By Kevin Miller
The Chrysler Sebring is not the most modern, most spacious, best-equipped, or best-handling sedan in the mid-sized class. If anything, it is the most under-rated sedan. Slightly revised for 2010, the Sebring lost the odd hood strakes that were eye-catching (though not pretty). Even in Limited trim with chromed aluminum wheels, the Sebring has a particularly anonymous look. With Chrysler’s ongoing financial troubles and and an uninspired design, sales have been slow (despite picking up in August 2010, which is surely heavy with fleet sales). The Sebring sedan has become a rental fleet queen as a result.
Nevertheless, the Sebring is the Chrysler brand’s entry in the crowded mainstream sedan segment, and the company is pressing on with production and sales. The good news, however, is that Chrysler has acknowledged this car’s shortcomings and is planning to sell a revised Sebring with an improved interior and more refined exterior design later this year until a new sedan can be put in to production (perhaps the 200c we recently wrote about). Many Sebrings spend the early part of their lives in daily rental fleets, but those Sebrings aren’t the top-spec Limited model that Chrysler provided for a weeklong evaluation. Perhaps this under-rated and under-appreciated car is slightly more desirable with all of the option boxes checked off.
The current Sebring’s anonymous looks include hints of previous-generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class in the headlamps and front grille, and maybe a bit of Infiniti G37 sedan in the tail lamps. For 2010, Chrysler made the decision to crowd the entire name of the car onto the relatively narrow trunk lid’s vertical surface, as well as the Chrysler “wings” logo- the result is a cluttered-looking bootlid. Another mis-step on the otherwise forgettable exterior are the large decorative black plastic “sails” behind the rear door which attempt to visually elongate the Sebring’s greenhouse.
Climbing in to the Sebring, the steering wheel is leather-wrapped, though its top third is made from the same shiny-wood-look plastic used on the dash, which is not at all pleasant to hold for driving. To help get comfortable, the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach; redundant audio controls are on the back of the steering wheel spokes. The instrument cluster displays three clear, straightforward analog displays.
The center stack features an infotainment/navigation head unit whose display has fairly high resolution. The touchscreen head unit does a good job of controlling the entertainment and navigation systems, though it is lacking on telephone features (there is no way to directly dial a phone number, and voice recognition of my phone’s contacts was hit-and-miss, compared to Ford’s SYNC system). The head unit does have some confusing screen menus, and it only has a single disc CD/DVD, but music (or photos) can transferred onto the system’s 30 GB internal hard drive (from disc or USB). Sirius satellite radio is also included, as well as ports for Aux in and USB. Unfortunately the USB port will not play a connected iPod. Sound quality wasn’t the best, but there was plenty of volume.
Surrounding the optional infotainment head unit and the climate controls are silver-painted plastic materials not unlike those that adorn the center stack in the Cadillac CTS. Too, there is a trip computer using a monochromatic electronic display at the bottom of the instrument panel and controlled through convoluted, symbol-marked buttons, as in the CTS. The oddly-shaped upper dashboard is constructed of soft-touch plastic, while the lower dash, door interiors, and center console are in a very hard plastic with a dimpled pattern- way behind other players in this class. Strips of silver-painted plastic and tortoiseshell-looking very-fake wood trim also adorn the door interiors and the dash in front of the passenger. An arc-shaped groove sculpted across the dash top intersects circular speaker grills and leaves a gap into which a finger can be poked to remove the speaker grill, making it seem as though the interior parts weren’t all designed to be assembled together.
LED reading lamps are present for front and rear seat, and the dome light is also an LED. Because of the directional quality of LEDs used for illumination, this results in very bright lighting where the LEDs are shining, and deep shadows in the rest of the all-black interior.
Seats in the Sebring Limited are upholstered with leather on the seating surfaces; Dark Slate Gray colored (i.e. black) in the case of my car. The seats are relatively comfortable, and feature eight-way power adjustment plus manual lumbar for the driver, as well as two-stage warming for the front seats. Despite the leather upholstery, the Sebring’s interior smells of petrochemicals rather than cow hides.
The back seat also gets leather upholstery on the outboard seating positions, with black vinyl making up the rest of the rear seat including the folding armrest with two cup holders. While the seat is equipped with lower LATCH attachment points for the two outboard seating positions (and upper LATCH points for all three positions), the lower LATCH points were extremely difficult to use with my Britax Marathon convertible car seat, because they are pressed against the bottom edge of the seatback cushion frame , and the Britax LATCH connectors need about 3/8 of an inch of space above the LATCH. I spent about 15 minutes before finally getting the lower anchors attached, swearing the whole time and coming to the conclusion that people who buy the Sebring sedan probably don’t buy fancy carseats like the Britax Marathon. The fixed head restraints also kept the convertible carseat and my older daughter’s booster seat from sitting snugly against the seatback. The poor lower LATCH placement and the shape of the headrests lead me to rate the Sebring’s back seat as not “family friendly.”
