Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sebring surprise

Stylish, sophisticated sedan delivers value

Russ Wong, Special to The Star

Introduced in 2001 (though a two-door with the same name has existed since 1995), the first-generation Sebring sedan started out reasonably well, but quickly fell behind when a wave of redesigned imports appeared in 2002.

Compared to cars such as the Honda Accord, Mazda6, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, the Sebring was a good vehicle that wasn't especially memorable.

However, Chrysler wasn't too concerned, choosing instead to focus on development of the larger and more luxurious 300 sedan.

Now, with its full-size line-up well represented by the 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Magnum, Chrysler has returned its attention to the mid-size market with the 2007 Sebring sedan.

The redesigned Sebring is a stylish car with a number of interesting features. It's more sophisticated and refined than the outgoing model, with in-cabin technology that you won't find in any other family sedan, and has a lower starting price.

There's really no question that the new Sebring is a better vehicle than its predecessor - the problem is whether the public would pay attention to the new vehicle when there are so many top rated Toyotas and Hondas running around. The market for family sedans has gotten even tougher with the addition of the excellent Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata sedans, so how does the Sebring stack up? The answer is that the Sebring brings solid value, and that's not a bad thing.

It's well executed, capable of grabbing and holding the attention of consumers who want a practical, comfortable and reasonably priced sedan.

However, while other sedans stand out in specific areas - ride quality, performance, powertrain, etc. - the Sebring lacks a distinguishing characteristic.

Even its sibling, the Dodge Avenger, brings more to the table with Dodge's aggressive attitude and available all-wheel drive.

The question is: how can Chrysler change this? I'd like to see Chrysler do what no domestic automaker is willing to do: sell a diesel passenger car to North Americans. Chrysler is working with Volkswagen and Audi to develop engines employing its advanced BLUETEC emissions control system, and sedans with BLUETEC diesel will arrive in 2008.

In Europe, the Sebring can already be equipped with the 2.0L turbodiesel that has powered the cult-favourite Jetta TDI and Passat TDI sedans. Hopefully this points to the introduction of a diesel-powered Sebring down the line. That would be something worth noting.


I like the look of the new Sebring, from the attractive, raked hood and sharp creases running the length of the car to the short rear deck. The trunk is the most interesting part of the exterior design, making the Sebring look more like a hatchback than a sedan.

The Sebring is wider and taller than its predecessor, but actually looks more compact due to its husky build and contemporary styling. I'm not sold on the rear bumper and taillights though, which aren't as fresh and exciting as the rest of the car.

The simple and functional interior features a three-pod gauge cluster with a large centre console that matches the sharp creases of the exterior, and three dials for the environmental controls mounted low on the dashboard. A classy analog clock atop the dash completes the look.

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