2002 Chrysler Sebring

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2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

This 2001 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.5
Pros:
  • Honest-to-goodness 4-seater
  • Affordable, especially considering equipment levels
  • Now, a more powerful V6
Cons:
  • Vibrations felt in the ride
  • First-generation models weren't rated highly in reliability
  • Poor placement of in-dash CD player

The best-selling convertible in North America, the Chrysler Sebring, bows as a new, second-generation model in 2001. This 4-passenger soft-top now has an easier-to-operate power roof, more powerful V6, richer interior and new, Chrysler Concorde-like styling.

Convertibles hold a special place in the hearts of many car shoppers. Driving in the open air, looking carefree, is an immediate picture of automotive cool.

But for many of us, reality sets in way before we even seriously shop for a convertible. There's concern about how many people and how much cargo we can really fit into a new convertible since these are often sporty models—long on style but short on practicality.

We also worry a new convertible will cost too much. And then, there's the ever-present fretting that the car won't be usable year-round.

Put your fears to rest. The top-selling convertible in North America is both practical and affordable for many buyers, and it's designed for year-round comfort. It's a familiar name. The Chrysler Sebring convertible has racked up more than 248,400 sales since it was introduced in 1996.

Major improvements this year
Now starting a new, second-generation Sebring soft-top, Chrysler officials have made sure to retain several of the most-appreciated attributes of the Sebring. But they've added a more powerful V6, a richer-looking interior, new styling and a firmer ride, too.

Over the years, the Sebring has appealed to a wide range of customers, from families to empty-nester couples. It's easy to see why this car would fit so many different lifestyles. Just look at some of the other convertible competitors.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata—with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge of more than $21,000—may be some $3,000 cheaper, comparing base models, than the base 2001 Sebring soft-top. But the Miata only comes with two seats.

The Volkswagen Cabrio—with a starting MSRP plus destination charge of just over $20,000—may be some $4,800 cheaper, comparing base models, but the Cabrio only comes with a 4-cylinder engine.

The Ford Mustang convertible—with a starting MSRP plus destination charge of nearly $23,000—may be some $2,000 cheaper, but that's for a manual-transmission model and many soft-top buyers aren't looking for such a muscle-car look.

And the more mainstream-looking Toyota Camry Solara has a higher starting price than the Sebring.

Impressive passenger room
The Sebring also outshines various competitors with its roomy back seat. Many convertibles force compromises back there, but the Sebring continues as an honest-to-goodness 4-passenger car—as in four adult passengers.

Sitting in the back seat, I noted my knees came close but didn't brush the front seatback, even when my 6-foot husband was driving. For the record, I'm 5 foot 4.

The Sebring provides a maximum 35.2 inches of back-seat legroom. This is the same as in the Camry Solara but compares with just 31.1 inches in the Cabrio and 29.9 inches in the back seat of the Mustang.

Headroom of 37.0 inches in the Sebring back seat is noteworthy—not just for a convertible but also for a mainstream car. It compares with 36.3 inches in the Camry Solara, 36.6 inches in the Cabrio and 35.8 inches in the Mustang.

I had a decent view out the Sebring's side windows. The leather seats on this top-of-the-line model were well cushioned.

Cargo space is impressive, too, at 11.3 cubic feet. This is better than the Mustang convertible's 10.9 cubic feet and the 8.0 cubic feet in the Cabrio. The Camry Solara has 13.8 cubic feet, however.

Nice-looking interior
The Sebring's seats and the entire interior look richer than before, especially in the top-of-the-line Limited model that was the test car.

There's a new color combination inside the Limited—a dark blue dashboard and center console with fake wood accents alongside cream leather seats. Very nice.

I noticed it was noisier in the back seat of the Limited than it is in the front seat when the top is up. In the back seat, my head was next to a cloth-covered pillar, and noise from the rear, 16-inch Michelin tires seemed pronounced.

