2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible
2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Second opinion by Bob McHugh

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Photo Gallery: 2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible

Santa Monica, California – Talk about choice!

For the first time, buyers of the popular Chrysler Sebring Convertible will be faced with a choice of three – count ’em, three – convertible tops. There are also three engines to choose from and they come with three different transmissions. Based on the latest-generation midsize-car platform which underpins the new Sebring sedan and the new Dodge Avenger, the new Sebring convertible replaces a successful, but long-in-the tooth car with something thoroughly modern and up to date.

First, the three tops. They all come with automatic latching and are all operable by a button on the keyfob. Entry-level models, such as they are, will come with a power vinyl roof; a cloth roof is standard on Limited models and optional on the midlevel Touring. The Touring and full-zoot Limited can also be ordered with a new $2,295 power-folding hardtop, which tucks underneath the car’s bulging trunklid. Chrysler claims this is one of the largest folding hardtops in the auto industry. Frankly, looking at the Sebring – and into its trunk once the roof is folded – it shows. Like the latest round of hardtop convertibles we’ve seen, such as the Volkswagen Eos and the BMW 3-series, the Sebring’s hardtop splits into three sections – and, thanks to Chrysler’s determination to retain decent rear-seat headroom, those three sections are large and rather boxy sections at that.

Luggage space is significantly reduced when you have the top down – though the penalty paid for open cruising is no worse than with the soft tops, which occupy the same space in the trunk. There’s enough room for two golf bags to tightly jam in when the retractable divider is in place; leave the roof up and you can retract the divider, making the Sebring’s trunk very large indeed.

2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible
2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible. Click image to enlarge

The Sebring is actually one of the few four-seat convertibles out there that would actually be habitable for four people on a weekend road trip, or even just a trip down to the beach for lunch. Front and rear, there’s generous space to stretch out. There’s plenty of headroom in both rows of seats. The rear perches are big and wide, with plenty of legroom and space under the front seats and sufficient space down the middle so rear-seat riders don’t have to butt shoulders. All seats, covered in leather or Chrysler’s stain- and odour-resistant YES Essentials fabric, are cushy-comfortable on long drives and more luxurious in their feel than other cars, such as the Pontiac G6, in the Sebring’s price range. Should you choose the soft top, you get more headroom and easier access to the huge trunk – reason enough, we think, to save the extra cash, especially since the well-finished soft top is no less refined than the hardtop.

Another reason is that the soft-top drives a bit better. With the roof down in the hardtop, there’s a lot of weight – three huge pieces and 99 kg of roof as well as lots of motors and supports – sitting in the back of the car. Top-up, the car’s centre of gravity is higher than the soft-top’s, which will corner flatter and truer thanks to its lower weight and better balance. Less weight in the less-expensive model also means sprightlier acceleration and improved braking performance.

2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible
2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible. Click image to enlarge

Of course, nobody’s going to mistake the Sebring for a sports car. It’s pretty softly sprung, with a magic-carpet ride over even the roughest pavement and the controls have some numbness dialled into them for an effortless feel. Dig deeper beyond the softness and you discover a very capable car, with reserves of cornering grip and stability that belie its size and weight. The body may be leaning over when you whip around a corner, but the Sebring always feels stable and confident, the feeling of security abetted by its super-stiff structure. Bumps don’t upset its composure even with the top down and there’s very little scuttle shake even at higher speeds. It’s a solid ride, if not an electrifying performer.

What the Sebring is, is an eye-catching car, one that draws lots of stares when you’re cruising down the boulevard. Though I don’t find the design particularly elegant – the old Sebring was a lot smoother – it’s packed with details that invite further examination. The headlights, drawn up and over the top of the hood, look like eagle’s eyes while the strakes that lead from the grille give a sensation of speed even when you’re going slowly. Deep character lines in the sides help define a pronounced wedge shape (another reason to skip the hardtop, which has a very formal profile at odds with the rest of the car) while at the rear, large lamps and dual exhaust pipes give the impression of plenty of pent-up power.

2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible
2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible. Click image to enlarge

How much power is actually pent up depends largely on which drive-train combination you choose. Entry-level Sebrings come with a 2.4-litre, 173-hp four-cylinder – enough to feel lively around town and perfect for the many sunbelt rental-car fleets that will surely stock the Sebring; it’s a bit wheezy on steep hills and loaded up with more than two passengers. Most models sold to the public will come with one of two V6 engines, a 2.7-litre flex-fuel unit running on gasoline or E85 that produces 189 hp or a gruff but powerful 3.5-litre producing 235 hp. Further improving the 3.5’s performance is a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability – a full two gears up on the four-speeds offered with the other two engines. Coupled with the torquey 3.5, it turns the Sebring into an effortless touring car, with smooth shifting, good passing power when needed and a relaxed, quiet gait when cruising down the highway.

2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible
2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible
2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible. Click image to enlarge

For the most part, the interior reinforces the relaxed, luxurious feel of the Sebring’s drive. The Limited models come with every possible convenience, with cushy leather seats, a fantastic touch-screen Harman/Kardon audio system with a 20-gigabyte hard drive for storing music and photos, Sirius satellite radio and power operation for pretty much everything. The cupholders can be heated and cooled. Bluetooth lets you use your cell phone over the car’s audio system without removing it from your pocket, and even remote starting is available. But while the interior is packed with features, it’s essentially the same as in the less-expensive Sebring sedan. That’s a good thing – the design looks great, with a central spine running down the dash as well as tortoise-shell and metallic inserts – but also a bad thing. Some of the materials used are hard and scratchy and you quickly discover that the metallic bits are actually plastic.

Such small issues may be easy to overlook given that the Sebring convertible will be one of the least-expensive four-seat droptops you can buy – at least in base form. Pricing starts at just under $30,000, which is not bad considering the base model’s full load of standard equipment, including a six-disc CD changer, four airbags, engine immobilizer, ABS, tire-pressure monitoring and 16-inch wheels and tires. Move up the line and things get more pricey; the Touring model is $34,995 and a fully tricked-out Limited with a hardtop will blow past $45,000 – big bucks, but still a lot less than, say, a Volvo C70 or BMW 328i cabriolet.

Amongst its four-seat droptop brethren, the Sebring is also easily the roomiest in the rear. So if you plan on regularly using the back seats – and don’t plan on carving corners in the canyons on the weekends – the new Chrysler convertible, no matter what top you choose, looks like an appealing package.


At a glance: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

  • MSRP: $29,995 to $39,995
  • Trim levels: LX, Touring and Limited
  • Power: 2.4-litre 4-cylinder / 173-horsepower
  • 2.7-litre V6 / 189-horsepower
  • 3.5-litre V6 / 235-horsepower
  • Transmission: 4-speed and 6-speed automatics
  • Fuel consumption (2.4-litre): 10.3/6.9 L/100 km (city/highway)
  • Fuel consumption (2.7-litre): 11.5/7.8 L/100 km (city/highway)
  • Fuel consumption (3.5-litre): 12.9/7.7 L/100 km (city/highway)
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 km
  • Powertrain Warranty: 5 years / 100,000 km


Competitors

  • Ford Mustang Convertible: $28,699 – $37,899
  • Pontiac G6 Convertible: $35,960
  • Toyota Solara Convertible: $36,500 – $39,900


Manufacturer’s web site

  • Chrysler Canada
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