2002 Chrysler Sebring

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2004 Chrysler Sebring

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.5
Pros:
  • Convertible with a usable back seat
  • Commendable trunk for a ragtop
  • Attractive styling
Cons:
  • Still has cowl shake
  • Starting price now up to $25,000
  • Some noise with top on

One sure way to get the most out of a warm, sunny day: Drive a popular American convertible.

Chrysler's Sebring retains its top-down fun and honest-to-goodness seating for four. Its class-leading 11.3-cubic-foot trunk is there, ready for two sets of golf clubs, too.

Now, for the 2004 model year, the Sebring two-door soft top also has revised front appearance, new, stylish wheels and a realigned model lineup.

Strong seller
In the past several years, Sebring has nearly always bested all other new convertibles in the United States in sales.

Company spokesman Bryan Zvibleman noted Sebring convertible sales in calendar 2002 totaled 43,809. He added Sebring holds 12 percent share of the U.S. convertible market.

It's a commendable showing for a vehicle which debuted originally in spring 1996 as one of the few convertibles on the market that can carry more than two people and more than just a suitcase or two.

In the ensuing years, new models have entered the convertible segment. Most—such as the Honda S2000 and current generation Ford Thunderbird—have only two seats and far less cargo room than the Sebring.

Price is up
In the 2004 model year, the Sebring convertible remains affordable, with starting manufacturer's suggested retail price around $25,000 for the base 2004 model with four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.

This is up, however, from $24,045 for a comparable, base 2003 Sebring convertible and is higher than the under-$24,000 starting MSRP for a 2004 Ford Mustang with V6 and manual transmission.

Indeed, a 2004 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible with four-cylinder engine, manual transmission and back-seat room starts around $21,000. The New Beetle Convertible qualifies as the lowest-priced convertible sold in the U.S.

Larger than many other convertibles
The 2004 Sebring is larger in overall dimensions than either the Mustang or New Beetle.

In fact, the Sebring has been classified as a compact—a larger vehicle than the Mustang and New Beetle by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Riders get the benefit of this larger convertible's 193.7-inch length and 106-inch wheelbase when interior space is factored in with the Sebring's sizable trunk space.

Front-seat legroom of 42.4 inches in the Sebring is nearly as much as the 42.6 inches in the Mustang and more than the 39.4 inches in the New Beetle.

Headroom, with the fabric top on, is a decent 38.7 inches in the Sebring front seat vis-à-vis 38.1 inches in the Mustang and 40.7 inches in VW's convertible.

Rear-seat headroom in the Sebring is a commendable 37 inches, nearly as much as the 37.2 inches in the back seat of the New Beetle and more than the 35.5 inches in the Mustang.

Note the Mustang's maximum trunk space is 7.7 cubic feet. There are 5 cubic feet in the New Beetle trunk, according to VW.

Mild styling update for '04
The test Sebring brought looks from several neighbors, all of whom noticed the more upscale appearance of the Sebring's front end.

Along with a revised grille and new position for the Chrysler winged badge, the '04 Sebring has scalloped edges on its headlamps. Chrysler officials explained they want the Sebring soft top to more closely reflect the premium image they're striving to build in all Chrysler vehicles.

The tester was the top-of-the-line Limited, so it had new aluminum wheels with a shiny chrome appearance that also added a fancier look.

Doors are long on this convertible to help ease entry into the back seat. I also had to watch how I opened the Sebring doors in parking lots.

Gauges in the Limited are similar to those in other Chrysler sedans and easy to read, with a soft green illumination at night and a white background during the day.

V6 is preferred power plant
The Sebring's base engine remains a 150-horsepower 2.4-liter double overhead cam four cylinder that's available on the base car.

The newly aligned uplevel models—the GTC, Touring and Limited—all come with the more competent, 200-horsepower 2.7-liter double overhead cam V6. Torque is 190 lb-ft at 4850 rpm and seems ready to come on, no matter the road situation.

There was no real jerkiness in the engine power delivery during the test drive, just a satisfying, responsive feel, even on long uphill climbs.

In city driving, the Sebring Limited moved with purpose into and around traffic with nary a sense of sluggishness.

I wish the engine sounds hadn't included some sort of whir. I could hear this each time I accelerated.

I could also control the shifts of the four-speed automatic, if I wanted, via an AutoStick that let me go from gear to gear without depressing a clutch pedal. The gear shifts weren't done quite as smoothly with AutoStick.

Ford's Mustang, which has played nip and tuck with the Sebring in recent years as a top-selling convertible, has three engine offerings, including two V8s that provide more horsepower and torque than the Sebring.

VW's convertible comes with four cylinder engines only. One is naturally aspirated, the other is turbocharged and offers 150 horses and 162 lb-ft of torque between 2200 and 4200 rpm.

Odds and ends
The Sebring continues to ride on the same platform it has had for years, which meant it didn't take long for me to notice some cowl shake as I went over bumps on city streets.

On rougher bumps, riders felt quite a few vibrations and a busy-ness under the car floor as the suspension sought to damp and hold down any tendency for bounciness.

It wasn't the most sophisticated feel to a suspension, but the Sebring convertible still handled well on curvy roads in the mountains.

I loved how the fabric top went down in a mere 7 seconds. All I had to do was unlatch the roof at the top of the windshield and push a button. The boot, or cover, over the folded top has to be installed manually.

Watch as you back up as the fabric top's rear window pillar can block a lot of the side rear view.

The test Sebring had whistling sounds now and again from the driver window area when the top was on.

The Sebring seats are nicely cushioned, even the two in the back seats. Back-seat riders have no head restraints.

I also noticed that the glovebox didn't have a lock in this open-top car. I had to squeeze valuables all into the center console storage area, which did have a lock.

Safety note
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2004 Sebring Convertible only three out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in a government frontal crash testing. It received three out of five stars for front-seat protection in a side crash, too.

In contrast, the New Beetle Convertible is rated with four stars for driver and front-passenger protection in government frontal crash testing. Side crash ratings weren't available for the VW ragtop, but the New Beetle Convertible comes standard with side airbags—a feature not available on the Sebring Convertible.

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BB02 - 8/22/2014 3:11:15 PM