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SEE ALSO:Chrysler Buyer's Guide

It is almost a clich‚ at this point to say that Chrysler Corporation has re-invented itself. With its back to the financial wall a few years ago, it gambled on innovation. Starting with the Viper sports car and continuing with the LH-series family cars, Neon subcompact, Ram pickup truck, and Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus compact sedans, Chrysler has had a steady stream of new, winning vehicles. One of the newest is the Chrysler Sebring.

The Sebring, and its sibling Dodge Avenger, are rational sports coupes for the real world. They are designed to exploit a new niche in the automotive market - midsized sports coupes, larger than the comparably-priced imports and smaller than the more expensive domestics. Of the two, the Sebring is positioned a little more upscale, with more standard luxury features. Both cars emphasize comfort, convenience, and style over raw performance, but still offer good handling characteristics and plenty of fun for most drivers. In particular, the Sebring aims to be an affordable grand touring coupe. Fully equipped, it is priced right around the average for new cars today. It offers style and comfort for a very reasonable price.

The Sebring and Avenger are the latest products of a long, fruitful relationship between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. Produced at Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing in Normal, IL, from a stretched Eagle Talon platform, they share some suspension and instrumentation parts with the Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi Eclipse. The base engine is a version of the 2-liter twincam Neon unit, with a Mitsubishi-sourced 2.5 liter V6 optional. Transmissions and electronics are all Chrysler components. A week with a top-of-the-line Sebring LXi left these impressions:

APPEARANCE: Chrysler's stylists have made their take on the popular rounded wedge quite distinctive. The front of the Sebring is dominated by a simulated air intake with a crossbar grille that evokes images of the legendary Chrysler 300 series of the 1950s. The sides below the rub strip are plastic coated to provide protection from nicks and dings, presenting a two-tone appearance. The cabin is quite large for a sport coupe, and the short upswept rear deck hides a good-sized trunk. Projector style driving lights and five spoke alloy wheels with Goodyear Eagle GT+4 tires are the finishing touches of the Sebring's sporty flair.

COMFORT: The LXi is so completely outfitted that the only major options are a sunroof, leather upholstery and a CD player. The front bucket seats are manually adjustable, while the rear seats fold down 60/40 when more storage area is needed. The front passenger seat automatically moves forward when tilted for rear passenger access. Seating in the rear provides a surprise, as it is relatively roomy back there for two adults. All instruments and warning lights are clearly visible. The temperature control system is easy to use and has ducting to the rear seats for even distribution of warm or cool air. The premium AM/FM/CD system fills the cabin with high quality sound. Other features include powered windows, mirrors and door locks as well as remote lock/unlock, and a 12-volt power outlet.

SAFETY: All Sebrings are equipped with dual airbags and height-adjustable shoulder harnesses in front, and three point seat belts in back. Other safety items include side impact door beams, an energy absorbing steering column and the use of flame retardant materials. The LXi has standard four-wheel anti lock disc brakes. The chassis features front and rear crumple zones.

ROADABILITY: The Sebring LXi is a comfort-oriented touring car at heart, not a fire- breathing sports car. Fully independent suspension, speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering, and front-wheel drive provide good handling and grip at any reasonable highway speed. The ride is sportingly firm but well-damped. With low levels of wind and road noise, and good interior and trunk space, the Chrysler Sebring is a good near-luxury touring coupe.

PERFORMANCE: The Mitsubishi-built 2.5 liter V6 in the Sebring LXi suits the intent of the car well. It is reasonably smooth and quiet. It matches well with the Chrysler four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission. The transmission shifts quickly, quietly and smoothly by itself but does not like to be manually shifted. Fortunately the engine has very good low-speed and midrange torque, so the car can be left in second or third gear for spirited drives on backroads.

CONCLUSIONS: The Chrysler Sebring is an interesting new sports coupe that combines style with practicality and comfort.


       Base Price             $ 19,029
       Price As Tested        $ 19,721
       Engine Type            V-6, - 24-v sohc, smpfi
        Engine Size           2.5 liter/152 cid 
       Horsepower             155 @ 5500                         
       Torque (ft/lbs)        161 @ 4400 
       Wheelbase/Length       104"/187"
       Transmission           four-speed EC automatic w/overdrive
       Curb Weight            2980 lbs.
       Pounds per Horsepower  19.2
       Fuel Capacity          16 gal.
       Fuel Requirement       Unleaded regular (87 oct)              
       Tires                  Goodyear Eagle GT4 + 4  all-season 
                              P205/55R 16        
       Brakes                 vented disc/disc, ABS standard
       Drive Train            Front engine/front drive
       EPA Economy - miles per gallon
         city/highway/observed       20/28/26.1
       0 to 60 mph                   9.3 sec
       1/4 mi (E.T.)                 17.1 sec  
       Coefficient of Drag  (Cd)     .35