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First drive: Sebring hits sizzling mid-sedan soiree
Keen pricing and unique styling headline Chrysler's Camry fighter, the Sebring sedan
14 May 2007
THE first mid-sized Chrysler sedan in Australia since the chart-busting first-generation Sigma of 1977-1980 hits the streets in June from $33,990.
The Sebring is an American-made, three-box, four-door, five-seater sedan designed to tackle the mid-to-top-spec versions of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Subaru Liberty, Mazda6, Volkswagen Jetta and Hyundai Sonata, as well as the new Holden Epica and upcoming Ford Mondeo.
To that end, even the base Sebring Touring includes automatic transmission, ESP stability control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and traction control, six airbags, leather upholstery, heated front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control air-conditioning and tyre-pressure monitors.
Chrysler says this base specification level approaches that of the $39,990 Camry Grande, as well as the more expensive versions of the Accord, Mazda6 and Liberty 2.5.
The second-tier Sebring Limited model adds niceties such as a sunroof, six-stack Boston acoustic audio/DVD player, headlight washers and 18-inch alloys, for $3500 extra.
From about August, the Sebring’s fraternal Dodge twin, the Avenger sedan, should slot in from under $30,000, to battle the base-model Camry and co.
This strategy of putting the Dodge as the price leader while placing the Chrysler as the premium product is how Chrysler Group Australia will position what are essentially the same vehicles in different ends of the same (D) segment.
With this view in mind, the Sebring convertible, the four-seater retractable hardtop due late this year from about $45,000, will attempt to further cement the Chrysler’s premium positioning aspirations.
Driving the front wheels in both the Sebring and Avenger – for now – is the 2360cc 2.4-litre twin-cam four-cylinder ‘World Engine’ familiar to owners of the Dodge Caliber R/T, Jeep Compass, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Hyundai Sonata, as well as the upcoming Mitsubishi Lancer and Jeep Patriot.
Enhanced with variable valve timing, the Sebring’s engine outputs are 125kW of power at 6000rpm and 220Nm of torque at 4500rpm.
The only gearbox available for now is a four-speed automatic with a Tiptronic-style sequential shift action Chrysler calls ‘AutoStick.’ No manual version is expected.
Weighing in at between 1510kg and 1560kg, the Sebring 2.4L accelerates from 0-100km/h in 11.3 seconds, on its way to a 200km/h maximum velocity, returns 8.9L/100km in the EU combined fuel consumption cycle, and emits 211g/km of CO2.
Sitting on a highly modified Chrysler JS platform that also underpins all the Chrysler, Dodge and Mitsubishi vehicles listed above, the JS Sebring conforms to class standards by employing MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link arrangement in the rear.
Australian-bound Sebrings score the European suspension tuning, which is basically the US market Sebring R/T sports suspension set-up boasting firmer dampers and a weightier on-centre steering feel, for better ride and handling characteristics.
On the subject of export vehicles, non US/Canada/Mexico Sebrings also have different tail-lights with a clear indicator lens and integrated foglight, a unique wheel and tyre package and a redesigned front bumper bar.
Steering is a speed proportional, hydraulically powered rack and pinion set-up, allowing for an 11.1-metre turning circle and 3.3 turns lock to lock.
Vented disc brakes of 294mm x 26mm diameter retard the wheels up front, while the back ones use 262mm x 10mm solid discs.
Dimensionally the Sebring fits within the medium segment convention, with the length/width/height/wheelbase coming in at 4850/1843/1497/2765mm respectively.
Chrysler makes much noise about how quiet and refined the Sebring is, with noise/vibration/harshness (NVH) levels matching or bettering the Camry and Accord – the Sebring’s chosen class benchmarks.
Aiding this is the use of a combined 30 per cent hot-stamped and high-strength steel in the Sebring’s body structure, as well as stronger dual-phase steel in the rear rails, tunnel reinforcements and sills.
Advanced adhesives, triple sealing for the doors, and other extensive noise-dampening measures have been implemented in areas such as the floorpan, pillars, various body cavities, and other known NVH transmission paths.
Besides all the kit mentioned above, every Sebring includes an alarm, a fold-flat front passenger seatback for extra long loads through the split/fold rear seats that also acts as a work table, heated (to 60 degrees Celsius) and chilled (down to 1.5 degrees Celsius) cup holders, remote express front windows, as well as your regular power windows, mirrors and door locks, trip computer and radio/CD/MP3 audio.
Touring tyres are 215/60R17, while the Limited rolls on 215/55R18 rubber, while the spare wheel is a space saver.
Later in the year, the Sebring will offer the $3500 ‘MyGIG’ entertainment and GPS navigation system.
It includes a TFT screen, voice-activated commands, a 20 gigabyte hard disc drive for music and pictures, a USB port for downloading WMA, MP3 and JPEG files as well as Gracenote artist info, voice-memo recording via a microphone in the rear-view mirror, a DVD and radio screen and an audio mini jack for personal audio devices such as an iPod.
Whether Australians will see either of the V6 petrol engines available abroad (in 2.7 and 3.5-litre sizes) or 2.0-litre TDI turbo-diesel four-cylinder unit that Volkswagen supplies European-market Sebrings with, remains to be seen.
"We’ll see where the interest is first (with the 2.4-litre version) before we make any decision on bringing in the diesel and V6,' revealed Gerry Jenkins, Chrysler Group Australia managing director.
He acknowledged that its monthly target of 100 buyers is deliberately conservative.
"We want to get traction in the marketplace first," Mr Jenkins admitted.
Nevertheless, he expects mid-sized sedan buyers will be attracted to the Sebring’s standout styling (which includes echoes of the Airflite Concept car of a few years back as well as the 300C and Crossfire sportscar), highly competitive value, individuality and practicality.
"Sebring gives the segment a little pizzazz," enthuses Mr Jenkins, pointing to family buyers as well as empty nesters and people looking to downsize from larger and thirstier cars and SUVs.
He also believes sharing the dealership showroom with the highly successful 300C range will pay dividends.
"The Sebring is very different to some of the vanilla offerings," he added.
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