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Chrysler Sebring 2008 Review

The Sebring's driving experience is nothing to write home about.

VERDICT

+ Generous equipment list. Spacious cabin. Respectable fuel consumption.

- Severe quality issues. Cabin comfort shortfalls. Mediocre road manners.

 

The Australian migration southward from large cars to medium-sized varieties has emboldened a number of manufacturers to bring new models here from overseas, and most of these have been welcome arrivals that add to the richness of our motoring culture.

All of them deserve a chance here, and all will attract at least some custom from the established brand names. But sometimes, as in the case of the Chrysler Sebring, a car comes along that feels so out of kilter with Australian expectations that it seems destined to fail.

We appreciate the high level of equipment on the Sebring, including some uncommon features on the series-leading $37,490 Limited model variant tested here.

However, first impressions are often lasting impressions, and after a less-than-favourable test drive we are now wondering about the extent to which prospective customers, too, have found fault with this American-built sedan after a mere trickle of sales since its launch.

Quite apart from the excessively creased and chromed exterior design, the Sebring has a number of drawbacks — ranging from drastic quality shortfalls to a mediocre driving experience — that put it well behind its Japanese and European competition.

Despite being a premium model, the Limited cabin is littered with hard and unappealing plastics and our test car had a number of faults that come with substandard construction, including unaligned exterior doors, numerous examples of ill-fitting interior trim and an excruciating noise (like metal being twisted) whenever the driver's window was raised.

The storage box on the centre dash stack would open with a squeak, and the centre console box would shut with a twang.

You could post letters in the 5mm gap between the top of the glovebox and the dashboard. Rear seat passengers were repeatedly snagged by the loose trim behind one of the front seats.

Within a few kilometres from our starting point, when coming to a halt on a downhill slope, our test car also threw on the park brake warning light — something repeated on several other occasions.

There is leather trim on the seats and steering wheel, but this does not extend to the doors or the handbrake. The plastic touch points for the elbow on the doors aren't particularly soft, and the front seats are flat and unsupportive.

The front passenger is also short-changed in not receiving electric seat adjustment or the means to alter seat lumbar, and neither front occupant is provided with an overhead grab-handle.

The driver's footwell is narrow and does not contain a footrest. The handbrake is in an awkward position on the left-hand side of the centre console. The ignition, too, is on the left-hand side of the steering column, a position we never got used to after a week of driving — and, judging by the scratches on the opposite side, something other users have also found problematic.

Other scratches from general wear and tear in a near-new car (with less than 8000km on the odometer) were all too obvious on the metallic-coloured plastic surfaces on the centre console and doors.

While cup placement and phone recharging requirements are well considered, the basic storage facilities leave more to be desired.

Moreover, the glovebox cannot be locked, the climate control airconditioning has just a single zone, and the rear head restraints do not hunker down when not in use to maximise rearward vision for the driver.

We could go on in this vein for a lot longer, but the point is clear. Blatant cost cutting and a severe lack of attention to detail have permeated the Sebring, overshadowing a value story it would otherwise tell.

After all, the standard specification runs to seven airbags, traction and stability control, ABS brakes (with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist), a tyre pressure monitoring system, trip computer, alarm, cruise control, a six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo (with steering mounted-controls), an auto-dipping rear-view mirror, a well-designed backlit instrument cluster and a novel drink warmer/cooler. The Limited adds a premium stereo, sunroof, headlamp washers, “tortoise shell” interior accents and 18-inch wheels (up from 17).

The other main attraction is the all-round roominess, most notably for rear-seat passengers. Amenities also improve in the back seat, with overhead grab-handles making an appearance (albeit without hinges) and door bins incorporating a bottle holder (unlike the front).

Having said that, the seatbelt sash can get caught under the headrest in the centre-rear position, leaving it slack and creating an extra check for parents who allow children to buckle themselves in.

The boot is another hit-and-miss affair, offering a below-average 441 litres in overall volume (extendable via the split-fold backrests) and forcing people to work around intrusions from the suspension turrets and the parcel shelf area.

Cargo hammock hooks are provided, though not luggage tie-down points. A temporary spare wheel is also used.

The Sebring's driving experience is nothing to write home about, with average four-cylinder engine performance and mediocre road manners.

Combined with a basic four-speed automatic transmission, the inherently smooth 2.4-litre petrol engine produces 125kW at 6000rpm and 220Nm at 4500rpm — enough to send the 1560kg Limited from 0-100km/h in an unremarkable 11.3 seconds, and (given the excessive noise at high revs) for the driver not to test the performance claims too often.

The engine is quiet when cruising on the open road, but with a load onboard and in hillier terrain it suffers from a lack of pulling power at the lower end of the rev range.

The gearbox is forced to work overtime in these situations, often plunging into second, but it executes all tasks asked of it with a degree of finesse.

The driver can exercise more control with the sequential manual mode, although a fifth gear would doubtless be a worthwhile addition.

In terms of fuel consumption, we averaged a respectable 10.6 litres per 100km on our test.

The front strut and rear multi-link suspension tune is described as European for this American sedan, but in Australian conditions the Sebring feels underdone — not all at sea, but anchored offshore all the same.

It absorbs road imperfections at speed with a minimum of fuss, but the Sebring tends to wallow in the bends and mid-corner bumps can send the rear end off course, which is not so much a cause for concern as a telegram to the driver that there is little point in pushing the envelope.

Enthusiastic cornering is met with determined resistance (but howls of protest) from the 18-inch Kumho tyres, while braking performance soon deteriorates in demanding conditions.

The steering is devoid of feel. Rattling in the steering rack is a regular intrusion across country roads, with lumps in tighter bends producing anything from moderate steering twitchiness to savage kickback.

