Test Drive: 2001 Chrysler Sebring sedan car test drives chrysler
2001 Chrysler Sebring LXi
Click image to enlarge

New styling, a revised interior, bigger tires and a new optional 200 horsepower V6 engine have transformed the mid-sized Cirrus sedan into the new 2001 Sebring sedan. Like the Cirrus, it has a roomy interior and great handling, but the Sebring is quieter and more refined with some valuable new safety features like optional side curtain airbags.



Cirrus replacement has more powerful V6 engine


Remember the Dodge Stratus, Plymouth Breeze, and Chrysler Cirrus? These three very similar Chrysler mid-sized sedans were first introduced in 1995. When the Stratus and Breeze were discontinued in 2000, the Cirrus carried on until this year when it was replaced by the new Sebring sedan which uses the same basic platform as the Cirrus, but has new exterior and interior styling, and a new, optional V6 engine.

The 2001 Sebring sedan closely resembles the restyled 2001 Sebring Coupe (which is actually a completely different car built by Mitsubishi) and the Sebring convertible. All three cars now belong to the ‘Sebring family’ of mid-sized Chrysler cars.

“We wanted the all-new appearance of the Sebring sedan to create a stronger Chrysler family identity and increase its prominence in the mid-size sedan segment,” said Joe Dehner, Senior Manager of Interior and Exterior Design, at the vehicle’s introduction. Dehner said the design of the Sebring sedan was influenced by European sedans but retained the ‘cab forward’ proportions of the Cirrus and Chrysler’s styling cues.

The 2001 Sebring sedan has a longer, pointier nose than the Cirrus, larger headlamps that are 25% brighter, and a higher rear tail with larger tailights. Its oval grille with ‘eggcrate’ slats and chrome surround trim was first seen on the 1998 Chrysler Concorde, and is similar to the grilles of the 2001 Sebring Coupe and Convertible models.

Test Drive: 2001 Chrysler Sebring sedan car test drives chrysler
2001 Chrysler Sebring LX
Click image to enlarge

 

Compared to the Cirrus, the 2001 Sebring sedan is 120 mm (4.7 in.) longer, 10 mm (0.4 in) narrower, and 20 mm (0.8 in.) taller. Its wheelbase is unchanged from the Cirrus so most of its extra length is in the front and rear overhangs which don’t contribute to any extra cabin space. However, like the Cirrus, the Sebring’s ‘cab-forward’ design provides an unusually long passenger cabin for this size of car, and the Sebring remains as roomy as the Cirrus, particularly for rear passengers. The trunk too, remains huge: 16.0 cubic feet.

With a base price of $23,240, the Sebring LX has increased in price by about 4% over the 2000 Cirrus LX. The 2001 Sebring LXi has gone up about 9%. These price increases are not unreasonable for an extensively redesigned car with a new optional V6 powertrain and other features.


New 2.7 litre V6

Base Sebring LX models offer the same 150 horsepower 2.4 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine that was offered in the Cirrus LX. I’ve always liked this engine because it is sporty, powerful, and reasonably fuel-efficient. Another plus: Chrysler engineers have eliminated a lot of the engine vibrations and noise that used to be associated with this engine.

A four-speed automatic transmission is standard on the LX model, but a manual transmission is not available. Sebring LX models also come with a fully independent suspension, power rack and pinion steering, and standard four wheel disc brakes – ABS is optional on both LX and LXi models.

Sebring LXi models offer a new 200 horsepower 2.7 litre V6 engine with twin overhead camshafts annd four valves per cylinder – this is the same engine used in the base Chrysler Intrepid sedan. The 2.7 litre engine replaces the 168 horsepower 2.5 litre V6 used in the Cirrus LXi. Despite having 32 more horsepower and 32 lb-ft more torque, Chrysler says the new 2.7 litre is 8 to 10 percent more fuel efficient than the 2.5 litre V6. I checked Transport Canada’s fuel consumption guide, and found that the new 2.7 litre engine has almost exactly the same fuel economy as the 2.5 litre engine. Still, that’s pretty good considering the increase in horsepower and engine size.

The Sebring LXi comes with a standard four-speed automatic transmission, but is also available with an optional AutoStick automatic transmission which has a manual shifting mode that allows the driver to shift manually without a clutch. However, the AutoStick can only be ordered as part of a Luxury Group package (see below for details).


