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SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

1996 CHRYSLER SEBRING CONV

by Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 24,675
     Price As Tested                                    $ 25,755
     Engine Type                             2.5 Liter V6 w/EFI*
     Engine Size                                 152 cid/2497 cc
     Horsepower                                   168 @ 5800 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               170 @ 4350 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.0"/69.2"/193.0"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3432 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/55R16
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/drum-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                 50 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/28/25          
     0-60 MPH                                        9.5 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     16.9 seconds @ 78.2 mph


     * Electronic fuel injection

(Convertibles have a fun-in-the-sun reputation and being extremely multi-faceted, the Chrysler Corporation is in the thick of this market niche with its new Sebring Convertible. The test team of Matt and Bob Hagin tried the new drop-top for a week, and while Bob thought it just fine, Matt found the back seat a bit cramped for a baby seat.)

MATT - If it wasn't for the fact that the Sebring name holds a certain mystique for Americans, this new car should have been called the Chrysler Cirrus Convertible. About the only thing it shares with the Sebring hardtop is the badge below the tail light. When the company decided to replace its aging Le Baron convertible, it found that altering the Sebring coupe platform involved too much hassle to get an open car on the market quickly, so the design team opted for the more versatile Cirrus hardware. In fact, the company capitalized the word "convertible" just to make sure that there was no confusion about the fact that the Sebring and the Sebring Convertible are different cars.

BOB - If you check out the specs of both cars, the differences becomes obvious. The Convertible is an inch wider and several inches longer than the hardtop. Most of the dimensions match the Cirrus sedan, but the section between the front and rear mechanical assemblies had to be changed for the ragtop. A lot of reinforcement bracing had to be added in front of the cowl, the floor pan and in the section below the doors. Structural rigidity is a problem in convertibles and thankfully, Chrysler engineers have a pretty good handle on making Sebring Convertible sturdy enough to resist rattling itself to pieces over rough roads. I drove over some of our roughest local roads, and it felt solid.

MATT - The Convertible comes in two trim levels, Dad. The JX is the base model and uses a high-tech 2.4 liter four cylinder engine, while the JXi packs a V6 that's just a little bigger at 2.5 liters. They both use a four-speed automatic transmission which is electronically operated and smooth as silk. But the car is a couple of hundred pounds heavier than either the Cirrus sedan or the Sebring coupe so to my mind, the best engine choice is the V6. Though not a whole lot bigger than the four-banger, it puts out more torque which gives better off-the-line power and makes merging into highway traffic easier. I would have preferred to see Chrysler stay with the three-liter displacement it used on the older V6 engine, though, because it would have given the new car just a bit more "jump" and throttle response.

BOB - The Sebring Convertible wasn't designed to be a street-racer, Matt. It's the kind of car you use for cruising around resorts or the beach with the top down and the sound system playing cool tunes. The interior has an amazing amount of space and the back seat provides enough room to keep passengers in back from being cramped. The top action is pretty slick, too. Just flip a couple of latches to cut it loose, push a button and the top slips into a cavity behind the rear seat. And to make sure that it doesn't get tangled up with the windows as it's being lowered, the side glass drops a bit automatically to make sure that everything clears.

MATT - The front shoulder belt systems are built into the front seats. You don't have to thread yourself past a harness to get into the rear, which is a plus when you have to strap a baby into an infant seat back there. The front seat slides forward automatically when you pull the seatback levers and this makes life back there lots easier as well. With the top up, it's really more of a two-door sedan than a coupe. Even the rear window is glass and has a built-in defroster system. That would sure come in handy during the winter freeze. But the seal isn't perfect - I heard some wind noise coming in at the top of the side windows.

BOB - Matt, I never noticed that the windows had any wind noise around them.

MATT - Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you always put the top down when you had the car, Dad, even when it got cold.

BOB - Well, I drew the line at having it down in the rain but at my age, you have to look "cool" as often as possible.

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