In all, the Sebring is a stunning disappointment. What had looked to be a strong contender in an ultra-competitive class has, in fact, proved to be nothing of the sort.

 

SECOND OPINION

Tony Jones, 52

Occupation: Market manager

Location: Wantirna South, Vic

Current car: Chrysler Sebring Limited

Previous car: Renault Laguna

Other cars considered: Alfa Romeo 156, Peugeot 407, Renault Laguna

Tony Jones has no concerns over build quality with his Chrysler Sebring. While he believes that perception could bring the car's resale value down at trade-in time, Tony's Sebring Limited at least appears to be well screwed together.

“So far mine's all right. Nothing has fallen off. The finish on the upholstery is very good. There's no rattles or any sort of odd noises coming out of it. It all sticks together all right at the moment, touch wood. I got a recall (notice) on it for a potential radiator fan issue. But my car was apparently okay.”

Tony's preference was for a diesel-powered vehicle, but he was unimpressed with the changeover price Renault offered with a diesel Laguna (from his previous petrol V6) and subsequently looked elsewhere. He tried a diesel from Dodge and Jeep but he found the Sebring suited his needs best. “I'd never even heard of it — never seen one, and still haven't seen very many others (after five months),” he says. “But it was distinctive and while the four-cylinder engine wasn't a diesel it suited what I was looking for, not just from an economy point of view but a green aspect as well.

“I don't need a fast sportscar. I was looking for something that I could fit my wife and at least two big adults in the back. When I took it for a (test) drive, I thought it was a little bit noisy, but it's not like a little four-cylinder car. It's actually quite comfortable from a noise perspective. It's not a performance car, but it has all of the performance it needs for taking off at the lights and it's great on the open roads — I'm averaging around 8.2-8.3 litres per 100km.

“It never loses traction, it stops well, corners okay — it feels and drives like a bigger car. It's just that feeling you get. It feels higher on the road. It's got all the creature comforts — the leather, the electric driver's seat, all the adjustable arrangements there.

“The controls are good, you can reach everything, but it doesn't have a left footrest which I occasionally find a bit annoying. And the brake pedal and the accelerator — you've got to be a little bit careful because they're close together.”

 

HOW IT MEASURES UP

Chrysler Sebring Limited

Serious quality glitches leave this vehicle well behind class standards. Positive aspects include the individual style, interior space and equipment level. But the fault lines run too deep.

Price: $37,490

Warranty: 3 years/100,000km

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder

Power/Torque: 125kW/220Nm

Transmission: Front-drive, four-speed auto only

Seats/Weight: Five/1560kg

Fuel tank/type: 64 litres/normal unleaded

Litres/100km: 8.9 city/highway combined

0-100km/h: 11.3 seconds

Turning circle: 11.1m

Airbags/ESC: Seven/Yes

Value: * * 1/2

Performance: * * *

Overall: * * 1/2

 

 

Toyota Camry Ateva

Camry is the car Toyota's rivals use as the class benchmark.

And for good reason. Ticks the box in most areas of the drive and packaging. First-rate build quality. Take a closer look, Chrysler.

Price: $33,750

Warranty: 3 years/100,000km

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder

Power/Torque: 117kW/218Nm

Transmission: Front-drive, five-speed auto only

Seats/Weight: Five/1530kg

Fuel tank/type: 70 litres/normal unleaded

Litres/100km: 9.9 city/highway combined

0-100km/h: 9.7 seconds

Turning circle: 11.0m

Airbags/ESC: Six/Yes

Value: * * * *

Performance: * * * 1/2

Overall: * * * 1/2

 

 

Ford Mondeo Zetec

Available in hatch or sedan, the new Belgian-built Mondeo is a fabulous all-rounder. This base petrol engine is perhaps the weakest link, but the drive overall is excellent. A value package.

Price: $34,990

Warranty: 3 years/100,000km

Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder

Power/Torque: 118kW/208Nm

Transmission: Front-drive, six-speed auto only

Seats/Weight: Five/1562kg

Fuel tank/type: 70 litres/normal unleaded

Litres/100km: 9.5 city/highway combined

0-100km/h: 10.5 seconds (European fig)

Turning circle: 11.45m

Airbags/ESC: Seven/Yes

Value: * * * *

Performance: * * * 1/2

Overall: * * * *

 

 

Honda Accord Euro

The name has always suggested to us a kind of Japanese paranoia, but the ageing Euro is an accomplished car. Offers a fine drive, but curtain airbags are restricted to the Luxury variant.

Price: $33,990

Warranty: 3 years/100,000km

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder

Power/Torque: 140kW/223Nm

Transmission: Front-drive, six-speed manual (5-speed auto $2000)

Seats/Weight: Five/1375kg

Fuel tank/type: 65 litres/premium unleaded

Litres/100km: 9.1 city/highway combined

0-100km/h: n/a

Turning circle: 10.8m

Airbags/ESC: Four/Yes

Value: * * * 1/2

Performance: * * * 1/2

Overall: * * * 1/2

 

Pricing guides

$7,440
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$4,100
Highest Price
$10,780

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Cabrio Limited 2.7L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $6,900 – 10,670 2008 Chrysler Sebring 2008 Cabrio Limited Pricing and Specs
Cabrio Touring 2.7L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $7,000 – 10,780 2008 Chrysler Sebring 2008 Cabrio Touring Pricing and Specs
Limited 2.7L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $5,500 – 8,470 2008 Chrysler Sebring 2008 Limited Pricing and Specs
Touring 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $5,600 – 8,690 2008 Chrysler Sebring 2008 Touring Pricing and Specs
Terry Martin
Contributing Journalist

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