Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible — Fun-in-the-sun

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We usually advocate ignoring the top trim level of any vehicle, opting for a mid-level trim with the proper engine and transmission and then adding options as desires and budget dictate. This usually means a modicum of savings because you are not saddled with a plethora of stuff in the manufacturer’s inventory attached to the top trim no matter how delicious, but irrelevant, they may be.

Today, however, we are going against our usual advice and recommend the top-of-the-line 2010 Chrysler Sebring convertible simply because the lesser models are deficient in several important ways depending on trim level.

In full regalia, the Sebring offers an intriguing four-person open-air vehicle that provides the safety and security of a steel roof, a full array of modern creature comforts, decent performance paired with acceptable gas mileage, and a sharp-looking cruiser in top-down configuration.

The thing that makes the Sebring convertible attractive to segment shoppers is there’s simply not much competition in the family affordable four-seat category. It's limited to just a few vehicles including the Volkswagen Eos and the Ford Mustang.

If you want the most affordable Sebring or if you want a soft top — one of the Chrysler's more unusual features is a choice of tops — you will have to settle for an inferior product.

The base LX trim level starts at a healthy $28,590 including destination, but comes with an ancient 4-cylinder engine and an even more ancient 4-speed automatic transmission. It deals out 173 horsepower and only adequate gas mileage of 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway with a combined rating of 24 mpg. Not much in this day and age.

Move up to the Touring starting at $29,950, which also comes with the soft top, and you will get another ancient engine, the 2.7-liter V-6 making a 186 horsepower mated to the aforementioned 4-speed automatic. Gas mileage is unremarkable at 18/26. Zero to 60  in either configuration is around 10 seconds.

So that leaves the Sebring Limited starting at $35,445, with a more modern drivetrain and a steel retractable top (the steel top is not available as an option on the lower two trim levels).

The Limited comes with Chrysler’s 3.5-liter V-6 generating 235 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic. It powers the two-ton open-air machine in adequate fashion measured at around 8 seconds from 0-to-60. Fuel efficiency, likewise, is minimally adequate at 16/27.

The Limited compares favorably with the steel-top Volkswagen Eos at $32,740 and the soft-top Mustang GT V-8 starting at $33,845.

If you remember, as we do, the previous-generation Sebring convertible — which ran through the 2006 model year — had generous rear-seat leg room. But inexplicably it doesn’t fully translate to the new car, which is the same size and actually comes with a slightly longer wheelbase.

Still the Sebring is a four-passenger vehicle, but we were confounded when our usual backseat passenger and our usual front-seat rider had to seriously compromise to gain enough leg room in back.
What’s with that? Then we did some research and found that leg room has been cut almost two inches in the current car compared to the previous edition.  It now measures 33.5 inches. Previously it was 35.2 inches. For comparison, the Sebring sedan riding on the same 108.9-inch wheelbase has more than 36 inches of rear legroom. It seems most of the lost back seat space was put into the trunk, which is very generous for a convertible. That bid steel top had to go someplace. Cargo capacity with the top up is a sedan-like 13 cubic feet.

 On the road we found the Sebring offered a very pleasant ride, decent performance, a commendably quiet interior, easy-to-read gauges, and intuitive switchgear. The 3.5-liter engine works well with the six-speed offering adequate performance for most situations. The Sebring has consistent handling, but steering is too light at highway speeds. It does firm up in the slow going. Brakes are just about right with pedal feel commensurate with stopping power.

The Sebring is a boulevard cruiser, not a back-road carver. Get too frisky on the sweeps and body roll will quickly reign in your enthusiasm. But most people purchasing the Sebring don’t run hard and fast on tight turns and should be satisfied in “real-life” driving.

The Sebring Limited carries a large amount of standard equipment, but it’s more what is not available or what is not standard that stands out. For instance, dual climate control — standard on most cars over $30,000 these days — is unavailable. And stability and traction control, standard on many vehicles over 20 grand, is a $425 option and unavailable on the base trim level. Our test vehicle came with navigation that included a 30-gig hard drive for $1,200 bringing the bottom line to $37,110.

People shopping in this segment need to determine what they like when making a decision from a very limited selection. Certainly the top line Sebring Limited is worth a look for that mid-sized, fun-in the-sun vehicle.

Base price: $28,590; as driven, $37,110
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 235 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 232 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches
Length: 193.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,959 pounds
Turning circle: 36.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 7.9 seconds (MotorWeek)
Also consider: Volkswagen Eos, Ford Mustang convertible

The Good:
• Retractable steel top
• Large trunk for drop top
• Quiet interior

The Bad:
• Lacking equipment normally found in 35 grand vehicles

The Ugly:
• Base engines, transmissions outdated