The soft-top is vinyl on the base model and cloth on the upper LXi and Limited models.

The test Limited came with a fully lined roof that's designed to insulate against cold and noise. There's even a stitched-in rain gutter in the soft-top, above the side windows, to help keep water from dripping down on passengers—a complaint of the previous Sebring.

Chrysler made it easier to lower the automatic top, too. All four windows go down on their own via the same button that lowers and raises the top.

The back window is glass and comes standard with a defroster for inclement days. Also worth noting: The heater on the test car worked real well and gave me quick heat on cold mornings.

Good-performing V6 in all models
The V6 is new this year. It's larger, with 2.7-liter displacement vs. the 2.5 liters of the previous Sebring convertible.

As you'd expect, it's more powerful—offering 200 horsepower, which is 32 more than before. Torque is up 22 lb-ft to 192 at 4300 rpm. Yet, the new Sebring convertible gets a bit better fuel economy, too.

Thanks to the newfound power, I never dawdled. In fact, on a 3-hour highway roundtrip, I hogged the passing lane. I got the best performance when I used the AutoStick feature of the 4-speed automatic transmission to kick up the revs for passing maneuvers and on hills. AutoStick allows manual shifting of the gears, sans a clutch pedal.

Vibrations in the ride
But the new Sebring's more rigid body, touring-tuned suspension and firmer ride are palpable and may not appeal to everyone. Relatively regular road bumps came through to riders in vibrations on most roads during the test drive. The Sebring could hit potholes and rougher surfaces with vim and vigor, too. The Camry Solara provides a more sedate ride.

Still, I noticed cowl shake in the Sebring only over the most egregious bumps—nothing like the clattering of a Mustang convertible. And I appreciated the sense of control I had in the Sebring when taking curves aggressively. There's little wishy-washy handling here.

Like the Concorde?
Styling takes on even more of the design cues of the bigger Chrysler cars this year. And your opinion of the new look will vary, depending on whether you like or dislike that big, open-mouth grille of the bigger Chrysler Concorde. It's on the 2001 Sebring convertible, too.

In addition, you'll notice that the Sebring's wedge shape is accentuated this year compared with the previous model. Not surprisingly—given that it's built on the platform of the Sebring sedan—the Sebring convertible looks best with the top down.

When the top was up, I couldn't shake the feeling the roof was positioned and shaped a bit forward on the car. But who wants to drive a convertible with the top up all the time anyway?

Starting price about the same
The Sebring is decently equipped, with that automatic top, V6, automatic transmission, air conditioning, glass rear window with defroster, floor mats, power windows, remote keyless entry, and cruise control standard on all models.

And the starting MSRP plus destination charge is still near the $25,000 mark as it was for the 2000 model.

In comparison, VW's Cabrio features cruise control on upper models only, and the car's soft-top must be opened and closed manually on all but the top-of-the-line model.

Some safety upgrades made
Still, safety also is a concern for convertible buyers and there are no side airbags offered on the 2001 Sebring convertible. Chrysler officials note they added front-door beams for side crash protection and improved the car's safety cage around the passengers.

But there are no head restraints, to speak of, for back-seat riders. There also are no pop-up rollover protection mechanisms as there are on higher-priced luxury convertibles.

I did like the fact that back-seat riders in the Sebring have 3-point safety belts and front seat belts have pretensioners. And headlights are 25 percent brighter on the 2001 Sebring convertible than on the predecessor car.

Still, anti-lock brakes are standard only on the Sebring's top Limited model, though Chrysler did make several upgrades to the standard brake rotors, linings and brake lines.

Other notes
Wind noise emanated from the test car's soft-top when it was up and I was traveling at highway speeds.

I also disliked the 4-disc in-dash CD changer. It was located apart from the other audio controls, way down at the base of the dashboard and recessed. Some of its buttons can be blocked when the two cupholders are in use.

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BB06 - 8/28/2014 4:36:46 PM