New Car/Review

The Chrysler Sebring JXi Convertible, Style says it all

by Larry Weitzman

Chrysler Sebring

Some of the most stylish convertibles in the world have been produced by Chrysler. Going back in time, the 1932 Le Baron that won its class in a recent Pebble Beach Coucours may be the most magnificent (and untouchable) but the wood-bodied Chrysler Town and Country of the late 40's are a sought after (and more affordable) collector's piece as well.

More recently were the late 50's and early 60's Chrysler 300's and New Yorker's, especially the 1956 and the 1960. All beautiful, powerful and pleasurable drivers, even by today's standards.

The Sebring was designed as a replacement of the previous generation LeBaron coupe and convertible. It was conceived as a convertible only, not a coupe that had its top chopped. It shares no body parts with any other Chrysler product and has its own 106 inch wheelbase. The chassis is derived from the Cirrus/Stratus platform but that is where any similarities ends.

The body shares the cab forward architecture Chrysler pioneered in 1993. With an overall length of 193 inches, the Sebring is surprisingly roomy on the inside with a good size trunk. And it is the body that draws all the attention. The Sebring is simply a beautiful shape with soft flowing lines starting with an open egg crate grille decorated with the Chrysler winged emblem.

Its good looking headlight assembly with large fogs lights beneath finish off a classic front end. The lines flow uninterrupted to the rear with a slight thickening of the rear quarters to a smooth softly rounded tail with nicely integrated tail lights. With the top down it is an attention getter.

The convertible top is power and easy to use. It is fully lined, well proportioned and looks good when up. When up the lined top storage well behind the rear seats can be used for extra storage (soft, light items only please).

The engine comes from Mitsubishi where Chrysler has had a long term relationship. It is a smooth, 2.5L SOHC V-6 with 24 valves for breathing. You want a different engine, buy a different car. In the Sebring, this unit puts out 168 hp @ 5,800 rpm. That's a few more ponies than other versions of this powerplant because the larger chassis allows for a low restriction intake manifold. Torque is 170 lb ft at 4,350 rpm.

With a curb weight of 3382 pounds, performance does not equate to escape velocities. 0-60 will take a 10.2 seconds with my quickest run being 10.02 seconds. Passing performance is adequate with a 50-70 time of 6.2 seconds. Up hill passing will slow that time to 9.9 seconds. But the car feels quicker than the stopwatch indicates.

Chrysler achieved this by modifying the transmission torque converter and a specially fitted throttle linkage. Tip in feels strong even at part throttle. Shift patterns are well chosen and smooth. Considering the size and weight of the Sebring, it performs beyond its numbers.

EPA rates the Sebring at 19/27 mpg city/highway. During my test I recorded 21.5 mpg. Figure on about 21-24 in El Dorado County and an easy 27 mpg plus on the highway at legal speeds. With its 16 gallon fuel tank, range will stretch out to a bladder busting 400 miles plus.

Stopping power is provided by front ventilated discs with rear drums with all-important ABS standard. Pedal effort was excellent during normal driving further extending the Sebring's benign character. Four wheel discs are available as part of the All Season Group (which includes a CD player, low speed traction control and luxury convenience group) for $400 and a real deal.

Suspension is state of the art fully independent at all four corners. Both the front and rear use unequal upper and lower control arms with coil springs and stabilizer bars. The rear set up gets additional trailing arms. This car is tight and smooth.

Even on Ponderosa Road there was no cowl shake as the Sebring just ate up the bumps and washboard. There was no shake, rattle and little roll in its deportment. Chrysler used extensive chassis reinforcement to obtain structural rigidity. It is certainly evident.

With alloys wheels standard (16X6.5 inches) and meaty 215/55X16 the Sebring acquits itself well on the twisties. Steering is rack and pinion variable power assist. It has a natural, linear feel. Green Valley, Bass Lake and Airport road showed that this Chrysler is a handler as well. In spirited driving is could be flicked through the twisties with little effort while maintaining a perfect line.

