Full Test: 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible

2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible Road Test

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2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

(3.5L V6 6-speed Automatic)

So Daimler and Chrysler are divorced. But we needn't worry too much about the American company, not if the 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible is anything to go by. Not that this four-passenger convertible is going to redefine the automotive world as we know it. It's just that there seem to be some ingenious people in Chrysler's marketing department who have figured out what women want.

Car companies have been trying to figure out what women want for a long time. They first got serious in the 1950s when large numbers of women began to buy cars, and then later in the 1970s when women revolutionized the consumer-oriented automotive market. Today even the tall white males at Detroit car companies will acknowledge that women have the decisive voice in the majority of car purchases, and they've got the research to prove it.

And what women apparently want is the 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible, a four-passenger car with convertible style and all-weather hardtop practicality. Everywhere we went in this Sebring, women came up to us and wanted to talk about it.

It All Starts With Looking Good
As with so many things, it probably begins with looking good. And the Sebring Limited Convertible has the looks to attract many suitors, with a long, smartly styled hood matched to a high-waisted profile. For 2008, the Sebring's wheelbase has been stretched 2.9 inches longer, and it's also 2 inches wider, 3 inches longer and 3.5 inches taller. All this adds up to a bit more interior room, some 88.7 cubic feet of it.

The cabin is similarly becoming, all clean lines and no clutter. Like a pair of snappy sunglasses, the rim of the steering wheel of the Limited is inlaid with plastic tortoise-shell trim and it's complemented by a strip on the dash. Too bad the material doesn't look too classy here, so it's probably best that this stuff is underemployed. There's lots of plastic trim meant to resemble satin-finished aluminum, and it's a lot more persuasive. Unfortunately, the leather upholstery seems like the hardest-wearing hide available, just one step beyond vinyl.

The key female-friendly component here is the presence of four seats, which transform the Sebring convertible from indulgence to practical automobile. There are other sporty four-passenger convertibles like the Ford Mustang, Pontiac G6 and Volkswagen Eos, yet the sedan-style profile seems to have special appeal. The Sebring's backseats can take two adults, and each rear seat also has locating points for a child seat.

Steel That Folds
What makes the Sebring Limited unique is the hardtop convertible, a $1,995 optional replacement for the standard cloth top. With the press of a button on the dash (or even the key fob), 30 seconds of whirring and clunking ensues from various electric motors and servos, the hardtop retracts beneath the hard rear tonneau and then the stoplight courtship display is complete.

The Mercedes-Benz SLK reintroduced the hardtop convertible to an enthusiastic public in 1997 and now everybody is used to the idea, but this contraption really makes the Sebring convertible look way more 21st century.

Hardtop convertibles are becoming more popular now, particularly in Europe where the added dimension of security ensures they can be parked on the street overnight without being molested. The Volkswagen Eos is a good example, and the Eos V6 competes against the Sebring here in the U.S. The $36,970 Eos has its price, however, and it's $2,625 more expensive that the Limited.

The Sebring also has a larger trunk than the VW whether the top is up or down. Speaking practically, the Chrysler's trunk holds four golf bags with the roof up, two with the roof down.

You Go, Girl
On the highway, the Sebring's cabin is quiet when the hardtop is in place, and since the 235-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine has some modicum of muscle, inadvertently creeping above speed limits is done easily, especially since there's no thrilling exhaust note that only boys seem to like. With the added structural integrity afforded by the steel roof, the Sebring hardly flexes when it encounters rough road surfaces. And such flexing is only slightly more perceptible with the roof stashed away.

The suspension bits are standard-issue, with MacPherson struts up front and a multilink independent arrangement in back. There's plenty of potential for performance, but Chrysler knows this market requires soft 'n gentle.

At times it seems the mere act of driving past a road sign warning of a twisty road will make the Sebring's front tires chirp in protest, while the body will roll and the nose of the car will show no inclination to follow the sporting line through a corner. As long as you're comfortable with that, the Sebring convertible is a comfortable car, as it's easy to drive and maneuver; a light-effort ride for the boulevard.

While this raspy SOHC V6 hardly seems up to the high-output label that Chrysler gives it, there's a useful margin of power over the alternate 189-hp 2.7-liter V6 and 173-hp 2.4-liter inline-4 with which lesser Sebring convertibles are equipped. Its 235 hp and corresponding 232 pound-feet of torque are more than sufficient for what this front-wheel-drive chassis can handle. The heavy 3,959-pound Limited hits 60 mph from a standstill in a sedate 8.3 seconds, while the quarter-mile is eventually dispatched in 16.3 seconds at 86.3 mph.

The next step along the drivetrain is a perfectly adequate six-speed automatic transmission that only occasionally emits a mild thunk when changing gear. Just put it into Drive and forget it. You can bring the lever into manual mode, but this is a practical matter for ascending hills or descending them, not an opportunity for sporting diversion. The fuel economy is not impressive either and we observed an average of 19.6 mpg.

Altogether, pleasantries are thin on the ground when describing the driving experience. The steering offers little feel or feedback. It took us 133 feet to come to a full stop from 60 mph, which is a measure of this car's sizable weight. The brake pedal has a long, soft action that inspires little more than an urge to hit the anchors much earlier whenever a bend approaches.

Practical Indulgence
A convertible speaks to anyone who has a feel for luxurious indulgence, but women are far too intelligent for such a thing these days, especially since the latest marketing research suggests that these smartest of consumers are not in a spending mood at the moment.

Yet the 2008 Sebring Limited Convertible attracts the interest of women because so much style and luxury seems like a more practical proposition. A hardtop promises safety, security and long-term weather protection. Meanwhile, a four-passenger package is practical as a real everyday car.

While the Sebring hardtop is hardly a threat to the Mercedes-Benz CLK, it promises the same thrill of open-air driving, and the fact that it makes such a thing remotely possible for so many people adds to its charm.

This promise is what attracted so many women to this car during our test-drive. This is a clientele that any carmaker would love to have, the smartest, best informed and most style-conscious segment of the population. But if the Sebring hardtop hopes to entice women into a longer relationship than an interlude at the rental car counter during a fun-filled vacation, it needs to back up the promises it makes with a more convincing impression of quality.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

Second Opinion

Senior Features Editor Joanne Helperin says:
For many, a midsize hardtop convertible represents an ideal blend of cool, comfort and convenience, and the 2007 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible makes that vision relatively affordable. But a few hours in this drop top is all it takes to put a damper on those dreams.

The car's profile is best likened to a dog with its backside in the air, an image made complete by the taillike antenna sticking up from the rear deck. The shallow greenhouse looks squashed onto the chassis, and a tiny rear window and rear-seat head restraints make rear visibility terrible, proving it doesn't take an SUV to create a blind spot big enough to hide a kindergarten class.

Driving topless doesn't make this car any better. As vehicle speed rises, your confidence as a driver sinks when the chassis starts to shake. For me, the interior appears an afterthought, with hard plastic galore and fit problems in every direction. Even the trunk, while spacious, reveals a host of exposed hardware.

As always the Sebring convertible promises a lot, but as always, it gives you the overall impression that Chrysler could have done better. And as always, the low road will lead the Sebring convertible to its inevitable destination, the rental fleet.

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