Improved handling, noise reduction

Like the Cirrus, the Sebring sedan’s fully independent suspension features a front a short long-arm (SLA) with a stabilizer bar and a rear multi-link suspension with stabilizer bar. For 2001, rebound springs were added to the shocks for improved control, sway bar isolators were revised, and a new front suspension crossmember was added. Also new are larger standard 15 inch tires (P205/65R15) and new optional 16 inch tires (P205/60R16).

Chrysler engineers made significant improvements in body stiffness too: a 13 percent reduction in torsional rigidity and a 33 percent reduction in bending rigidity.

The Sebring’s new styling contributes to a quieter cabin. The shape of the windshield pillars, mouldings and mirrors were designed to minimize air turbulence. Also, the hood, cowl screen and windshield wipers were designed to minimize wind noise by forcing the wind over the wiper arm and blade. Lastly, the front door glass was made thicker to provide a greater sound barrier.
In addition, foam was injected into the body to provide better sound insulation, the doors were redesigned, and the wheelwells now have full wheelhouse shields.


Sporty but sensible interior

Test Drive: 2001 Chrysler Sebring sedan car test drives chrysler
2001 Chrysler Sebring LXi interior
Click image to enlarge

The Sebring’s dashboard is a pleasant mix of textured plastic, wood trim, and large round white-faced gauges. The centre dash area, which protrudes forward, has three oversized twist-dials for the heat, ventilation, and fan speed controls. An AM/FM/cassette stereo is just under the heater, but the optional CD player is placed lower down just ahead of the gear lever, and is harder to reach. The dash also features a 12 volt power point, two cupholders, and a hand brake lever just to the right of the gear shift lever. There’s also a small coin tray, and a centre armrest/storage bin with built-in coinholders and slots for CD’s and cassettes.

I liked the large, easy to grip door handles and power door locks switches located next to the door handles. I also liked the headlight switches on the left stalk, and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel. An LCD compass and outside temperature gauge on the upper dash were two items that I found very useful too.

The Sebring sedan’s rear seat is roomy enough for two, maybe three people, with generous legroom and adequate headroom for adults up to 5′ 10″. However I found that the roof pillars on each side at the rear protrude inwards, so outboard rear passengers may bump their heads.

Rear passengers have power window buttons, two cupholders at the rear of the centre console, and rear grab handles. The split folding rear seats are handy, but they are not lockable which means that thieves could access the trunk if they break into the car. The trunk itself is enormous for a mid-sized car, but the rear decklid is so high that it restricts rear visibility. In addition, the rear bumper is quite high making the liftover height into the trunk higher than average. One good thing: the trunklid can be opened by a remote key fob.


Safety features

In addition to revised multi-stage driver and passenger airbags, the 2001 Sebring sedan offers new, optional side curtain airbags which provide head protection for both front and rear outboard passengers in the event of a side impact. Other new safety features include a new rear centre three point seat belt, front seat belt pretensioners and load-limiters, and an improved body structure including additional front door beams and reinforced B-pillar, sill and roof bow.

As well, the Sebring sedan has new lower and upper anchors for child safety seat installation (LATCH), larger front head restraints, emergency trunk release, and headliner changes for improved head impact protection.


Driving impressions

My test car had the new 200 horsepower 2.7 litre V6 engine and AutoStick automatic transmission. This engine is more powerful than the previous V6, and acceleration thoughout the rev range has been improved even though the Sebring is slightly heavier than the Cirrus was. Independent acceleration tests by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada show the Sebring LXi V6 sprinting from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.4 seconds, about average for a V6-equipped family sedan, but slower than I would have expected for a car with 200 horsepower. However, the Sebring’s acceleraton time from 80 to 120 km/h of just 6.8 seconds is better than average. With maximum torque of 192 lb-ft developed at 4300 rpm, and maximum horsepower of 200 at 5900, it’s evident that this engine is happiest at higher revs, because that’s where most of its power is.

Still, for around-town duties it offers good off-the-line throttle response and low-speed passing power, and on the freeway, it’s a very quiet and competent powerplant revving at just 2,100 rpm at a speed of 100 km/h. I experienced some torque steer during hard acceleration, but nothing alarming.

