Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson
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Photo Gallery: 2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible

North Vancouver, British Columbia – Returning for the 2008 model year after a year’s hiatus, the all-new Chrysler Sebring convertible is a drop-top version of the recently redesigned Sebring sedan, and is now available with a retractable hard-top as well as a convertible soft-top.

In the past few years, many luxury vehicle manufacturers have switched from vinyl and cloth convertible tops to retractable hardtops because of the extra security and weather protection they offer – but the 2008 Sebring convertible offers buyers a choice of both soft and hard convertible tops: a black vinyl roof is standard on the LX and Touring models; a cloth top is optional on the Touring and standard on the Limited; and a new power retractable hardtop is optional on the Touring and Limited (unavailable on the LX).

Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop. Click image to enlarge

Sebring convertibles have come down in price since 2006: 2008 Sebring LX convertible models (vinyl) start at $29,995 (down from $36,115 in 2006); Touring convertibles (vinyl) start at $33,995 (down from $37,825); Touring convertibles (cloth), which require the addition of an option package which includes leather seats, 18-inch alloys and cloth top, are $1,500 more; Limited convertibles (cloth) start at $38,995 (down from $40,810); and Limited convertibles (retractable hardtop) start at $41,295.

My test car was a well-equipped Limited model with the retractable hardtop and a bunch of options that brought the total price to $46,670 including a $1300 Freight charge and $100 a/c tax. Add PST and GST, and this car is well over $50,000.

The Sebring Limited’s closest competitor is probably the Pontiac G6 convertible hard-top which starts under $36,000. There’s also the Ford Mustang V6 convertible which starts at $28,899 and the Toyota Solara SLE convertible for $39,900, but neither of these offer a retractable hard-top. Higher up the luxury scale are the BMW 335i Cabriolet and Volvo C70 hardtop convertibles which can run into the 60 and 70 thousand dollar range when well-equipped.

What’s new for 2008

Based on the Chrysler Sebring sedan which was redesigned for 2007, the 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible is bigger and heavier than the previous convertible.

Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop. Click image to enlarge

While it’s about the same length, the wheelbase is 74 mm (2.9 in.) longer, and the car is 53 mm (2.1 in.) wider and 89 mm (3.5 in.) taller. It’s also 76 mm (3 in.) longer than the new Sebring sedan, mostly at the rear which adds more trunk space allowing it to hold two golf bags when the hard roof is retracted.

Curb weight has increased between 200 kg (440 lb.) and 250 kg (550 lb) depending on the trim level, and the new steel convertible hardtop adds even more weight.

Sebring convertible passengers sit 64 mm (2.5 in.) higher than in the previous Sebring Convertible model, but the window ledges are also higher giving them the illusion that they are sitting low in the cabin.

Three engines are offered in the 2008 Sebring convertible: a 173-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder (up from 150-hp) with a four-speed automatic transmission; a 190-hp 2.7-litre flexible-fuel (E85) V6 (down from 200-hp) with four-speed automatic; and an all-new 235-hp 3.5-litre V6 with a new six-speed automatic that has a manual shift mode. The previous Sebring convertible was available only with a V6 engine, but the 2008 model is offered with both four and six-cylinder powerplants.

Standard equipment on the base LX convertible includes 16-inch tires and steel wheels, air conditioning, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, cloth seats, six-disc CD/MP3 stereo, power locks with keyless entry, cruise control, tilt and telescopic column, power windows, variable intermittent wipers, and outside temperature gauge.

Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop. Click image to enlarge

The Touring convertible adds 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, stain-resistant YES Essentials fabric, six-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar adjustment, express-down window, vehicle information centre, fog lamps, heated mirrors, and tire pressure monitoring display.

The Limited convertible adds 18-inch tires and alloy wheels, leather seats, heated front seats, tortoise-shell time, leather and tortoise-shell steering wheel, automatic climate control, automatic headlamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and security alarm.

My test car was equipped with optional chrome alloy wheels ($575); electronic stability control ($525); MyGIG multimedia infotainment with navigation system with Sirius satellite radio and one-year subscription ($2,000); body coloured mouldings ($75); Luxury Group: remote start system, heated/cooled front cupholder, wind blocker, U-Connect hands-free phone, universal garage door opener ($800).

With Freight and a/c tax, the total price of my test car was $46,670.


New convertible hardtop

The Sebring Convertible Limited’s retractable steel hardtop is made by Pininfarina and is a wonderful piece of engineering. A power-operated hard tonneau cover is also standard. The $2,300 additional cost seems like a bargain for this clever top. The driver simply presses a button on the left dash and the trunklid lifts up from the rear, the top automatically unlocks from the windshield header, and then folds in three sections into the forward part of the trunk.

Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler

The trunklid and tonneau cover then close over it. It takes about 34 seconds by my stopwatch. Putting up the top is simply the reverse procedure.

When retracted, the trunklid and hard plastic tonneau cover sit flush with the body providing a perfectly clean profile. When raised, the hard-top seals out the wind and exterior noise better than the vinyl or soft tops. And when I took the car through a touchless high-pressure car wash, it didn’t leak.

With the top up, there’s 13.1 cu. ft. of space in the trunk, enough for four golf bags; when retracted there’s still 6.6 cu. ft., enough for two golf bags (without carriers). However, I discovered that the middle divider in the trunk, which separates the area for the folded top and the trunk, has to be positioned in exactly the right place or the top will not retract.

