by Dan Roth
Awkwardly styled, the Sebring Convertible is the Pat Boone of automobiles - it hits the notes, but there’s no soul in its singing. The convertible does look slicker than the standard Sebring sedan and its hunchy shape, but the hood is still too short and the retractable hardtop’s roofline still doesn’t look quite right. Maybe it’s because of the high trunk out back? The roof looks like it was plopped on, Automoblox-style.
There are some angles where the Sebring looks good. Catch it in the right light, and all those strakes and character lines manipulate the reflections just so. It doesn’t happen often, but the right shading down that strong Chrysler family swage in the body side will have you exclaiming “wow, if you stand here, close one eye, and squint, it actually looks good. If you can ignore the strakes in the hood.”
Middle management pencil pushers will focus on the spec sheet and convince themselves that the Sebring offers much of what you can find in the BMW 3 series for a lot less. It makes its case on paper, initially. Standard four cylinder power can be upgraded to either a 2.7 liter or 3.5 liter V6, big alloy rims conceal four wheel disc brakes bolted to a four wheel independent suspension, an available MyGig system bundling navigation and multimedia together with a LCD in the dash, leather seating, power folding hardtop, it all sounds very nice, though the price can scrape high into the 30s.
Upon first setting eyes on the Sebring, the reaction to the price goes from a shrug to “are they on drugs?” In Chrysler’s defense, the good people at the Sterling Heights plant have solidly screwed all the pieces together, the Sebring Touring we tried was well-assembled. The fine construction job only goes so far when the pieces aren’t very good. While the outside has to deal with being generally ungainly, the interior is molded from plastic so cheap it’d make a milk jug blush. Door and dash panels are large swaths of injection molded cheapness. Surface textures are off-putting, and most everything is rock hard to the touch.
The Touring wore seats that were generally comfortable and attractive with two shades of leather and contrasting stitching. The dashboard’s design appears more disjointed in pictures than it comes off in practice, though the attempt to dress things up with featureless expanses of silver colored plastic again screams cheap. A redesign isn’t really what’s needed, just new molds that will impart some high quality surface finishes so the HVAC controls don’t have to float in limbo. It’s easy to sit back and call for millions of dollars in molds and materials upgrades, but that’s what this car needs.
Actually, the Sebring needs one last thing: new engines. We’re astounded you can even get a four cylinder in the Sebring, even the 2.7 liter V6 feels inadequate. Chrysler’s Phoenix engines are slated to hit the production stream for the 2010 model year, and we hope they’re as good as promised so the wheezing, braying sixes Chrysler now has can go to the grave.
It’s good at what it does; normal adults fit in all the seats, front and rear, and the trunk is nice and big, useful even when the top is down. Given the exterior size, the interior feels a little more intimate than you’d first expect, though, and the trunklid rises on very stiff struts yet has no grab handle, making closing difficult. The Touring comes well equipped and is solid on the road, but the price is unforgivable. Chrysler wants BMW money for the Sebring, but there’s a big difference between the two. The BMW drives with aplomb, while the Sebring drives like a bomb. Not entirely, but its limits are low, easily pushing the Turanzas into abuse territory and there’s not much feedback from the helm.
For a car that doesn’t purport to be sporty (never mind what Touring badging implies), the Sebring hits all the right notes to satisfy the likes of Michael Scott, and it will please the audience that’s always bought Chrysler convertibles. It is nice to have a convertible with a useable trunk, and the retractable hardtop makes it possible to have a no compromises closed car when the weather doesn’t support top-down motoring. It’s not a cracking good bargain, but choices are limited when it comes to commodious domestic-branded droptops, and for that, we can hope that the Sebring goes to finishing school and sticks around.