007 Sebring rectifies these shortcomings in almost all respects. It gets a third powertrain; a new look; a new interior; and a subtle but generally effective tweaking of the acoustical foundations and structural underpinnings.
Chrysler's engineers, designers and stylists did more than just enough with the new Sebring. The base engine, a new, 2.4-liter inline-4, is not only significantly more powerful, but also more fuel-efficient. The mid-level engine, still a 2.7-liter V6 gains an ability to run on E-85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. A new, top-of-the-line, 3.5-liter V6 is paired with a new, six-speed automatic transmission.
The designers of the '07 Sebring kept just enough of the previous generation's styling cues so people will know the two cars are related. Beyond that, other than four doors, four wheels and a decent aero-look, there's little of the previous in the current. The very visible message this sends is unmistakable: The '07 truly is new, not just a face-lifted, quick makeover to keep the brand in dealer's showrooms.
Inside, there's as much new as there is outside. Other than the basic ingredients, like gauges, seats and dash, there's little that carries over to the '07 from the '06. And this job is exceptionally well done. The look is sleek and polished, all nicely integrated and finished. There's more room inside, too, thanks to the several added inches in height and the fraction of an inch of added length. All is not fine and wonderful, though. Some interior surfaces, for example, are cold and hard to the touch, and the trunk, for another, gives up 15 percent of its capacity from the '06, giving it one of the smallest trunks in the class.
The list of safety features expands. A new, optional, rear-seat video system keeps passengers entertained. The optional, voice-activated navigation/audio system now incorporates a hard disk drive for quicker mapping response that also can store for playback personally recorded audio tracks.
All in all, very little about the new, 2007 Sebring was left untouched or to chance. And not by chance, very little of what was touched hasn't come out better.
Chrysler Sebring ($18,320); Touring ($19,520); Touring V6 ($20,920); Limited ($23,320); Limited V6 ($25,320)
Least startling in its revised look is the front end, although there, too, the changes are significant. The shape of the trademark grille survives but shrunken and positioned higher in the fascia. The car gets an honest front bumper, below which is a set of intakes, at least one of which actually functions to channel cooling air to the engine. Large, multi-element headlight assemblies fill the tops of the bumpers. The hood sports embossed strakes splaying back toward the windshield in a pattern intended to bless the Sebring with some of the sporty airs of the Crossfire, the Sebring's underrated, two-seater sibling.
The side of the 2007 Chrysler Sebring is decorated with creased character lines, a big change from the smooth flanks of the '06 model. Flowing rearward from the front quarter panels, these creases spread, expanding the distance between them and emphasizing the sharply outlined wedge shape of the '07 Sebring. Mild fender blisters circle the wheel openings. Body-color, anti-ding door moldings are optional on all trim levels. Side windows are framed in flat black. Door handles are body color on the base and Touring, chrome-finished on the Limited. Mirror housings are body color across the line.
The rear of the car is the most radical element of the Sebring's redesign, but it's radical in a contrarian way, showing more of a traditional trunk and bumper style than the '06's chopped off, Kammback-look. Where the '06's taillights bracketed the trunk lid, the '07's taillights bridge the seam between the lid and the rear fenders. A molded-in, micro-spoiler lip tops the trailing edge of the trunk lid, itself remarkably shallow, yielding a severely cramped trunk opening. The only jarring element is the inset backlight, which seems to be an effort, however futile, to enlarge the trunk opening while maintaining the desired top-to-bottom proportions of the new Sebring.
The dash is less cluttered, much cleaner, with vast areas of seamless, gapless surfaces. Speedometer, tachometer and fuel level and engine coolant gauges are now clustered in three pods, down from the '06's four, distracting less from driving. Air conditioner registers are integrated into the dash panel. A nice aspect of the dash and center stack is they're laid out in a way that's inclusive of the front seat passenger, not oriented toward the driver, a factor that subtly reinforces the family-car personality of the Sebring.
The center stack houses the audio and climate controls, which are easy to use, a classic analog clock and, when ordered, the navigation system display. The center dash flows smoothly down into the center console, a single piece of nicely textured, hard plastic running all the way back to the raised storage bin that doubles as an arm rest for front seat occupants. Just aft of the shift gate are two cup holders. The rearmost of the two can heat (to 140-degrees Fahrenheit) or cool (to 35-degrees Fahrenheit) a beverage (when any of the option packages for the Touring or Limited models are specified).
The stereo's well-mixed, crisp audio did a decent job of masking the test car's ventilation fan.
Seats are comfortable, if a little short on thigh support, with soft, widely spaced bolsters. This bodes well for commuting, if not especially so for exploring the edges of the Sebring's performance envelope. The hefty steering wheel rim delivers good grip, although the massive hub and thick spokes could benefit from a diet. The high cowl cuts into forward visibility, but on the up side, the low-gloss dash top reflects little sunlight into the windshield.
The new Sebring is not the roomiest car in its class. It offers almost as much headroom front and rear as the class-topping Accord, but the Sebring's front and rear seat hip room and rear seat legroom trail all but the Saturn Aura. And only the Accord Hybrid has less trunk space.
The remaining storage compares favorably with the class. Besides the two cup holders in the front center console, a bottle holder is molded into each of the rear door map pockets. Front door map pockets are a bit shallow for anything besides maps. The glove box door is damped, so it doesn't bruise an unwary passenger's shins, but curiously, it doesn't lock, leaving only the trunk as secure storage. The bi-level bin in the front center console provides a power point, supplementing another in a covered compartment forward of the shift gate where the optional ashtray and lighter fit when ordered. A thoughtful feature: One power point is wired to the battery and on all the time, which is good for cell phones and such, while another power point is switched by the ignition key, which works well for radar detectors.
For commuting, the ride is smooth, with good balance between front and rear suspensions over uneven pavement.
All three Sebring engines respond promptly to throttle inputs, although obviously, the V6s a bit more willingly and more energetically than the four-cylinder. Gear changes in the Accord and Camry are less noticeable, those in the Aura and Ford Fusion about the same.
Attention was paid to the driver's needs and desires, with commendable results. Steering feel is confident, both on and off center, with good directional stability. Cornering is surprisingly well mannered, allowing minimal body roll, although at elevated speeds, there's a touch of wallow before the suspension takes a set. Once that happens, though, when cornering loads have compressed the suspension, it tracks cleanly through fast corners. There's some float at speed on an interstate, but not to an unsettling extent.
Keeping with the flow on interstates is easiest with the larger V6, which cruises comfortably at 90 miles per hour with enough still on the table for overtaking or tackling moderate grades. The smaller V6 holds its own in the heart of the flow, although the four-speed automatic is a bit of a drag when quick spurts are needed. If commuting is the sole, or primary, duty, the four cylinder is adequate, as it starts breathing hard at 80 mph. The Sebring accounts well for itself even at the moderately elevated speeds sometimes dialed up over long distances, feeling solidly planted at a constant 105 mph.
While not quite as at home in non-commute environs, the new Sebring is not all that flustered by a twisty, two-lane country road. Granted, the more-plush-than-sporty front seats don't do a wonderful job of restraining the driver, but there's still a proper dead pedal for the driver's left leg, the available low profile tires' sizeable footprint delivers precise turn-in and above-average grip through tight turns and there's good torque on tap when the driver mashes the gas to power out of a corner.
The four-wheel disc brake system in the V6-powered models returns a firm pedal feel, while the disc/drum combo that comes with the four-cylinder could use a stouter pedal.
Against the competition, the new Sebring rates, well, about middle of the road. Ride quality, while markedly improved, isn't as sophisticated, as refined and polished, as the Accord's and Camry's. Gone is the booming resonance and clunking often heard emanating from earlier Sebrings' front foot wells, although work remains to be done on suppressing road, tire and wind noise. The Fusion offers all-wheel drive, generally the better setup for responsive handling in both good weather and bad. None offer a wider range of powertrains, although the Accord and Camry include a hybrid. Fuel economy in the Sebring's base four cylinder is competitive, while the Accord achieves two more miles-per-gallon in both city and highway EPA estimates; likewise, the EPA says the Hyundai Sonata's equally powerful V6 beats the Sebring's by a mile or two per gallon.
The new, 2007 Chrysler Sebring marks a significant step up in the brand's market standing. Styling, fit and finish and ride and handling make a strong statement about Chrysler's commitment to character and quality. With more attention to some relatively minor needs, the Sebring can be a worthy alternative to any in its class.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Palm Springs, California.