AJAC braking tests showed the Sebring sedan equipped with ABS stops in 44.8 metres (147 feet) from 100 km/h to 0, a little longer than average, but still acceptable. However, a non ABS-equipped Sebring LX took 51.9 metres (170 feet) to do the same test.

The Sebring’s power-assisted rack and pinion steering was a bit stiffer than I expected for a family car, and at highway speeds, there was some minor road noise, although engine noise and wind noise were minimal. Overall, the cabin was very quiet.

Like the Cirrus before it, the Sebring offers excellent handling, with minimal dive under braking and little understeer when cornering. This is a family sedan you can take onto a winding secondary road and have fun with, although I remember the slightly smaller, lighter Cirrus being more fun to drive. The Sebring sedan is noticeably quieter and more refined than the Cirrus was, so it feels like you’re driving a more expensive car.

The four-speed automatic transmission changes with a slight ‘bump’, but I liked its sporty performance. In manual mode, shifts are accomplished by tapping left to downshift, right to upshift. It’s not as much fun as a traditional manual transmission, but it can be useful when you want to hold the car in gear going up a steep hill, or down a steep hill. I left it in automatic mode most of the time.


Prices and trim levels

Click image to enlarge
Test Drive: 2001 Chrysler Sebring sedan car test drives chrysler
Chrysler Sebring LX

Test Drive: 2001 Chrysler Sebring sedan car test drives chrysler
2001 Chrysler Sebring LXi

Base Sebring LX sedans with the 2.4 litre four cylinder engine and standard four-speed automatic transmission start at $23,240. Standard equipment includes an AM/FM/cassette stereo with four speakers, air conditioning, power steering and tilt steering wheel, power windows with driver’s automatic-down feature, power door locks with child lock-out protection, power mirrors, speed-sensitive intermittent wipers, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, cruise control with steering wheel controls, tachometer, dual front airbags, digital clock, centre armrest/storage, rear defroster, block heater, four cupholders, and 12 volt power outlet.

The 2.7 litre V6 engine can be ordered as a $930 option on the LX model, but I suspect that most buyers who want a V6 will move up to the LXi model which comes with a standard V6 engine and numerous other features.

For an MSRP of $27,195, the Sebring LXi adds the V6 engine, leather seats and a folding rear armrest, leather-wrapped steering wheel, AM/FM/CD player, 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, 8-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, fog lamps, remote keyless entry, and trip computer.

Over and above these standard features, popular options include side airbags ($390), anti-lock brakes ($515), Premium Gold sound system with six 120 watt speakers ($140 ), and power sunroof ($895) . The optional Autostick automatic transmission has to be ordered as part of a $1,280 Luxury Group package. The package also includes chrome aluminum wheels, Premium Gold sound system, security system, Homelink transmitter, central locking, immobilizer, and cargo net.


Verdict

I liked the Sebring’s extra refinement and horsepower, its new safety features, great handling, sensibly-designed roomy interior, and big trunk. I didn’t like the trunk’s high liftover height and the awkwardly-positioned CD player, and I don’t see the value of making the body larger and heavier without increasing interior room.

Also, prospective purchasers should consider the base four cylinder engine as well – it gets better fuel economy on the highway, has adequate performance, and is a lot cheaper.

Competitors for the Sebring sedan include the Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac Grand Am, Oldsmobile Alero, Saturn L-Series, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda 626, Nissan Altima and Maxima, Subaru Legacy, VW Passat, Hyundai Sonata, Daewoo Leganza, and Kia Magentis.

The Sebring sedan is built in Sterling Heights, Michigan.


Technical Data:

2001 Chrysler Sebring LX sedan
Base price $23,240
Price as tested $27,515
Freight $775
Type 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.7 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valve
Horsepower 200 @ 5900 rpm
Torque 192 @ 4300 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic AutoStick
Curb weight 1504 kg (3316 lb.)
Wheelbase 2743 mm (108.0 in.)
Length 4844 mm (190.7 in.)
Width 1793 mm (70.6 in.)
Height 1394 mm (54.9 in.)
Cargo capacity 453 litres (16.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.9 l/100 km (24 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.8 l/100 km (36 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca