Well in time for summer, the last member of the redesigned Stratus/Sebring family of cars arrived at dealerships: the Sebring convertible, successor to what has been the bestselling ragtop in America.
On sale since February, it's a nice job overall -- not perfect, but an elegant and smooth-running boulevard cruiser that's easy to live with day in and day out.
Why not perfect? Although the Sebring was designed from the ground up to be a convertible -- and not a hardtop whose roof is sawn off on the assembly line -- there's a moderate amount of body shake when the road turns bumpy. To a greater or lesser extent, that's almost inevitable when a car lacks the structural strength a steel roof provides. Here, it just happens to be a little greater and, if it was there on a tester with less than 5,000 miles on its clock, it's not likely to get any better as the car gets older. And, while Chrysler has done a good job of sealing out wind, there was a distinct whistle coming from where the tester's top met its driver's side window.
Another problem common to convertibles is also present in the Sebring: terrible visibility to the right rear -- so important in left-to-right lane changes. The culprit is the wide aft portion of the top -- where the last roof pillar in a hardtop would be.
The Sebring is available in three equipment levels -- LX, LXi and the one I sampled: Limited. Prices begin at $24,995 with freight for the LX.
All three come with a gutsy and smooth-running 2.7-liter V-6, rated at 200hp. A relatively new engine introduced in Chrysler products three years ago, it delivers 32 more hp. than its predecessor, which displaced 2.5 liters. It runs on regular unleaded.
Acceleration is sufficient and, it says here, you can tow a 1,000-pound trailer with your Sebring. Motor Trend pegged 0 to 60 mph at just under nineseconds for a Sebring with the 2.7-liter engine.
All versions get a four-speed automatic transmission, but in the Limited it has Chrysler's AutoStick feature that allows manual shifting with a nudge of the gear selector, left or right. The tester's tranny performed well enough.
Brakes are four-wheel discs; anti- lock is standard in the Limited, available in the others.
Handling is competent, but this car clearly is designed for luxury, not sportiness.
I thought the interior both attractive and functional; everything is self- explanatory and, except for a CD player mounted very low in the center of the dash, well-located.
The top is power-operated across the line, but in the LX it's vinyl rather than cloth.
Even the LX comes with power and heated outside mirrors, air conditioning, a tachometer, two 12-volt power outlets, power driver's seat, cruise control, and power windows and locks - the latter with remote and an alarm.
The LXi starts at $27,455 with freight, adding leather seating, a CD player, larger-diameter 16-inch wheels and a few other items to the LX's basic equipment list. The Limited begins at $28,945 plus $595 freight. Besides the aforementioned shift-it-yourself transmission and anti-lock brakes, and over and above LXi equipment, it includes electroluminescent gauges and an upgraded stereo with cassette as well as the CD player, which in the Limited holds four discs.
The tester's final sticker of $29,590 included a cold-weather group with battery and engine block heaters and a smoker's group of which I could find no evidence in the car: no ashtray, no lighter.
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