My only negative comment about the retractable hardtop is that the the trunk lid is big and heavy to lift and close.


Driving impressions

The top-of-the-line Sebring Limited convertible has a new 235-hp 3.5-litre V6 which offers 235 hp at 6,400 r.p.m. and 232 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 r.p.m. It’s mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capability.

Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop. Click image to enlarge

In recent acceleration tests conducted by the Automobile Journalist’s Association of Canada, the Sebring Limited sprinted from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds, and from 80 km/h to 120 km/h in 7.2 seconds, pretty good for a car that weighs almost 4,000 lbs. In fact, the new Sebring convertible is at least 400 to 500 lbs heavier than the previous convertible, so I would expect that equipped with the base four-cylinder engine, the Sebring’s performance would be lacklustre.

At highway speeds, the 3.5-litre V6 is quiet and smooth, revving under 2,000 r.pm. in sixth gear at 100 km/h. It’s a great highway car with a comfortable ride and good passing power when needed. However, I did notice that sudden bumps would produce the occasional groan from the raised roof.

With the top down, wind buffeting in the front seat is minimal but rear passengers will find it windy. An optional wind blocker does reduce wind buffeting for front passengers. With the top up, vision to the rear three-quarter view is partly obstructed by the thick C-pillar, the comparatively small rear window, and the rather high trunklid – but this is typical with most convertible cars.

Though the Sebring Convertible’s official Energuide fuel consumption rating is 12.9 L/100 km city and 7.7 L/100 km Highway, my on-board fuel consumption readout showed an average of 16.2 L/100 km in mostly city driving. Fortunately, it uses Regular grade gasoline.

Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop. Click image to enlarge

The six-speed automatic transmission is very smooth and responsive and the manual shift mode is very quick. Occasionally, under slow acceleration however, the transmission drops from first to second with a bit of a clunk, but that was my only complaint.

It’s when you start cornering that the Sebring Limited starts to feel bulky even though it has a fully independent suspension. Its standard Bridgestone Touranza 215/55R18-inch all-seasons offer good grip, but it’s not a nimble vehicle or a sporty vehicle, and won’t match the BMW or Volvo convertibles when it comes to handling. The speed-sensing steering is also a bit stiff at times.

Braking is not exemplary. AJAC braking tests show a 100 km/h to 0 km/h braking distance of 46.5 metres – compared to the Volvo C70′s 39.3 metres and the BMW 335i Cabriolet’s 36.4 metres. Still, the Sebring Convertible does offer four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Brake Assist. All-speed traction control and electronic stability control are also standard on the Sebring Limited.


Interior impressions

Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop. Click image to enlarge

The appearance and quality of the Sebring Limited’s interior is quite impressive. Smooth, supportive leather seats, high quality plastic instrument panel with silver and “tortoise shell” trim, a steering wheel with leather and tortoise shell, and an attractive chrome oval shiftgate all combine for a successful presentation.

The Sebring’s doors are rather long and heavy, but they allow a longer door opening for easier access to the two rear seats. As well, the front seatbelts are built right into the front seats rather than looping across the entryway to the rear seats, and the front seatbacks recline via a lever on top of the seatbacks. It’s still awkward getting in and out of the rear seats, but it could be worse.

The two rear bucket seats have good side support and fixed head restraints but the backrests are rather stiff and upright. Legroom is adequate and headroom is minimal with the top up.

Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
Test Drive: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop car test drives chrysler
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop. Click image to enlarge

The cabin includes a locking glove-box for security when the top is down, a two-level centre storage bin with a 12-volt power outlet, a small slot in the dash with 12-volt outlet, and optional heated/cooled cupholder.

The three round pods for the gauges are hard to see at times unless the lights are turned on which illuminates them in a green glow. A transmission gear indicator, and digital information display with average fuel consumption, distance to empty, and timer, are included in the gauges.

My test car had the optional MYGIG Multimedia Infotainment system with navigation and centre mounted touch-screen. The MYGIG system includes a hard disc drive and a USB port in the radio where your songs can be downloaded, as well as a jack for MP3 players. The audio system, the navigation system and your Bluetooth phone can be controlled by voice-activation via a small microphone in the rear-view mirror. As well, buttons on the back of the steering wheel (so you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel) control audio volume, channel search, and so on.

Finally, the Sebring Convertible includes front airbags and side airbags mounted in the front seats. A pop-up roll bar, available in some luxury convertibles, is not available in the Sebring Convertible.


Verdict

A comfortable, attractive and luxurious convertible with room for four adults, the Sebring Limited convertible has a clever retractable hardtop and a powerful new V6 engine, but it’s not a performance sedan.


Pricing: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible hardtop

  • Base price: $38,995
  • Options: $6,275 (Power retractable hardtop, $2,300; 18-inch chrome alloy wheels, $575; electronic stability control, $525; body colour mouldings, $75; MyGIG multimedia infotainment with navigation system with Sirius satellite radio and one-year subscription, $2,000; Luxury Group: remote start system, heated/cooled front cupholder, wind blocker, U-Connect hands-free phone, universal garage door opener, $800)
  • Freight: $1,300
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $46,670 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications


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Competitors


Crash test results


Manufacturer’s web site




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).