When the 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible docked in the CNET harbor, we were surprised to find that the props were mounted on its sides, paddlewheel-style, instead of under the transom, as with most inboard-engined boats. Further, these paddlewheels didn't actually have any paddles, but were circled by an inflated rubber casing. Odd. The Sebring also used a flat front, rather than the pointed bow we would have expected. It looked neither seaworthy nor particularly hydrodynamic.
Everything else looked right for a powerboat. The Sebring has strakes on its bow, a light-color interior, and a convertible top that can be raised when the weather gets rough. We took it out for a cruise and it handled just like a boat should. But then one of our more observant staff members pointed out something interesting: the Chrysler Sebring is a car.
As a convertible car, the Sebring looks pretty good, at first glance. As we spent more time in it, we noticed too much cheap material in the cabin and some very iffy construction. The car has more than adequate power, but its handling doesn't make it very usable. The automatic transmission is also rough. The electronics present a brighter picture. Our test car came with the same stereo as the Jeep Unlimited we had in previously, and it can also be optioned up with the MyGig navigation/entertainment system.
Test the tech: Convertible cruise
Because our test car didn't have any of the tech options available for the Sebring, we had to content ourselves with the standard features, such as the convertible top. Chrysler showed off a hard-top convertible version of the Sebring at the last round of auto shows, but this version hasn't emerged yet on Chrysler's Web site. We had a soft-top version, which used two layers of fabric--headliner and roof--to insulate the cabin from the outside world. The convertible top seemed to take a long time to raise and lower, however, and we noticed some disturbing quality issues. As the trunk lifted to take in the top, it seemed to wag, and the plastic strip running along the top frame of the windshield had unfinished ends.
Take a tour of San Francisco from the cabin of the Sebring Limited Convertible.
But we did enjoy the view out of the car with the top down. As we drove around, we noticed all sorts of local landmarks that we wouldn't have seen in a non-convertible. So we loaded our photographer into the car and made her take pictures of notable San Francisco landmarks. Click here to see our Sebring tour of the city.
In the cabin
We're generally not keen on four-seater convertibles, as the seating area looks too much like a bathtub. That effect was accentuated with the color scheme of our Sebring, with its cream-colored interior. At first glance, the interior looked nice, but most of the cabin materials felt plasticky and cheap once we got in the car. It also had some unnecessary wood-look trim pieces that gave it a look of pretension over quality.
Our car didn't come with the optional MyGig navigation and entertainment system, but we got to check it out at last year's Los Angeles auto show. MyGig, a $1,850 option, brings in a hard-drive-based navigation system, and dedicates space on that hard drive for storing music and photos. Our car also didn't come with the UConnect Bluetooth hands-free cell phone option, but we got a chance to test it out last year on a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It's a good, basic hands-free system controlled through voice command.
The stereo interface, without the MyGig option, is pretty simple. The auxiliary jack on the faceplate is convenient.
What we did have is the standard six-disc in-dash changer hooked up to a six-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system. The stereo includes an auxiliary input on its faceplate, which is nice and accessible. The disc changer also reads MP3 CDs. We found it easy to select folders and select music to play. There is also an Info button, which cycles through displays of track information, including artist and album. Our only gripe with it was that it doesn't hold the information on the display, but goes back to a default track number display after about 30 seconds. Controls for the audio system are hidden behind the lateral spokes of the steering wheel. We found it pretty easy to figure out how they worked without having to look at them.
The audio system produced good highs and bass that was strong enough to feel in the doors. But it didn't have much separation and the mids were muffled. Worse, some of our music produced rattles and hum from the door speakers. Unfortunately, this audio system is as good as it gets in the Sebring, as there is no premium upgrade.
Under the hood
Along with the interior, the driving manners of the Chrysler Sebring didn't do much for us, either. The Sebring Limited comes with a 3.5-liter V-6 with the capability to get all sorts of nastiness happening with the car's subpar handling. This engine produces 235 horsepower and 232 lb-ft. of torque, not a huge amount of power, but enough to screech the tires on a fast launch and threaten to fishtail when accelerating through a turn.
You can get around the horrible programming of the automatic by putting it in manual gear selection mode.
The unpredictable six-speed automatic mated to the engine had its own problems. The thing spent a lot of time hunting for gears and wasn't very quick on the draw when we wanted power. When we pressed the accelerator to climb hills, the transmission eventually found its way to a lower gear, which produced a horrible whine, as if we were pulling a cat's tail. To get around the transmission's poor behavior, you can use its manual gear selection mode. It's set up strangely, though--you pull the shifter down below Drive, then push it to the right to upshift and to the left to downshift.
We've alluded to the handling a couple of times. The Sebring is very softly sprung, which can be nice when driving casually over rough pavement, but it's not good when cornering. The car wallows in the turns. Its steering is powered up so that you get no feedback from the road, and it has more-than-predictable understeer.
For gas mileage, the EPA rates the Sebring Unlimited at 16mpg city and 26mpg highway. In our mixed city and freeway driving, we saw an average fuel economy of 16.6mpg, on the low side of the EPA range. There is also a touring version of the Sebring, which uses a 2.7-liter six cylinder and gets 18mpg in the city and 26mpg on the highway. The base model Sebring, with its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, gets 20mpg city and 29mpg highway. Emissions information for the Sebring wasn't published at the time of this review.
Our test car was a base 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible, which goes for $32,345. With its $675 destination charge, the total comes out to $33,020. We can't say that we were impressed by our test car, but the Sebring can be improved from a tech standpoint with the MyGig system and the UConnect Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration. We will give it points for those options, but there is no real help for the driving experience or the cabin fit and finish.
For less money, you can get a similarly equipped Volkswagen Eos, which comes with a retractable hard top. Other convertible four-seaters we've reviewed, such as the Volvo C70 and the BMW 335i Convertible, offer a better driving experience, but cost substantially more.