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SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

1998 CHRYSLER SEBRING JXi CONVERTIBLE

by Tom Hagin


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 25,040
Price As Tested                                    $ 27,925
Engine Type                SOHC 4-valve 2.5 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 152 cid/2497 cc
Horsepower                                   168 @ 5800 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               170 @ 4350 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                    106"/70.1"/192.6"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3453 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    16 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/55R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                 40 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.36

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            19/29/23
0-60 MPH                                       10.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       18.5 seconds @ 78 mph
Top speed                                           105 mph
     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

It's no surprise that the best-selling convertible in America doesn't come with a thundering V8 engine, tire-smoking rear-wheel-drive and an astronomical window sticker. Rather, our most popular ragtop offers spirited performance, solid handling and a very attractive price.

That car is the Chrysler Sebring Convertible. Many readers may have rented one during vacation, or may even have one parked in the garage waiting for the sun to appear. The car is available in LX and uplevel JXi trim, and new this year is the Limited version that we evaluated.

OUTSIDE - The Sebring Convertible is long and wide, yet svelte and shapely. One of its most clever styling tricks is the hiding of the seat belts in the seat backs to avoid exposed belt posts such as those that mar the looks of many modern convertibles. Its windshield is raked rearward and the hood is short, so there's lots of forward vision. The view behind is panoramic with the top down, but rearward vision with the top up is obscured by a large blind spot. Lowering the fully-insulated top is very easy: unlatch two windshield clamps and activate a switch on the console. Resurrecting is just as easy. Fog lamps are integrated into the front air dam and in the case of our JXi with Limited trim, a set of highly polished alloy wheels look expensive, but come as part of the Limited package.

INSIDE - Sebring's interior is very functional and pleasingly uncluttered. All of the switches and controls are easy to reach and in the right place, but the faux wood accents surrounding the stereo and ventilation controls looks too much like faux woodgrain to our eyes. There's enough space for three across in the back seat, with lots of legroom and headroom. Our test car was loaded with such standard features as power windows, mirrors and door locks, air conditioning, variable-speed intermittent wipers, power driver's seat, rear defroster, tilt steering and leather-trimmed upholstery. Limited trim adds a leather-wrapped shift lever and steering wheel, floor mats, a garage door opener and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

ON THE ROAD - The standard engine in the Limited version is a 2.5 liter V6 engine. It uses a single camshaft atop each cylinder head and produces 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Power is adequate for most conditions, though for a car this size, it seems that 200 horsepower should be the considered a minimum. Mated to this engine is a four-speed automatic transmission that has a tough time deciding which gear to select - but only during spirited driving. It seems to decide to change gears at exactly the time it's not supposed to, then hunts for the right gear for far too long. This shortcoming can be easily overridden since the car is equipped with Chrysler's semi-manual AutoStick gear selecting system. By sliding the shifter to the right, the driver can operate the transmission like a manual and circumvent the computer's decision-making process during performance driving.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Where the hard-top Sebring is based on the Mitsubishi Galant sedan platform and put together in Illinois, the Sebring Convertible is based on the Chrysler Cirrus platform and assembled in Mexico. It is longer than the coupe version and weighs just a bit more. It uses independent suspension, coil springs, sport-tuned shocks and stabilizer bars front and rear. The ride is tuned somewhat firm and does a commendable job of subduing road jolts and kickbacks. The rack-and- pinion steering system is speed-sensitive, so there's more road feel at highway speeds. Braking is handled by disc brakes all around and an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is utilized both front and rear. New this year on the Sebring Convertible is a traction control system that minimizes wheelspin on slippery surfaces. Since the front-wheel-drive Sebring performs well on snow in standard anyway, traction control makes inclement weather even less worrisome.

SAFETY - Dual reduced-power airbags, ABS, traction control and side-impact door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Limited package: $1,550; 2.5 liter V6 engine: $800; destination charge: $535.

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