Car reviews - Chrysler - Sebring - sedan range
Value, safety features (including standard stability control), relaxed drive, sporty handling, spacious interior, individuality, fuel economy
Room for improvement
Fussy styling, 2.4’s leisurely acceleration and intermittent noise issues
14 May 2007
FOR a segment that was left for dead just a couple of years ago, the medium sedan sector has survived the dual, sustained, decade-long ravages of encroaching compact SUV and small-car sales remarkably intact.
And no car can take more credit for this than the stylish and sporty Mazda6, resetting the segment benchmarks in late 2002, followed close behind by the Honda Accord Euro and Subaru Liberty MkIV.
This terrific trio revived mid-sized sedan sales by straying from the Toyota Camry formula. Sure, all are slightly smaller, but similarly all put bigger smiles on driver’s faces than family cars have any right to.
If you take a peek through Australian automotive history, Chrysler’s GE Sigma from 1977 performed a similar coup against the Datsun 200B, Ford Cortina, Holden Sunbird and Toyota Corona 30 years ago.
Indeed, it was such a big hit that the Sigma killed off the Valiant, and then Chrysler Australia Version 1.0 itself, as the sensational mid-sized sedan’s creator, Mitsubishi Motors, took over.
Now the new Sebring, a brash mid-sized Mid-Western American with a flash smile, will do no such thing to its competition in Australia.
Its sole aim in life is to reign-in the best-selling, completely entrenched, default-purchase Toyota Camry and larger Honda Accord in the USA... and nothing else. Chrysler, like Ford and GM, is suffering severely in its homeland and this is one way DaimlerChrysler sees its ailing American arm surviving.
As far as Chrysler’s American bosses are concerned, the Mazda6, Accord Euro and Liberty are small fry. Literally.
But Chrysler has a precedent for pulling a mid-sized rabbit out of its baseball cap, and in this case, the Sebring should carve a profitable little niche in Australia through individual design and compelling value for money.
We can tell you that the Sebring does not have the spirited performance of the Mazda, but the lusty 125kW/220Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is smooth up to its 6000rpm limit, has adequate mid-range acceleration and will cruise happily at around 115km/h with less than 2500rpm showing.
Better still, according to the trip computer, we were averaging between about 8.2 and 9.6L/100km over a series of fast and at times furious rural driving situations – and that’s really quite a feat of economy for a car this large.
A couple of test cars proved intrusively vocal under heavy acceleration, but others – fitted with a grommet-related fix that Chrysler assures will be on all customer cars – were sufficiently quieter.
As a four-speed auto-only proposition, the Sebring also makes do with one less gear than most rivals these days, but in the real world the shifts were sufficiently smooth and responsive as to not make a difference, while the Mercedes-style left-right tip-shift function proved fast and handy for selecting the desired gear.
Which you are more likely to use in the Sebring than the Camry or larger Accord, because the chassis is quite sporty and almost eager to change direction – a highly unusual characteristic from one so American. The related Jeep Compass is similar, in fact.
While you are unlikely to confuse the Sebring for a BMW 3 Series dynamically, it steers and corners with linearity and control, although the newcomer’s true handling limits could not be ascertained on the mostly smooth highway roads of Western Australia.
Nevertheless, on the 17-inch base wheel/tyre combo, it sticks to the bitumen while body control and ride quality seemed fairly well composed.
So far, so good for the Sebring... let’s see what the cabin brings.
Chrysler claims it is serious about perceived quality, saying that its latest models benefit from a new moulding process that brings lovelier, touchier trim and material finishes.
We can vouch that the Sebring looks and feels measurably better than any other American car in this price range, and only really suffers from some el-cheapo plastics in the centre console and ill-fitting glovebox lid.
You are unlikely to wince at the way this car is presented inside.
Instead, the large but nicely placed steering wheel, ahead of the firm yet supportive leather (and heated) front seats, adds to the sense of restrained style. Ventilation controls and buttons all work as you would expect, and there are no glaring uglies inside.
Unlike in some other family sedans, the rear seats split and fold, the front passenger seatback folds forward to make a flat surface for notebooks or extra-long boot items, and the cooled and heated front cupholders seem more than just a gimmick.
Four tall outboard-sited adults will have no problem finding space or comfort, the boot appears large enough, and there seems to be no more road or wind noise coming in than usual.
It is time to take stock of what we have here, then, because this Chrysler is surpassing all our (admittedly low) expectations.
The Sebring is no fireball in the power stakes, but is relaxing and smooth, amply fast, cruises very nicely and returns remarkably low fuel consumption figures.
It handles and rides better than we expected, cossets four adults in comfort, safety and style inside without feeling like we are in Liberace’s sitting room.
And there is enough equipment in the base Touring model to embarrass the Japanese costing $40,000.
Styling is a subjective thing, and all we have to say on the matter is that, in the metal, the Sebring comes together better than some photographs might have suggested.
The Chrysler is easiest on the eye when presented with the larger wheel package, in certain hues such as black, red and white, perhaps with the optional chrome package that works like eyeliner on a homely American Idol contestant, and from side and rear angles, where it might even appear a little upmarket.
What almost decimated mid-sized sedan sales before the Mazda6 came along was too much dullness and uniformity.
While far from perfect, the Sebring’s strength is that it brings a bit more visual spice, a whole heap of value, and another dimension of choice for family car buyers seeking a pleasant and accommodating family car.
Which bodes well for Chrysler, because with compact SUV and small car sales as strong as they are today, no medium sedan could survive by being just another lifeless Camry clone.
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