Neil Dunlop, Contributor
The launch of the 2001 Sebring Coupe and Sedan represents
a belief by DaimlerChrysler's brain trust that, beginning
soon, baby boomers (age 35 to 55) will abandon pickups,
minivans and sport-utility vehicles in favor of midsize,
near-luxury sedans. The Sebring project is a critical effort
for Chrysler, which lags behind Honda, Toyota, Ford and GM in
market penetration--not surprising when you consider that
trucks make up three-quarters of Chrysler's sales.
Chrysler didn't go into the new Sebring half-heartedly
either. The company has spent $985 million on the sedan
project so far (that figure also includes development of the
new Dodge Stratus Sedan). Figures aren't available for the
cost of developing the coupe as it was done in conjunction
with Mitsubishi, but it likely cost many millions as
Consider it money well spent. In terms of drivability,
performance, equipment and looks, the new Sebrings will make
boomers happier than an inside tip on an Internet stock.
During a sunny day in June at DaimlerChrysler's Chelsea
Proving Grounds in Ann Arbor, Mich., a group of journalists
were given a preview of these impressive new vehicles.
Inside, the sedan is comfortable and noticeably roomy in
front and back (thanks to the cab-forward design). The
charcoal-leather interior of the testers was elegant,
complemented by the chrome-ringed, black-on-white gauges
(also borrowed from the 300M and LHS). Faux walnut burl
accents lend a warm feel to the sculpted dash. The interior
is more comfortable and attractive than the 2000 Toyota Camry
and Honda Accord, which were on hand for comparison.
Out on the test track, the Sebring Sedan is a taut
performer. The body was redesigned to provide 13 percent less
twist and 33 percent less bend than last year's model. The
added stiffness is obvious while cornering and also provides
a better connection to the road, reminiscent of European
sedans such as BMW, Volvo and Mercedes. The effect is a more
fun to drive vehicle.
Chrysler also worked hard to reduce noise and vibration in
this sedan: aerodynamics were improved; the front door glass
was made thicker; parts of the frame were injected with
insulating foam; and full wheelhouse shields were added to
deflect wheel noise. It worked. The Sebring is noticeably
quieter than the Accord and about even with the Camry.
The Sebring's steering system was redesigned to include a
front crossmember that increases stiffness for better
handling and responsiveness. Rebound shocks were also added
to keep the wheels more closely allied with the pavement and
improve road feel without sacrificing comfort. Also, the
15-inch standard wheels (up 1 inch from last year) improve
ride and handling (16-inch wheels are optional). The effect
is a smooth ride that is much quieter than the Accord's,
equal if not better than the Camry's, and a definite
improvement over the Cirrus.
The Sebring's 2.4-liter four-cylinder powerplant (standard
in the LX) is adequate, but hardly thrilling. At 147
horsepower it's no weakling, but it has to work harder to get
up to cruising speeds. If you don't mind trading speed when
accelerating and passing for improved gas consumption, the LX
engine is a nice compromise between performance and
The 2.7-liter V6 that is standard on the LXi and optional
on the LX is a different story. Essentially the same twin-cam
V6 used in Chrysler's larger sedans, it smoothly delivers 200
spirited horsepower (at 5900 rpm), a whopping 32 more ponies
than the current 2.5-liter V6. The LXi is equipped with a
four-speed automatic that includes Chrysler's "AutoStick"
clutchless shifting mechanism for drivers who want more
aggressive upshifts and downshifts. Most drivers will likely
never use this quasi-manual shifting system, but for passing
on hills or at highways speeds it works well. Adding driver
input to transmission shifts can help make a mundane drive
more fun, too.
While whipping around the test track at speeds inadvisable
on public roads, the Sebring Sedan lent confidence to our
exertions and never once betrayed an unwilling heart.
Standard four-wheel disc brakes, enlarged from last year, and
the optional ABS Plus system added assurance. Similar to ABS
systems used in BMWs and Volkswagens, the Plus system reduces
yaw (fishtailing) and prevents spinout by applying the rear
brakes independent of each other, thereby making smoother,
straighter emergency stops possible. Should a collision be
beyond your control, dual front airbags are standard and side
airbag curtains that protect front and rear passengers are
The new Sebring Coupe is an all-together different animal.
Borrowing heavily from the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Galant (all
three are made at the Mitsubishi Motor Assembly plant in
Normal, Ill.), it looks much like a Japanese car. It shares a
similar profile and styling cues with the Sebring Sedan, but
is much more aggressive, starting with its lower, sharper
nose. The below-bumper, elliptical egg-crate grille with
built-in fog lamps is reminiscent of the Concorde's front end
with more than a little influence from classic Ferrari
grilles. The coupe's roofline is raked and streamlined like
the sedan, but its side windows are much thinner, creating an
even more aggressive need-for-speed look. And, while the
Sebrings' rear ends mimic that of the 300M, the coupe's
circular, inset reverse lights look sportier. If the sedan
looks sleek, elegant and speedy, the coupe looks sexy, raw
The coupe's interior also reflects this difference. More
sporty and less elegant, it is nearly identical to the
Eclipse's interior with a few wooden accents and a more
muscular than tailored look. Also, from inside the Sebring
Coupe, the low profile side windows and high sills are quite
noticeable, giving the impression of being in a sports car,
yet the coupe offers similar comfort to the sedan--in the
front seats only. As in many coupes, ingress and egress to
the rear seats is awkward and would make even Fred Astaire
On the track, the coupe is good fun, especially the
five-speed manual. The Mitsubishi-derived, 200-horsepower
3.0-liter V6 provides similar acceleration to the sedan, but
the coupe's aggressive profile and standard 16-inch tires
lend attitude and superior road grip to its performance.
Also, the coupe's single-piece body was redesigned to provide
a 90 percent improvement in bending resistance and a 9
percent increase in twist resistance over the old model. This
increased rigidity and an added front strut tower brace and
sport-tuned suspension system give the coupe great feel and
handling on all road conditions.
The coupe's AutoStick is also set up for more aggressive
driving. It uses an intuitive up-down shift pattern, as
opposed to the sedan's side-to-side movement. It can shift
under full throttle, skip shift, and it does not share the
sedan's auto upshift mechanism, which automatically upshifts
before redline. The Sebring Coupe outperformed the Accord,
Solara and Mustang V6 on the track, offering better
performance, similar handling and superior road feel and ride
Both the LX Coupe and Sedan come with an impressive array
of standard features, including air conditioning, cruise
control, four-wheel disc brakes, six-speaker stereo,
four-speed automatic tranny, tilt steering wheel, power trunk
release and power windows, locks and mirrors. Upgrading to
the LXi adds 16-inch aluminum wheels, leather seats,
eight-way power driver's seat, fog lamps, remote keyless
entry, compass and temperature display, and a seven-speaker
Infinity sound system with cassette and CD.
Baby boomers might find that if the kids are grown and
gone, rendering the days of lugging camping equipment or a
soccer team around to a cherished memory, it makes sense to
ditch the minivan or SUV and buy a Sebring of either stripe.
But the car's appeal isn't limited to folks seriously
pondering the use of Grecian Formula as part of the morning
grooming ritual. Young singles will find Sebring Coupe's
upscale style and peppy performance pleasing, while young
families can enjoy style and grace with plenty of room to
take the kids to grandma's house in the Sebring Sedan.
Whatever the case may be, the 2001 Sebring sure makes the
Chrysler brain trust look like they know what they're
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