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SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

1996 CHRYSLER SEBRING CONV. AUTOSTICK

by Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 24,660
     Price As Tested                                    $ 24,765
     Engine Type                             2.5 Liter V6 w/SFI*
     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
     * Sequential fuel injection

The convertible has made a resurgence and technology has finally caught its building process. Gone are rattle-prone "chop-tops," and in their place are vehicles made specifically for top-down motoring.

Chrysler's 1997 Sebring Convertible is a good example. It's a hybrid creation, using not the chassis of its sibling, the Sebring coupe, but a shortened version of the Chrysler Cirrus' underpinnings. This week we test the top-line JXi Sebring Convertible.

OUTSIDE - Sebring Convertible looks good from almost any angle. It features the latest in cab-forward design, and its swoopy shape keeps wind-rush inside to a minimum. A clear resemblance to the Sebring coupe is there, although the Convertible forgoes the plastic body cladding attached to the sides of the hardtop model. Its insulated top is simple to use, with a pair of levers at the top of the windshield and a power switch on the center console. The top then folds neatly onto a well behind the rear seats, and can be hidden from view with a semi-rigid boot that can be easily attached with Velcro and plastic locator tabs. The rear window on JXi models is made of glass, and features an electric defroster, while the trunk is sizable enough for a weekend jaunt's worth of luggage. Other JXi exterior items include front fog lamps, aluminum wheels, body-color door handles, and heated outside mirrors.

INSIDE - Its interior centers around an instrument panel that is nicely integrated into the dashboard. The analog gauges feature white-on-black numbers, which are very easy to read, and its ventilation controls use rotary knobs, for quick temperature adjustments. There is an impressive amount of room inside, so four adults can find enough space for a hassle-free trip to the beach. The front seats feature unique safety belts which are built into the seatback, and automatically adjust to shoulder height. Standard JXi luxury features include air conditioning, a six-way power driver's seat, cruise control, leather- wrapped steering wheel and a powerful AM/FM cassette stereo. Power windows, door locks and outside mirrors are also JXi standards, while our test car came with the automatic-dimming rearview mirror option.

ON THE ROAD - Our test Sebring Convertible came equipped with an optional 2.5 liter V6 engine, with single overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It produces 168 horsepower, which is five more than the hardtop model, because of a less restrictive intake manifold that helps the engine breathe more efficiently. Interestingly, where the "front" of the same engine in the hardtop is positioned on the driver's side, it is flipped the opposite way in the Convertible. This engine runs smoothly, and feels quick off the line, but soon runs out of power in the upper portion of its rpm range. All Sebring convertibles come with an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission, and new-for-'97 is Chrysler's optional AutoStick control system. By positioning the gearshift lever in the "A/S" slot, the driver can select gears with the flick of the wrist, much like a manual transmission.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Sebring Convertible rides on a chassis specifically designed for top-down motoring. Where ragtops of old were simply a coupe with the top cut away, to make Sebring Convertible, Chrysler engineers started nearly from scratch. Special steel tubes in the door sills, along with ladder-type underbody structures help stiffen the car dramatically, as does an under-dash cross beam, and lots of structural adhesives. The car is virtually vibration-free, with only a hint of cowl shake over the worst of roads. Its independent suspension is tuned for comfort, yet is firm enough to keep the car relatively flat in tight corners, and soaks up all but the largest road shocks. Our JXi test model came with slightly tighter suspension components than the JX version, and included stiffer springs and shocks, touring tires and special speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering. Braking duties are the same on both cars, with discs up front and drums in back. A four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard on JXi models.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, side-impact beams and ABS are standard.

OPTIONS - The V6 engine is $800, while a luxury package consisting of a HomeLink transmitter system and the auto-dim mirror is $175 extra.

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