Pushed hard some understeer becomes evident, but it is very controllable and predictable. Overall handling is competent enough to be fun, practical and confident.

On the highway is where the Sebring really shines. It is extremely smooth and quiet (with the top in place). With the top down at 70 mph, it offers excellent wind protection for its occupants. There is little wind buffeting and the wind noise is very tolerable. The sound system, which was designed for topless motoring, was still very usable. Enjoying the visibility and openness of a convertible is a pleasure, even on the highway. Expansion joints and tar strips are completely absorb by the compliant suspension.

The Sebring is a stable high speed tourer, with the engine turning an easy 2,600 rpm at 70 mph

At slower speeds, below 55 mph, in the twisties, top down motoring really becomes fun. There is little noise and almost no wind. It's the only way to go when there is no rain. If cold temperatures are a bother, just turn on the heater. Convertibles are the most motoring fun one can have, especially in a place like El Dorado County and you're not in a hurry.

On the inside, the Sebring JXi comes with standard leather trim and large comfortable buckets with power on the driver's side. The dash is well integrated with the instrument pod containing a large tach and speedo, left and right and smaller fuel and temp gauges further to the right. A mini computer with temperature readout is in the upper right of the pod.

The vertical part of the integrated center console contains the easy to use, intuitive controls for the excellent sound system which uses standard Infinity speakers. Underneath are the large rotary knobs for the climate control system. It is simple and powerful. The rest of the center console is loaded with storage space and the cupholders. The four speed automatic is operated by the console mounted floor shifter.

The rear seating is where the Sebring shines. They are actually usable. Legroom was more than adequate and with the top down there is no headroom problem. Even with the top up it was comfortable. The rear seats are well shaped for two, there is no seat belt for a third person.

The convertible top folds completely down into its large well. The Sebring comes with an easy to use standard one piece boot cover that folds up to fit into the trunk. It even has its own elastic straps to make folding and storage simple. The trunk is large with nearly 12 cubic feet of storage.

Now for the best news of all, a Sebring is affordable. The upscale JXi model with standard leather, 16 inch alloys, full power including the driver's seat, ABS and a host of other features stickers for $26,360 plus $535 for destination for a total of $26,895 (the price of my tester). The only option I would add would be the all season group which adds a CD, four wheel discs, automatic mirror, reading lights and three button garage transmitter.

The base model JX which comes with standard ABS and full power including driver's seat as well lists for $24,045 plus $535 destination. A real bargain for a superb convertible which will give its lucky passengers a lot of smiles and a great tan (do not forget the sunblock).

A fine selection of these great cars are available at Shingle Springs Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Lincoln and Mercury. Take one for a test drive and get a real look at our beautiful county in spring. You will be surprised at how much more you will see and how much more fun it is to go from point A to point B. Life is good but don't forget your hairbrush.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                                    $24,580 to about $28,000

Engine
2.5L, SOHC V-6                           168 hp @ 5,800 rpm
24 valves                                170 lb ft of torque @ 4,350 rpm

Transmission
4 speed electronically
controlled automatic

Configuration
Transverse front engine,
front wheel drive
Traction control available 
with All Season Group Package ($400)

Dimensions
Wheelbase                                 106.0  inches
Length                                    193.0  inches
Width                                     69.2   inches
Height                                    54.8   inches
Weight                                    3382   pounds
Turning Circle                            40.0   feet
Fuel Capacity                             16.0   gallons
Trunk Capacity                            11.3   cubic feet
Track Front/Rear                          60.2/60.2  inches

Performance
0-60                                      10.2   seconds
50-70                                     6.2    seconds
50-70 uphill (6%)                         9.9    seconds
Top Speed                                 Estimate about 110 mph but at 
                                          that speed  it will definitely 
                                          straighten your hair and put a 
                                          crimp in your wallet.  

Fuel Economy                              19/27 EPA city/highway.  

My estimate would be 21-24 mpg in El Dorado County and 27 plus mpg on the highway.

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