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Story and photos by Paul Williams
True, the exterior dimensions of the Sebring LXi sedan are comparable to several intermediate-sized cars. But its lines are low and sleek, in the current Chrysler style. Compare it to the new Honda Accord, for instance, and you’ll find the roofline is 62mm (2.5″) lower than the Japanese car.
It’s these appealing lines that distinguish the Sebring from its competitors, and for many people the Chrysler design is the most pleasing of the domestic makers.
Matching the good looks is a range of desirable standard features. Included are remote keyless entry, premium headliner, fog lamps, leather-faced eight-way power driver’s seat, special “Touring” suspension and a traveller’s display. This display includes a compass, outside temperature, and trip computer. Unlike many cars that locate displays of this type overhead, the Sebring’s is better placed at eye-level, at the top of the centre stack.
My test car was equipped with the Special Touring Group, and the Luxury Group, along with a couple of other popular options. The Special Touring Group is excellent value at $575, featuring a trunk spoiler and attractive 16″ alloy wheels. These aren’t the chrome wheels found on many Chrysler products, but I like the nine-spoke alloy look supplied on this car.
The $860 Luxury Group includes a select-shift four-speed automatic transmission, a six-disc CD changer, electroluminescent gauges, a security group and a Homelink transiever. Side-impact airbags are available for $390, and our car featured four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, surprisingly an additional $515. An $895 sunroof completed the option list.
In addition to the pleasing look of the Sebring, the Inferno Red Tinted Pearl paint on our test car was a frequent subject of positive comment. When the overcast winter weather occasionally relented, its rich red paint gleamed impressively in the sunlight, and would make an excellent choice for a prospective customer.
The interior of the Sebring does not match its impressive exterior, however. Granted, it’s got a hard act to follow, given the attractive exterior design, but there are certain touches that detract from otherwise pleasant accommodations. The faux carbon-fibre trim that extends the full width of the facia is a case in point. Part of the Touring Group, the technical and performance origins of this glossy gray plastic covering with its houndstooth pattern will be lost on most buyers. And those who do know what it represents will likely be unimpressed.
Similarly, the choice of a Dark Slate Grey interior seems uninspired. According to the online configurator, it’s the only interior choice available with the red exterior. I’d certainly recommend the sunroof to brighten up the gloomy interior.
The center stack places the rarely used heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls in the most prominent position, with the often-used radio below. Most automakers reversed the location of these components years ago. The CD changer is virtually inaccessible, located well below the radio, almost out of reach.
On a positive note, the electroluminescent gauges are very attractive, and it’s these that you notice first when entering the car. The black-on-white instruments feature numerals that remind one of a modern version of a gauge cluster from the 1930s. At dusk, they emit a pleasing aqua glow. At night the numbers become white, and the background black. Very nice.
The seats are low in the car, and cause the occupants to kind of “drop down” into them. This is a traditionally American feature, in contrast to current European and Asian cars that tend toward a taller construction where the seats are higher in the car. Once inside you’ll find seats wide and a touch soft, but that’s okay with me, as these are now the features that unfortunately best describe my middle-aged body.
On the road the car is a breeze to drive – it pretty much drives itself most of the time. Just put it in gear, and point it where you want to go. In all situations the 200 horsepower, 2.7-litre V6 engine is quiet and sufficient. The steering is direct and the ride comfortable, floating over bumps and other road imperfections. Acceleration is brisk when required.
I put a lot of kilometres on this car, driving from Ottawa to Niagara Falls, to London, Toronto and Montreal. On the highway it was well behaved and seems firmly planted on the road. Its low centre of gravity gives you a feeling of connectedness to the highway. Road noise does increase with speed, but this is largely because of the tires.
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Traction control might have helped at intersections when roads became slippery (it’s not available on the Sebring) but a set of winter tires will give you far greater security for stopping and cornering. I’d recommend these in snowy conditions.
For the daily commute, or the long trip, the good looking Sebring is a relaxed place to be – a pleasing, sporty exterior, and a comfortable, low-stress environment in which to endure the rigours of urban motoring.
Standard ABS, side curtain airbags and an interior refresh would sweeten the pot even more, however.
Technical Data: 2003 Chrysler Sebring LXi
|Price as tested||$32,895|
|Type||Four-door, five passenger mid-size sedan|
|Engine||2.7 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves|
|Horsepower||200 @ 5800 rpm|
|Torque||190 lb.-ft @ 4850 rpm|
|Wheelbase||2743 mm (108.0 in.)|
|Length||4844 mm (190.7 in.)|
|Width||1793 mm (70.6 in.)|
|Height||1394 mm (54.9 in.)|
|Trunk space||453 litres (16.0 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.7 l/100 km (24 mpg)|
|Hwy: 7.9 l/100 km (36 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||7 yrs/115,000 km|