Test Drive: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible car test drives chrysler
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson


New GTC model offers 5-speed manual transmission

New for mid-2002, the Chrysler Sebring Convertible GTC model is a slightly sportier version of this mid-size, front-wheel-drive convertible. Since its introduction in 1996 and its redesign last year, the Sebring Convertible has always emphasized style more than performance.

The new GTC model may be an attempt to lure the performance crowd into the Chrysler showroom — it comes with a new 5-speed manual transmission, ‘Euro-tuned’ suspension, standard 16 inch tires with unique alloy wheels, four wheel disc brakes with ‘ABS Plus’, a rear decklid spoiler, cruise control, and a chrome tipped exhaust pipe.

Inside, the GTC has unique two-tone seats covered in ‘ultrahide’ leather-like vinyl, unique ‘carbon fibre’ instrument panel trim (which replaces woodgrain trim), white-faced gauges, and a standard AM/FM CD stereo. The GTC is available in any exterior colour you want, as long as its Bright Silver, Black, Stone White or Inferno Red.

The price is certainly attractive. It goes for $34,200, only $620 more than the base Sebring Convertible LX model.


This week’s test car

Test Drive: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible car test drives chrysler
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The Sebring Convertible remains one of the roomiest four passenger convertible cars on the market. All Sebring Convertible models (LX, LXi, Limited, GTC) come with a standard 200 horsepower 2.7 litre DOHC 24 valve V6 engine and 4 speed automatic transmission (Autostick on Limited), but the 5-speed manual transmission is a no-cost option on the GTC. (Note that in the U.S.A., the base Sebring model comes with a 2.4 litre four cylinder engine).

2002 Sebring Convertible models range in price from $33,580 for the LX to $37,505 for the Limited. Standard equipment on my $34,200 GTC test car included the 2.7 litre V6 engine and 5-speed manual transmission, power convertible top with glass rear window and electric defroster, 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, four wheel disc brakes with ABS Plus, ‘Euro’ sport-tuned suspension, ‘ultrahide’ leather-like seats, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD player with six speakers, keyless remote entry, power windows, door locks and mirrors, tachometer, variable intermittent wipers, cruise control, power steering, and tilt wheel.

Options on my test car included a 4-disc in-dash CD player ($305), 150 watt amplifier and Infinity speakers ($260), 6-way power driver’s seat ($330), and full-size spare tire with matching alloy wheel ($200). With a/c tax and freight, the total price came to $36,245.


Driving impressions

Test Drive: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible car test drives chrysler
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The Sebring’s 200 horsepower 2.7 litre DOHC 24 valve V6 engine has good off-the-line response, and even though it’s not blindingly-fast — 0 to 100 km/h takes 9.4 seconds — the Sebring has a smooth power delivery and sufficient horsepower for typical passing and freeway merging tasks.

The GTC’s new five-speed cable-operated manual transmission is easy to shift, throws aren’t overly long, and the shift knob is well-designed for grip but it’s certainly not as sporty as shifters found in sports cars like the Mazda Miata and Honda S2000. I found the Sebring’s clutch pedal effort a little on the heavy side, and engaging the clutch must be done gently to avoid ‘clutch chatter’.

There was one unique feature which I liked: each time you change gears, the engine makes a ‘throaty’ growl a sound that doesn’t happen at any other time. The Sebring’s manual shifter makes the Sebring GTC more fun-to-drive than Sebrings with the standard 4-speed automatic or the optional Autostick semi-manual transmission, but the GTC is not a performance car it’s more of a sporty-looking luxury convertible.

On the freeway, the engine turns over a lazy 2200 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2800 rpm at 120 km/h, very quiet and comfortable. I found the Sebring convertible to be a great freeway cruiser with surprisingly little wind noise or road noise. The top has a thick inner lining which helps block out noise as well as keeping in the heat in the winter time.

Handling is fairly neutral for a large front-wheel-drive car – the Sebring includes a four wheel independent suspension (front short/long arm/rear multi-link), and the ride is comfortable over most paved surfaces. However, I found the Sebring too big to be nimble, and the ride a bit firm over poor road surfaces – perhaps because of its stiffer ‘Euro-tuned’ shocks. Certainly, the Sebring’s turning diameter of 11 metres (36.2 ft.) is fairly short for a mid-size front-wheel-drive car.

Many convertibles experience ‘cowl shake’ or ‘windshield shake’ on bumpy roads because there is no attached roof to support the windshield. In the Sebring, you won’t notice it most of the time, but if you traverse railway tracks, speed bumps, or potholes, you’ll notice the windshield vibrate laterally. It’s not excessive, but it’s there.

Braking is handled by standard four wheel disc brakes with optional ‘ABS Plus’, an anti-lock braking system which varies braking power at each wheel depending on cornering forces and weight distribution. In braking tests conducted with the standard ABS system, the Sebring Convertible stopped from 100 km/h in 52 metres (170 feet), a bit longer than average. With ABS Plus, this figure may improve slightly, but more importantly it will help prevent wheel lockup and loss of steering control.

Overall, I found the Sebring Convertible GTC a very easy and comfortable vehicle to drive, but not exactly sporty.


Convertible top

Test Drive: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible car test drives chrysler
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The GTC’s power-operated convertible top is made of vinyl rather than the more desirable cloth material offered in the LXi and Limited models, and it includes a glass rear window with defroster. I thought the vinyl top looked very attractive — my test car had a beige-coloured top and ‘Inferno Red’ exterior colour — a very nice combination.

