2002 Chrysler Sebring

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2002 Chrysler Sebring

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Slick Sebring convertible line expanded with GTC to broaden its appeal.
Pros:
  • Sporty new manual-transmission GTC trim
  • Stylish
  • Roomy back seat
Cons:
  • Small V6 works hard
  • Long doors
  • Small radio controls

The Chrysler Sebring convertible is nothing less than the last American convertible with comfortable seating for four adults. Such a car long was part of the American dream, and the market once was filled with such models.

The front-wheel-drive Sebring convertible is fighting to regain its No. 1 sales spot this year by overtaking the Ford Mustang, which has a tiny back seat. The Mustang took the convertible sales lead from the Sebring last year.

The first-generation Sebring was the top-selling convertible from 1996 to 2000, but the production switch to a thoroughly revamped 2001 Sebring soft-top trim helped the iconic rear-drive Mustang convertible capture the lead.

The rear-drive Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird convertibles, which are being dropped this year, also have tiny back seats best suited for children or cargo and aren't in the sales ballpark with the Sebring and Mustang.

Exclusive
The made-in-Michigan Sebring convertible is not to be confused with the considerably different Michigan-made Sebring sedan or Mitsubishi-based Sebring coupe, which is built in Illinois.

In fact, the Sebring convertible is exclusive to the Chrysler Sebring line, while the Sebring coupe and sedan have Dodge Stratus counterparts.

The Chrysler Sebring soft top was developed before Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler in 1998. The former Chrysler Corp. had to maintain the affordability, styling allure, roomy back seat and trunk room of the old model, not to mention a snug power top that enabled the car to be driven comfortably throughout the year in the Snowbelt.

Big Improvement
The new Sebring convertible retained those virtues and also had sleeker styling, more rigid construction, additional power and a refined suspension.

The Sebring convertible starts with the $23,580 LX trim and ends with the $29,300 Limited trim. In between are the LXi and sporty new GTC.

You get a lot for the money with the Sebring convertible. Even the LX is pretty well equipped, and more features are added as you go up the trim range.

Only Manual Transmission
The GTC is characterized as a "2002 ½" trim. It expands the Sebring convertible line to attract customers who are more sporty minded. That's why the GTC is the only Sebring soft top trim that can be ordered with a manual gearbox—in this case, a 5-speed transmission.

All other Sebring convertibles are equipped with a 4-speed automatic transmission, which also is available for the GTC.

The manual gearbox shifts fairly well and works with an acceptable clutch. The smooth, responsive automatic has a manual-shift feature in the Limited.

Anti-lock brakes are standard if the GTC is ordered with the manual gearbox, but cost an extra $565 if you get them with the automatic.

GTC Special Features
The GTC has a beefed up "Euro-sport" suspension, unique aluminum wheels, color-keyed bodyside moldings, special badging and a rear spoiler. Special interior items include two-tone seats and unique instrument panel inserts.

Exterior GTC colors are limited to silver, black, white and red.

The GTC has a 2.7-liter 200-horsepower V6 that is smooth but must work hard because it's rather small. DaimlerChrysler's 3.0- or 3.5-liter V-6s should be offered as an option.

Swift Acceleration
However, acceleration still is swift with the 2.7-liter V6, which loafs in cruising mode on highways and delivers decent fuel economy—an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 27 on the open road with the manual. Economy figures with the automatic are nearly the same.

The entry Sebring LX convertible has a standard 2.4-liter 150-horsepower 4-cylinder engine. It holds the entry trim's price down but makes the fairly large, approximately 3,500-pound Sebring convertible underpowered when outside town—although it does provide a few more miles per gallon.

However, the V6 is an $850 option for the LX—and is standard for all other Sebring convertible trims.

Fairly Athletic Moves The Sebring is no sports car, but has athletic moves. The GTC naturally is the most nimble trim with its specially tuned suspension, and the LXi and Limited have a handling edge over the LX because of their slightly wider tires.

The LX, LXi and Limited have a "touring suspension" with front and rear stabilizer bars. Stopping distances are short, and the car's long 106-inch wheelbase helps smooth out the ride.

Long Doors
On the one hand, the long, heavy doors make it easy to get in and out if there is sufficient room to swing them all the way open. But they can make entry and exit a problem in tight spots. Happily, front shoulder belts are integrated into the seats so they don't get in the way of access to the back seat.

The power top works well and has a glass rear window. The interior isn't spoiled with cheap materials and is generally quiet with the top up. But front seats should provide more lateral support during spirited driving. Climate controls are large, but radio controls are too small for easy use by a driver trying to concentrate on the road.

Also front cupholders are too low at the front of the console for easy use. Spills seem inevitable.

The Sebring convertible is a worthy successor to the large old American soft top trims. In fact, with convertible sales surging, it's a wonder that it has no roomy domestic competition.

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BB04 - 9/18/2014 3:18:28 AM