Chrysler Sebring — stylish sedan from a troubled brand

By Ted Biederman and Jim Meachen

The mid-sized Chrysler Sebring manufactured by troubled Chrysler LLC is a good example of how hard economic times can lead to even more hard times until diminishing returns eventually spell doom, then government intervention and then – well – who knows.

The Sebring is a decent mid-sized family sedan, especially if purchased in the right configuration. Outside of some unique and somewhat controversial exterior styling, nothing stands out with the Sebring in one of the most competitive segments in the automobile industry.

This is not a bad thing in good times. The Sebring would be humming along with decent sales giving families a viable and comparatively inexpensive — figuring rebates and discounts — alternative to the Japanese brands and other American nameplates.

But these aren’t good times and on top of that the Sebring has been bashed by more than one automotive reviewer since the current generation came on line for the 2007 model year. And even worse, perhaps, it has been completely and unequivocally dismissed by Consumer Reports magazine. Further, it doesn't help that the Sebring is a staple of rental car fleets.

With a few exceptions, automobile sales have tanked. Even the vaunted Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are taking big hits. But the Sebring is fading away in the rubble of a crumbling industry. More than 93,000 were sold in 2007. Sales dropped off to a still respectable 71,000 in 2008. But based on the first three months of 2009, only 23,000 Sebring’s will leave dealer lots by the end of this year.

We just finished seven days behind the wheel of a well-equipped mid-level Touring edition with the base 2.4-liter 173-horsepower four-cylinder engine. While we certainly weren’t overwhelmed by the sedan, we feel it deserves better.

The problem with the Sebring as we see it is not so much with the well-outfitted top-of-the-line Limited with its 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 235 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic and contains such desirable standard equipment as leather seating, automatic climate control, an upgraded Boston Acoustics sound system with Bluetooth connectivity and remote start.

Unfortunately the problem comes with the base models propelled by a course-sounding engine mated to a four-speed automatic. And even then the problem isn’t so much with the Sebring as with the competition, which in 2009 offers quiet, more fuel-efficient engines mated to five-and-six speed transmissions for about the same price.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the least expensive and most fuel-efficient Sebring since that seems to be where the bulk of sales are currently occurring in the mid-sized sedan segment.

We found the 4-cylinder noisy, not an attractive feature for a car that starts at more than 20 grand. Some sound deadening material and beefier motor mounts would solve the problem and make the car more refined. On the other hand, it had enough juice to adequately move through all facets of daily driving, although sluggish in certain areas of the rpm band. And while gas mileage is not stellar, its EPA rating of 21 mpg city and 30 highway is acceptable and equal to many of its competitors.

The steering is responsive and confidence-inspiring and the ride is comfortable, a trait most people shopping in this segment desire.

The base Sebring, unfortunately, will never be considered refined. The LX starts at $21,255 including destination charge. It comes with the basic standard items such as 16-inch wheels, full power windows and locks, air conditioning, a four-speaker audio system with CD player, cruise control and tilt/telescoping steering wheel.

We recommend moving up to the Touring edition starting at $22,550 to pick up 17-inch wheels, power driver’s seat, six speakers, and upgraded cloth upholstery which makes it a much more attractive package.

Here’s why rebates and discounts are so important to the cost-conscience Sebring buyer: A similarly equipped Toyota Camry starts at about $21,000 and a Honda Accord at about $22,000. They both carry better resale value. However, neither company is currently offering the kind of incentives that Chrysler is putting on the Sebring.

But if you are going to keep your car five years or more as many people are doing these days, then resale is not as important. And even without the government’s recent intervention, warranties will be honored regardless of what happens to Chrysler.

One of the highlights of all Sebring models is an attractive interior including easy-to-decipher gauges and easy-to-use switchgear. For instance, the audio system has two knobs, one for volume and one for tuning, which is still the best way to operate a radio, designers’ efforts to the contrary. Climate controls have a nice feel. There are other nice touches such as heated and cooled cupholders, an attractive analog clock and useable storage cubbies.

Rear-seat legroom is good and the seatbacks fold forward 60/40 allowing for more cargo space. The trunk is adequate at 13.6 cubic feet about on a par with the segment leaders.

We think the Sebring is a better car and perhaps a better buy with the bigger 3.5 V-6 — a smaller 2.7-liter six-cylinder is offered, but we don’t recommend it — which starts at $26,030 in the Limited edition. The 3.5 V-6 comes with respectable performance, measured at less than seven seconds in 0-to-60 runs. Gas mileage is average for the segment rated at 16 mpg city and 27 on the highway. The 3.5 V-6 also has an available all-wheel drive version.

As noted the Limited has a commendable list of standard features. It also comes with traction and stability control standard. Those safety items are optional on the Touring models. Standard safety across the lineup includes side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags and antilock brakes.

Our 4-cylinder Touring edition came with a $1,395 package that included automatic climate control, heated seats, remote start, the heated and cooling cupholders and tire pressure monitoring. Other options included electronic stability control; power sunroof and eight-way power driver’s seat. The bottom line was $25,815.

We like the Sebring because it provides comfortable family transportation in a sedan that doesn't look like everything else on the road. The Sebring’s shortcomings can be overcome by selectively picking desirable options and, most important, by negotiating a good price.


Base price: $21,255; as driven, $25,815
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 173 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 166 foot pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches
Length: 190.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,324 pounds
Turning circle: 35,5 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 30 mpg highway, 21 city
0-60: 9.6 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion

The Good

• Well-designed dashboard
• Not burdened with "me too" styling
• All-wheel drive is available

The Bad

• 4-cylinder engine is unrefined

The Ugly

• Chrysler owned by Fiat and/or the UAW makes for good looking children but ugly parents