To lower the convertible top, you must unlatch two clips at the top of the windshield – then it’s simply a matter of pressing a button located just behind the gearshift lever to lower it into the well behind the rear seats. It takes only seven seconds to lower and about ten seconds to raise – very quick!

Just before the top lowers, the (four) side windows automatically lower a couple of inches to prevent the top catching on the window edges. However, after raising the top, the side windows don’t automatically raise again. The driver must raise all four windows using the power window buttons on the centre console.

The driver doesn’t have to get out of the car to lower and raise the top, but installing the tonneau cover over the lowered top requires getting out and doing some manual labour. The tonneau cover is a made of a flexible plastic material that fits easily over the lowered top — there are only two Velcro latches to hold it in place. The tonneau cover improves the car’s appearance, and prevents dust and water from getting into the top. When removed, it folds in half for storage in the trunk.

With the top up, there is a blind spot in the right rear quarter, but the large rear glass window provides good rear visibility, and it includes an electric defroster for cold winter mornings.


Interior attractive

Test Drive: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible car test drives chrysler
Click image to enlarge

My test car had a very attractive beige and black interior with sporty white-faced round gauges, silver-grey ‘carbon-fibre’ trim on the dash and console, and a leather-wrapped floor shifter. Standard on the GTC model are ‘ultrahide’ seats, a material that looks and feels so much like leather, that I didn’t realize it wasn’t leather until I starting reading the car’s list of standard equipment. The ultrahide material has a rough texture on the seat’s side and thigh bolsters but the seat inserts are made of a smoother material that’s more comfortable to sit on � somebody’s been thinking!. The front seats are wide and comfortable and feature three-point seatbelts integrated into the seats � these are easier to put on, and don’t get in the way of rear passengers trying to get in to the rear seat. The front seats in my test car were power-operated and included seat cushions that are height-adjustable at the front and rear.

The Sebring’s round gauges with white faces and black numerals are easy to read, and the centre instrument panel is also easy to reach and operate. I noted that the radio’s LCD display can be read even in the glare of the Sun. One oddity though: the 4-disc CD changer is mounted at the bottom of the centre console and slightly forwards, so it’s harder to reach.

The lower console has two open cupholders and a 12 volt powerpoint, and behind that is a well-positioned manual shift lever with vinyl shift boot. A centre armrest/storage compartment includes room for CD’s and cassette, and a 12 volt powerpoint for charging cellphones and VDA’s. The Sebring also has big door pockets for storage, and a small bin for coins in the centre of the instrument panel.

Getting in to the rear seats is easier than in most convertibles or coupes because of the aforementioned integrated front seatbelts, the Sebring’s long doors, and the fact that the front passenger seat slides forwards to allow entry to the rear. Rear legroom and headroom are surprisingly generous, and there are two cupholders which pop out of the rear of the centre console. There are three-point seatbelts for two passengers at the rear, but there are no rear head restraints.

The Sebring’s trunk has a fairly high liftover height, but at 320 litres (11.3 cubic feet), it’s the biggest trunk available in a convertible. However, it’s an odd shape: the well that holds the convertible top protrudes into the trunk area, creating a rather awkward trunk shape. In addition, when the top is up, the bulky tonneau cover has to be stored in the trunk, and it takes up quite a bit of room. I’m sure a lot of Sebring owners just leave the tonneau cover at home.


Competitor overview

There are only two convertibles in the Sebring’s general size and price range: the Ford Mustang convertible ($27,465) and the Toyota Solara convertible ($39,505). The Mustang is smaller in size – its cabin, particularly the rear seat area, and trunk are considerably smaller than the Sebrings. As well, the Mustang has rear-wheel-drive rather than front-wheel-drive, and has a solid rear axle rather than an independent rear suspension. While the Mustang handles well on dry pavement, it’s not as stable in the wet or snow as the front-wheel-drive Sebring convertible. The Mustang’s 3.8 litre V6 engine has ten less horsepower than the Sebring’s engine, but it has much more torque at lower engine revolutions and feels more responsive than the Sebring’s 2.7 litre V6 engine. Despite this, the Mustang is only slightly quicker from 0 to 100 km/h, and gets about the same fuel consumption.

The Toyota Solara convertible comes in only one top-of-the-line SLE trim level which explains its higher $39,505 starting price. In every other respect, the Solara is very similar to the Sebring. Its 3.0 litre V6 engine has the same amount of horsepower and a little more torque, and is slightly quicker to 100 km/h and gets better fuel economy. The Solara is not available with a manual transmission though. The Solara’s interior volume is actually larger than the Sebring’s, but its trunk is about 20% smaller.

Sebring Convertibles are manufactured in Sterling Heights, Michigan, along with the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus sedans (the latter not sold in Canada).


Verdict

The new Sebring GTC convertible adds the option of changing your own gears to an already roomy, stylish mid-size convertible. But while it’s sportier, it’s not a performance car.


Technical Data: 2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC convertible

Base price $34,200
Options $1,095
A/C Tax $100
Freight $850
Price as tested $36,245
Type 2-door, 4 passenger mid-size convertible
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.7 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 200 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 190 lb-ft @ 4850 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual (4 speed automatic/Autostick)
Tires Michelin MX4 205/60R-16
Curb weight 3452 lbs. (1566 kg)
Wheelbase 2692 mm (106.0 in.)
Length 4920 mm (193.7 in.)
Width 1763 mm (69.4 in.)
Height 1397 mm (55.0 in.)
Trunk capacity 320 litres (11.3 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.9 l/100 km (24 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.9 l/100 km (36 mpg)
Fuel unleaded regular
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km




About Greg Wilson

Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).