The current Chrysler Sebring was introduced as a four-door sedan for the 2007 model year, then a two-door convertible was added in mid-2007 as a 2008 model. The midsize, front-wheel-drive Chrysler Sebring competes with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Saturn Aura, among others. The availability of a retractable hardtop convertible distinguishes the Sebring lineup from its popular competitors. The Sebring convertible offers a choice of vinyl or cloth soft tops or the retractable hard top.
For 2009, the Sebring sedan is available in only one trim level, the up-scale Limited, with a choice of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V6. The base-level LX sedan is no longer offered, and the mid-level Touring is available only to fleets. The convertible is available in LX, Touring or Limited trim levels, with the same engine choices as for the sedan, plus the availability of a 2.7-liter V6. The four-cylinder engine and the 2.7-liter V6 are matched with a four-speed automatic transmission, while the 3.5-liter V6 has a six-speed automatic. Other changes for 2009 are minor, and include some new colors and trim and convenience features.
The four-cylinder engine is rated at 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque; the 2.7-liter V6 at 186 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque; and the 3.5-liter V6 at 235 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque. The 2.7-liter V6 will run on gasoline or E85, the combination of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline.
Even the four-cylinder is fairly responsive in the sedan, but the V6 is the best choice for the convertible. And the six-speed automatic is more responsive than the four-speed automatic.
The Sebring sedan offers competitive passenger room, with plenty of room up front and a useful rear seat. The sedan seats five. The trunk is small for the class and has a small opening, however.
The convertible offers good interior space up front. It seats four passengers, but the rear seat lacks the legroom to make it comfortable for adults to sit back there on long trips. More than half of the available space in the convertible's trunk is taken up by the top mechanism when the top is down.
The Sebring cabin is pleasant. The look is sleek, and it is all nicely integrated and finished. Some of the interior surfaces are cold and hard to the touch, however. With an available DVD rear-seat entertainment system, navigation and uconnect, the Sebring's available technology is as good as or better than anything in the class.
Dynamically, the Sebring fits middle of the pack in the midsize class. Ride quality is generally pleasant, soaking up most bumps well. Handling is competent in the sedan. The convertible lacked the driving feel of the sedan, however, and exhibited noticeable cowl shake.
At first glance, the 2009 Chrysler Sebring sedan and convertible are stylistic twins. Closer inspection reveals the convertible has only two doors versus the sedan's four. It also has a shortened coupe-like greenhouse, and is 3.2 inches longer overall. Both ride on the same 108.9-inch wheelbase and share the same 61.8-inch front and rear track. Tires and wheels are interchangeable.
Viewed head on, both body styles feature the current rendition of the idiomatic Chrysler grille: egg-crate with bright horizontal strips and topped by the brand's winged crest. A substantial, but otherwise unremarkable bumper tops a slim lower air intake bracketed by two, smaller, grille-like openings at the outer ends of which pods provide housings for fog lamps. Molded-in strakes dress up the hood.
There are also differences in balance and proportion between the sedan and convertible. Were the convertible designed as a traditional soft top, we daresay it'd look better. But the retractable hardtop required added length that unsettles the design.
The sedan is decorated with creased character lines on its sides. Flowing rearward from the front quarter panels, these creases spread, expanding the distance between them and emphasizing the car's sharply outlined wedge shape. 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.
The convertible uses the same basic design as the sedan, but the wheelbase looks too long and there's too much of the hindquarters for a two-door. If the expanse of metal between the trailing edge of the door and the rear wheelwell were halved, then it'd fit. But there has to be some place to store large segments of an articulated, metal roof, along with the motors, pumps, and other hardware necessary to lower and raise it. On the Sebring convertible, this results in a bulbous back end, with a top surface area nearly the equal to that of the hood. Also, to allow the retracted roof to fit inside the rear quarters, the rearmost edges of the rear pillars must be drawn inward. This awkwardly positions the retractable hardtop roof more on top of the rear fenders than allowing it to smoothly flow down into the side of the car. The look is better on soft top convertibles because the top looks more like a separate piece than an integrated whole.
At the rear of both body styles, large, multi-element taillights wrap around the rear fenders, crossing over into the trunk lid, which has a modest, molded-in lip at its trailing edge. The sedan's trunk lid is shorter than the convertible's trunk lid. The sedan also has a visually jarring inset rear window, which seems to be an effort, however futile, to enlarge the trunk opening while maintaining the desired top-to-bottom proportions.
The sedan's trunk has 13.6 cubic feet of cargo room, but the opening is quite small, so it won't accept larger boxes. The convertible's trunk opens like a normal trunk with any of the tops up or down and has 13.1 cubic feet of cargo room. Cargo room shrinks to 6.6 cubic feet with the top down, so you won't want to leave packages in the trunk when putting the top down. Chrysler says the trunk can hold two full-size golf bags with the top down. That's true, but access with the top retracted is very restricted.
Inside, the sedan and convertible are virtually identical. However, the convertible has a narrower rear seat that allows for seating of just two passengers in back, while the sedan can take three.
The dashboard styling carries the motif of the Chrysler winged crest, or at least that's what the designers say. It's a stretch, but if you look at it kind of sideways, it works. Picture the winged crest from the grille magnified, say, 100 times, then with the wings severely cropped. Drape this image over the dash, so about half lies on top and the other half hangs down the front, add a couple cut lines, mold in a bead for some character and a hood to shade the black-on-white gauges, and there you have it. Speakers sit on top of the dash, with the vent registers outboard in a contrasting surround.
The speedometer, tachometer and fuel level and engine coolant gauges are clustered in three pods. The center stack houses the audio and climate controls, which are easy to use, and a classic analog clock.
The center stack is laid out to be inclusive of the front seat passenger, subtly reinforcing the family car personality. 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 armrest for front seat occupants. Just aft of the shifter are two cup holders. As an option, the rearmost of the two can heat (to 140-degrees Fahrenheit) or cool (to 35-degrees Fahrenheit) a beverage.
In-cabin 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 sedan's rear door map pockets. Front door map pockets are a bit shallow for anything besides, well, maps. The glove box door is damped, so it doesn't bruise an unwary passenger's shins. 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 charging cell phones and such. The front center armrest adjusts fore and aft over a range of about three inches, which is helpful for drivers of short stature, but a height adjustment would be helpful, too.
The quality of the materials is consistent with the car's price range: good, not great, and it looks better than it feels. Fit and finish is a grade above, with consistent and close tolerances between panels. The Touring model's trim finish had the most eye appeal for us. The Limited model's combination of tortoise shell and chrome did not look real.
The Sebring is not the roomiest car in its class. The sedan 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. Front seats are adequate, if a bit short on thigh support. Side and bottom bolsters are proportioned for folk of substantial girth. Of note, too, is that only drivers enjoy a manual lumbar adjustment. Less than two hours in the front passenger seat left us painfully craving even the slightest lumbar support. The convertible has the same front-seat room, but its rear legroom drops almost four inches from the sedan's, leaving enough space for an average-height adult only when someone short is sitting in front.
The Sebring's thick A-pillars can block sight of cross traffic at intersections and when exiting a driveway or parking lot. The roof's rear taper doesn't leave much room for the rear window and makes for exceptionally deep C-pillars, both of which compromise rear quarter vision.
The convertible tops raise and lower smoothly, whether it's the soft top or the retractable hard top. Watching the hardtop operate is entertaining: the clam shell opens; the roof separates into three segments, folds, then collapses into the trunk; and finally the clam shell closes. When we rolled down the windows after encountering some rain during our time in the test hardtop convertible, water dripped from the roof onto the armrest and the power window controls. Note that in the convertible the rear-seat head restraints do not function as roll bars to protect rear-seat passengers in a rollover.
The Sebring convertible compares well with the Volkswagen Eos and Volvo C70 in terms of interior spaciousness. In fact, the Eos and C70 are more snug all around.
There's more pleasure to be found from behind the wheel of the Chrysler Sebring than first impressions might suggest. Yes, it's primarily a mainstream, middle-of-the-road commuter, but even in their most basic forms both the sedan and convertible are enjoyable to drive.
The Sebring convertible is nice for a leisurely drive on a sunny day and pulls duty as a regular commuter with a fun side, but it's less sporty than the sedan. It's fully 400 pounds heavier, and that weight affects handling and engine performance. While we found the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine reasonably responsive in the sedan, even the 2.7-liter V6 seemed to struggle in the convertible, sounding very busy while not getting much done. The weight of the convertible also drops fuel economy.
An antiquated four-speed automatic transmission hurts the performance of the base and Touring models (which come with the 2.4-liter and 2.7-liter engines). The four-speed automatic is more responsive in the sedan, but in terms of quality and sophistication, let alone absolute performance, it falls woefully short of what we expect in a modern car. Shifting lacks smoothness and precision. The transmission hunts endlessly for the proper gear on mild grades, whether up or down, often shifting up at exactly the wrong moment.
The larger, 3.5-liter V6 comes with a modern six-speed automatic that delivers the level of performance many expect in a car with the Sebring's aspirations. In the sedan, the 3.5-liter V6 provides fine power, though it is outperformed by the V6s offered by Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Saturn, and Pontiac.
Inside the sedan, road, tire and wind noise are noticeable, but they don't interrupt conversation. The Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata are quieter.
The Sebring convertible isn't as quiet as the sedan, of course, but it isn't noisy underway. Of the two convertibles, the soft or hard top, road noise is best suppressed by the retractable hardtop. At freeway speeds with the top down, voices needn't be raised for conversation between front seat passengers. The optional wind blocker helps keep hair and dangly earrings from being mussed too much. The soft tops flutter lightly at freeway speeds. Integrating the front seatbelt's shoulder strap into the seatback keeps it from flapping in the wind when the window is down, a nice feature.
For commuting, every Sebring rides smoothly, with good balance between the front and rear suspensions over uneven pavement. Rough pavement produces some cowl shake in the convertible, less with the top up; the hardtop quells the shudders best.
Steering feel is confident, both on and off-center. Cornering is surprisingly well mannered in the sedan, allowing minimal body roll. Compared to the sedan, the convertible is less responsive at turning into sharp, fast corners. Directional stability is good in both body styles, though the convertible feels unbalanced in quick left-right-left transitions; our guess is this may result from much of the weight from the convertible top's hardware and some of the added bracing being positioned relatively high behind the rear seat. At elevated speeds, there's a touch of wallow before the suspension takes a set, but then the car is stable. When cornering loads have compressed the suspension, it tracks cleanly through fast corners. There's also some float at speed on an interstate, but not to an unsettling extent. While not quite as at home in non-commute environs, the Sebring is not all that flustered by a twisty, two-lane country road. The sizeable footprint of the available low-profile tires delivers precise turn-in and above-average grip through tight turns.
Against the competition, the Sebring rates about middle of the road for handling and ride quality. The ride isn't as sophisticated as that of the Toyota Camry, and the Honda Accord and Saturn Aura handle noticeably better.
The four-wheel disc brakes in the V6-powered models have a firm pedal feel, while the disc/drum brakes that come with the four-cylinder could use a stouter pedal.
The 2009 Chrysler Sebring comes in four-door sedan and two-door convertible versions with a four-cylinder and two V6s. The soft tops are nice, and the available retractable hardtop is intriguing. Styling, fit and finish and ride quality make a strong statement about Chrysler's commitment to character and quality. The Sebring measures up well in terms of materials quality, available technology, and interior room and comfort. Handling, power, and fuel economy are not its strongest assets.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Palm Springs and Santa Monica, California, with correspondent Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.