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  • 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

    Posted on March 30th, 2007 ninarussin

    Chrysler’s ragtop gets a hard top
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

    2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

    It’s lonely at the top. The first-generation Chrysler Sebring convertible, introduced twelve years ago, quickly became a best seller: its stylish exterior and affordable price tag put the ragtop within reach of the average American car buyer. When DaimlerChrysler developed the Sebring’s successor, they were challenged with upping the ante, without significantly increasing its price.

    The second-generation Sebring convertible rolls out this spring as a 2008 model. The completely new exterior features a retractable hard top, while the more spacious interior has more safety content, comfort and convenience features than the outgoing model. Base price is $26,145: about $645 less than the outgoing model, comparably equipped.

    All-season comfort, for four-season climates

    The problem with soft tops is that they don’t offer much noise or temperature insulation. Retractable hard tops do. The disadvantage of hard tops is that they impinge on trunk space more than their soft-top cousins. The Sebring design team addressed this problem by making the convertible three inches longer than the sedan. With the hard top down, the trunk has 6.6 cubic feet of cargo space; 13.3 cubic feet with the top up. While it won’t hold a bicycle, it will hold a couple of golf bags, or enough luggage for a road trip. In other words, it’s a real trunk.

    The other advantage of the hard top is visibility. With the top in place, the convertible’s  visibility is a good as a coupe. Blind spots to the rear are hardly noticeable, and the side mirrors do a good job of compensating. While the hard top costs about $2000 more than the soft top, it may be worth the investment for buyers who need the versatility.

    Three models, three tops, and three engine choices

    The 2008 Sebring convertible comes in three grades: Standard, Touring and Limited. The base model has a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission, and is available with the soft top only. Chrysler expects its mid-grade Touring model, powered by a 2.7-liter V6 engine, to be the segment leader. The engine is E85 compatible, and is mated to the same four-speed automatic transmission as the base model. The upscale Limited model, priced from just over $32,000, has a 235 horsepower V6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission.

    The base model comes with a soft top only: buyers can upgrade from the standard vinyl to cloth. Both the Touring and Limited models are available with the retractable hard top. Since the hard top adds weight to an already heavy car, the largest engine is the best choice. In my test drive, the Touring model had sluggish acceleration, especially when merging into high-speed highway traffic. High-end power for passing was adequate in the smaller engine.

    Open-air comfort in thirty seconds

    I drove the new Sebring convertible through the canyon roads in Malibu, California: a perfect environment for an open car. The hard top operates by depressing a single button on either the key fob or instrument panel, and retracts in thirty seconds. The hard top sections lock into the trunk structure to prevent any rattling or damage while driving.

    Since there were no rear seat passengers, we were able to install the optional windscreen, to reduce the wind and noise through the cabin. The windscreen is easy to mount: two pins latch into holes on either side of the rear seats, and two tangs in the back slide in between the upholstery.

    The convertible shares much of its front structure with the Sebring sedan. One difference is that the convertible has larger front pillars to maintain structural integrity. While they are clearly visible, they don’t seem to obstruct forward visibility. Airflow through the cabin is comfortable, and quiet enough on the highway to hold a conversation without shouting.

    Design has always been Chrysler’s strong suit, and the new Sebring convertible is no exception. The front end has similar character lines and proportions to the smaller Crossfire. The beltline, which separates the sheetmetal from the side windows, is relatively high, making the car appear more solid and sporty. Designers focused on giving both the hard and soft tops an angular look: closer to a coupe than the traditional ragtop. The convertibles turned heads at every rest stop, which is no small feat in this part of southern California.

    Both the Limited and Touring models tested had good steering feedback at all speeds, and a solid stance on the highway. Because of its weight and front-wheel drive configuration, the convertible tends to push in the corners on steep downhill descents. Then again, the Sebring is a cruiser, not a race car. The brakes are firm and linear, especially on the Limited model. There were no obvious squeaks or rattles. With the top in place, the Sebring convertible is as quiet as a sedan.

    Improved ride and handling, and a higher level of standard safety features.

    The convertible’s solid feel comes from extensive use of high-strength steel and reinforcements throughout the body structure. The car has over 100 parts made out of high-strength steel, making the body over two times stiffer than the model it replaces. Engineers thickened up the rear bulkhead, and ran thick sections under the door sills. All models have a new cross-brace under the floor in the rear of the car, and the retractable hard-top has an additional cross-brace up front.

    The only disadvantage of all this reinforcement is curb weight. The Standard model weighs in at 3,742 pounds, while the upscale Limited grade weighs 3959 pounds. The consequence is diminished power and fuel economy. Fuel economy on the Standard model averages 20/29 miles-per gallon city/highway, while the 3.5-liter V6 engine on the Limited model gets 16/26 miles-per-gallon. The lower-than average fuel numbers also reflect changes in federal fuel economy standards since 2007.

    Standard safety features include front and side airbags, antilock brakes, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Buyers can opt to add electronic stability program and traction control for a higher level of safety.

    Spacious, elegant interior

    Both of the test cars came with leather trim. The Limited model has tortoiseshell accents on the instrument panel that give the car an upscale look. Athletes might opt for the more practical anti-microbial, anti-static cloth trim. All models come with a heated and cooling cupholder located in the front center console. There is also a plain cupholder that is slightly larger, to hold big water bottles. Rear-seat passengers have good-sized cupholders molded into the arm rests.

    There are map pockets in the doors and front seatbacks. The gate shifter is easy to use, and all of the comfort and convenience controls are easy to access for either front passenger.

    Audiophiles will appreciate the available MyGig navigation, audio and entertainment system: the hard drive has enough memory to store about 100 hours of music. Passengers can also play movies on the navigation screen when the transmission is in Park. All models are MP3  and Bluetooth compatible, and come wired for Sirius satellite radio.

    The rear seat is exceptionally spacious for a convertible. There is plenty of shoulder and legroom for most adults, without moving the front seats far forward.

    Arriving in dealerships this spring

    The 2008 Chrysler Sebring convertibles are currently rolling into dealerships nationwide. Pricing begins at $26,145 for the Standard model, $28,745 for the Touring model, and $32,345 for the Limited model. The Sebring convertible is produced in Chrysler’s Sterling Heights, Michigan Assembly plant.

    Likes: Elegant styling, solid construction, and good steering response. The Sebring convertible is a lot of car for the money. The available hard top makes it a convertible that drivers can be comfortable in year-round.

    Dislikes: Relatively high curb weight makes for sluggish acceleration with all but the 3.5-liter V6 engine. Merging into high-speed traffic can be dodgy.

    Quick facts:

    Base price: $32,345
    Price as tested: N/A
    Horsepower: 235 Hp @ 6400 r.p.m.
    Torque: 232 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 r.p.m.
    0 to 60: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: N/A
    First-aid kit: No 
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Fuel economy: 16/28 m.p.g. city/highway
    Comments: Specifications listed are for the Limited grade with the 3.5-liter gasoline engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

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