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1996 Chrysler Sebring JX Convertible

by Carey Russ

The Chrysler Sebring convertible, introduced early in 1996, is a unique automobile. It is the only reasonably-priced midsized convertible with realistic room for four full-sized adults available in the American market today. Although it replaces the venerable Le Baron convertible in Chrysler's lineup, it is completely new. Designed from the ground up as a convertible and only a convertible, it shares little besides the name with the Sebring coupe. The Sebring convertible is based on the "JA" platform used by the Chrysler Cirrus, not the "FJ" platform of the Sebring coupe.

Like the big domestic convertibles of the 1950s and 1960s, the Sebring convertible is a distinctively American car for American driving. It is not a nostalgia trip but a fully modern car with a rigid unit- construction chassis, fully-independent suspension, modern safety equipment, and a choice of economical four or six-cylinder engines. Two trim levels, JX and JXi, are offered. Although the JXi is fully-equipped, most of its equipment is optionally available on the JX. I recently spent a sunshine-blessed week with a Sebring JX equipped with almost all the options and found it to be a pleasant, enjoyable car with plenty of room for four people and luggage.

APPEARANCE: From the outside, the Sebring convertible is undeniably a Chrysler product. "Cab forward" design, practically a corporate trademark, means short front and rear overhangs with the wheels moved out toward the corners of the car. The hood and rear deck are nearly the same length, and both are short. The passenger cabin is very long. The front of the car is dominated by a black trapezoidal grille with a massive chromed horizontal bar that is reminiscent of the classic Chrysler 300 series of the 1950s. From the side, the sloped hood, steeply raked windshield, and high rear deck help give a sporty appearance. Oval wraparound taillights highlight the rear panel.

COMFORT: The Chrysler Sebring convertible is the one open-top car that can be functional, practical family transportation. Cab-forward architecture makes for plenty of room inside, especially in the back seat. This is a car that can comfortably hold four full-sized people, or five in a pinch. There is real legroom for rear-seat passengers. The front bucket seats and rear bench of the JX are covered with "ultrahide" synthetic material as standard equipment. My test example had the optional premium cloth, a definite plus for humid summer days. Because the front seat belts are anchored to the seats, not the car body, rear seat access is very good for a 2-door car. The drivers'-side seat back returns to position after being moved forward for easier rear seat access. The instrument panel is a modern, flowing design that offers good visibility of the instruments and functional positioning of the controls. The glove box and console storage can be locked. Small details make the Sebring convertible noteworthy. For instance, the dome light is placed on the bottom of the rearview mirror, so it can be useful with the top up or down. The fully-lined, power-operated top has a heated glass backlight and can be put up or down at the touch of a button. Two latches to the top of the windshield secure it. The power- operated windows should be down when raising or lowering the top; if not, they are partially lowered automatically. Trunk space is very reasonable, especially for a convertible.

SAFETY: The front seat belts and shoulder straps in the Sebring convertible anchor to the front seats. Dual front airbags and frontal, side, and rear impact protection structures are standard. A personal security system is optional on JX models and standard on the JXi, as are antilock brakes.

ROADABILITY: The Chrysler Sebring convertible is a cruiser, not a sports car. The purpose-designed chassis provides a good anchor for a fully-independent suspension. Chassis flex is minimal, ensuring a minimum of squeaks and rattles. A smooth ride is the goal more than out- and-out sports car cornering abilities. This is attained, and handling is perfectly good at touring speeds. The Sebring convertible is a relaxing, enjoyable car to drive, especially with the top down. The windshield and front seat position make sure that top-down wind blast is not a major problem. There is enough breeze for the wind-in-the-hair experience without excess.

PERFORMANCE: As in handling, performance of the Sebring convertible is biased toward the real world in 1996 America. With the 2.5-liter V6 engine, low-speed acceleration is good enough for safe maneuvering around town and in traffic. Power drops noticeably above 70 mph, but is just fine at normal, real-world speeds. The Sebring convertible is no hemi- powered beast, but an enjoyable cruiser with room for friends and family.

CONCLUSIONS: With the introduction of the Chrysler Sebring convertible, the affordable family convertible is back. It combine style, comfort, and top-down fun in a unique package.

1996 Chrysler Sebring JX Convertible
Base Price               $ 19,460
Price As Tested          $ 23,985
Engine Type              V6, single overhead cam per bank, 24 valves
Engine Size              2.5 liters, 152 cu. in.
Horsepower               168 @ 5800
Torque (lb-ft)           170 @ 4350
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length       106.0 in. / 193.0 in.
Curb Weight              3400 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    20.2
Fuel Capacity            16.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular
Tires                    P215/55 R16 Michelin XGT 4
Brakes, front/rear            disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear   independent, unequal-length upper and
                         lower control arms /
                         independent, unequal-length upper and
                         lower control arms
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20/28/24
0 to 60 mph                        10.1 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    17.5 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           0.36