The trunk benefits from space-saving external pivot type hinges, but unfortunately loses space due to intrusive upholstery in the top-back of the trunk and on the inside of the decklid. My family of four took the Sebring on a weekend trip, and had a difficult time fitting a standard-sized cooler, portable crib, and plastic storage bin in addition to our luggage. I ended up scraping my hand on something sharp on the top inside of the trunk. I could see that there were small pockets of space still available in the trunk, but the uneven trunk upholstery kept me from being able to fill them up. Unlike in most modern sedans, the trunk latch sticks up into the trunk opening (rather than being recessed in the sill), so it was easy to have items catch on the latch as they were being loaded in to the trunk.
Turning the key (no keyless entry or start is available) brings the 3.5 liter V6 to life. While Hyundai has proclaimed that the V6 is dead for mid-sized sedans (and Chevrolet rumored to be following suit), the DOA Sebring continues to offer this not-so-refined six-cylinder, and its relatively meager 235 HP output. The engine sounds incredibly coarse at cold start, and poor insulation between the engine room and the cabin means that noises from the engine are readily transmitted in to the cabin. The engine is at its best below about 4500 RPM- between there and the 6000 RPM redline produces unpleasant mechanical sounds that are not well-enough isolated from the passenger cabin. Relief from this 3.5 liter V6 is reportedly on the way, with Chrysler’s new 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 slated to arrive in the Sebring at a future date.
The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic, which does its job just fine. It is equipped with Chrysler’s AutoStick functionality. Shifts (whether automatically or manually commanded) are certainly felt, but not intrusively so. Cruising the suburban stoplight crawl on a 40 MPH road, the Sebring would shift from first to second, third, fourth and fifth gears in the course of about five seconds… producing an unnerving sensation of constant transmission activity.
Underway, the most noticeable trait from the helm is very light-effort for the steering wheel; it is nearly of the steer-with-your-pinky variety, and quite a change from that of most vehicles on the road. Very little feedback comes through the overboosted wheel.
The chassis “tuning” is such that the Sebring suffers from nearly comical levels of understeer. While not as bad as in its convertible sibling, it is very easy to come into a corner with too much speed (at speeds that wouldn’t be considered ”too much” in most vehicles), and plow wide of your intended path of travel. This is partially moderated with the Sebring’s standard stability control,and can also be partially modulated by applying more power and trying to wheelspin your way to traction. Of course, most buyers of new Sebrings probably won’t be driving quickly enough to experience or worry about that.
The body is relatively solid, with very little noticeable flex or wiggle. As the flaccid Sebring convertible is the only Sebring I had previously driven, I was actually surprised by the sedan’s rigidity. The suspension, however, is another matter- it wallows over freeway undulations, judders over expansion joints, and generally is very busy trying to make the Sebring ride like a stereotypical American car. If you like a car that gives you feedback while you’re driving, the Sebring isn’t the car for you… but you already knew that.
The Sebring’s handling adds absolutely no joy to driving it, but is not the worst part of the driving experience; that distinction goes to the absolute lack of respect other drivers give Sebring on the road. I’ve never been cut off so frequently and raced to merge points as much in any car as in the Sebring- it seems that nobody wants to drive behind one. Perhaps this is because of Sebring’s ubiquity in the rental fleet (drivers of rental cars don’t know where they are going), or perhaps it is because the cars tend to be chosen by hapless retirees cruising along below the speed limit.
I managed to cover about 450 miles over the course of seven days in the Sebring. The EPA rates the Sebring 16/27 MPG, 20 combined; that isn’t near the top of ratings for mid-sized sedans. I managed to get 24.4 MPG according to the car’s trip computer, with about 75% of my driving at speed on the freeway.
The Sebring Limited sedan has a base price of $22,115. The one I tested was equipped with plenty of options- $245 Deep Water Blue Pearl Coat Exterior Paint; $1010 Customer Preferred Package 26B (Automatic Single-Zone Climate Control, Fog Lamps, Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror, Remote start, Security Alarm, Temperature and Compass Gauge, TPMS, Trip Computer, Universal Garage Door Opener); $1695 Navigation and Sound Group I (6.5” Touchscreen Display, SIRIUS Satellite Radio/Traffic, Media Center 730N CD/DVD/HDD/NAV Radio with 30 GB Hard Drive, 6-Speaker Boston Acoustics, GPS Navigation, Uconnect Phone with Voice Command); $425 Electronic Stability Control; $200 Six-Speed Automatic Transmission; $2050 3.5 Liter High Output V6 Engine (includes 18” Aluminum Wheels with All Season Touring Tires, AutoStick Automatic Transmission, Dual Exhaust Tips); $845 Power Sunroof with Open/Close Express, and $700 18” Chrome-Clad Aluminum Wheels. Including the Destination Charge of $750, the total MSRP is $30,035. That seems like far too much money to pay for a Sebring sedan given the available competition, and it is doubtful that many trade at such a transaction price.
Perhaps my expectations of the Sebring were too low. I had expected to be horrified by the ride and interior treatments. While nothing about the car is class-leading, the Sebring was not an uncomfortable car in which to spend a week and 450 miles. But with so many attractive players in the mid-sized sedan class there are few good reasons to choose the Sebring; Chrysler dealers must be hoping that this car is soon replaced by a competent, competitive car, and very soon.