Chrysler’s new Sebring aims to take on some formidable opposition in the New Zealand mid-seized sedan market. Can it hack it? Richard Bosselman reports.
July 2, 2007, 9am. When a medium-sized Chrysler was last sold new here, bell-bottomed jeans were in vogue and we were grappling with a novel – but pointless - fuel-saving concept called carless days. Yes, it was THAT long ago.
And the Avenger wasn’t even a real Yank, but a British Hillman that was no world-beater, despite some early rally successes. It would not see out the 1970s.
Now Chrysler’s back for another go, with the Sebring Limited, a $42,990 five-seater sedan.
The assertive styling and uniquely American gadgets - like a cupholder that heats and cools (yes, really) – seem to underpin this car’s provenance as a genuine Statesider, though actually it’s not quite.
The Sebring’s been a brand stalwart in North America for many years, but the 2007 effort is the first to be produced in right-hand drive.
That’s a result of it being the US end product of a short-lived DaimlerChrysler collaboration with Mitsubishi and Hyundai.
That arrangement also produced the Sonata, Kia Magentis, Outlander and upcoming Lancer.
A sister car (with more swank) to the upcoming Dodge Avenger – yes, the name lives on - it’s up against the Honda Accord, Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6, Sonata and upcoming Ford Mondeo, all good, solid, well established products.
So what’s the game plan?
The Yank’s not entirely competitive on price – this money can buy a V6 Sonata – but, as a “premium entry” car, it strives to even the score with styling and a big dose of individuality.
Unmistakably Chrysler, the Sebring is no shrinking violet, having drawn on the look of a concept car, the Airflite, which impressed on the international show circuit.
That was four years ago, though the time taken to transfer the car from the styling studio to the showroom really hasn’t weakened the visuals.
It’s going to be noticed – and admired - in that sea of Accords, Camrys and Mazdas.
Viewing this car is like taking a tour through the entire Chrysler portfolio.
The influence of the Crossfire coupe shows on the ribbed bonnet and deeply lined sideview.
The big grille, massive headlights and shaped sides are just as clearly derived from the bigger, bulkier more heavily-retro 300C.
That jutting front bumper is a detail shared with the Dodge Nitro.
The short rear bootlid? Pure Sebring. It provides an almost hatchback appearance, but the Sebring is a traditional three-box sedan.
Inside, there’s a simple dashboard design, with instruments housed in a trio of attractive binnacles. The cabin has brushed metal highlights and is finished in shades of grey or beige.
A 60:40 split rear seat is standard.
Hard plastics, uneven panel gaps and very shiny leather are disappointments you seemingly have to live with when it comes to American-made product.
And US assembly-line workers just don’t seem to be as diligent as their counterparts in Japan, Korea or Europe.
There’s also a degree of kitsch that comes with US product. I’m personally not at all certain about the tortoiseshell details applied to the dashboard, door panels and on the steering wheel.
Still, a high kit count helps to compensate for any shortcomings in quality and good taste.
The Sebring has climate control, a top-drawer stereo and a sunroof, and one handy feature rarely found at this price level is a tyre-pressure monitor.
Another is a fold-flat passenger seat that creates a table-like surface.
And then there’s the feature I’ve never come across before in almost 30 years in the road-testing game: that hot/cold cupholder.
Sited a little awkwardly between the front seats, this example of hallmark Americana will cool (to 1.5 degrees Celcius) your cola and heat (up to 60deg) your latte. Or, if you neglect to switch it off, your parking meter change.
The holder is ceramic-lined and wipe-friendly. It doesn’t have a child-proof cap – so beware those little fingers – but if you’re into coffee on the go, then it’s a stay-hot solution you might have never previously thought possible.
Safety is well tended to. As well as a strong airbag count, it has ISOFIX child seat fixings and an Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS) which automatically turns on the interior lights (to help the emergency services see and reach the occupants), unlocks the doors and shuts off the flow of fuel to the engine if the airbags are deployed after an accident.
Sadly we’re denied another feature that would surely tempt the trendy here.
It’s MyGIG, a cool iPod-style multi-media infotainment system that incorporates a 20-gigabyte hard disc drive for storing map data, photos or up to 1600 songs. We can’t have it until sat-nav issues are sorted. Same goes for the Bluetooth phone hook-up.
The cabin is roomy and comfortable; the backseat passengers can easily slide their feet under the front chairs.
The story goes that during the car’s development, DaimlerChrysler chairman Dieter Zetsche was adamant about this car having more headroom because he’d banged his melon more than once getting into the old car.
Sebring is the name of America’s oldest permanent motorsport circuit, but this version won’t be winning any races.
The 125kW/220Nm four-cylinder engine is an honest performer, but when married to a four-stage automatic then also asked to haul 1560kg of Detroit steel it’s at the edge of its performance envelope.
Top speed is 200km/h and 0-100km/h takes an easygoing 11.3 seconds.
The ‘e’ word also best describes the dynamic actions. Our Sebrings score the European suspension tuning, which is basically the US market Sebring R/T sports arrangement, and have sharper steering.
Or so they say.
Ride is certainly comfy, but at the expense of all else.
A selection of demanding roads wasn’t entirely kind. Even when it began raining, there was no great shortage of grip – not enough, at least, to make the ESP begin earning its keep - but mid-corner bumps, especially, upset the car’s composure.
The low levels of feedback from the power-assisted rack and pinion steering also diminished the entertainment value.
It gets the job done, but maybe stopping to sample raw oysters for afternoon tea wasn’t such a good idea.
The transmission’s Tiptronic-style sequential shift action, which Chrysler calls AutoStick, is smooth enough but will be barely used because there are just four gears to employ.
Set to offer more fizz and flexibility – being hooked to a six-speed auto - are the 138kW/256Nm 2.7-litre V6 petrol and 103kW/310Nm 2.0-litre, Volkswagen turbodiesel four-cylinder coming in December-January.
A carryover from the previous car, the V6 is good for a sub-10 second 0-100km/h time, though it’s not a patch on the 3.5-litre V6 (0-100km/h in 7.7s) reserved for left-hand drive markets.
- Story and photographs by Richard Bosselman.