2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible Road Test

2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible Road Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
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2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

(2.7L V6 4-speed Automatic)

Chrysler's Classy Convertible Gets a Makeover

With a cleanly styled exterior and a spacious and classy-looking interior, the Sebring offered top-down fun without looking like you just pulled out of a high school parking lot. Its soft suspension and docile V6 engine hardly set hearts afire, but as a roomy and comfortable boulevard cruiser, it was hard to beat.

When it came time for a revamp, Chrysler knew better than to mess with a good thing. Its design philosophy this time around was to improve upon the Sebring's already elegant design while adding an elevated degree of athleticism. At first glance, you'll hardly notice the revised egg-crate grille and additional chrome molding. But look closer and you'll detect a slightly more dramatic profile thanks to a reshaped hood and raised rear decklid.

To achieve the goal of a more athletic Sebring, Chrysler's engineers gave this year's model a major boost in power in the form of an all-new 2.7-liter V6 engine. This powerplant produces a healthy 200 horsepower (up 32 from last year) in addition to being 8-10 percent more fuel-efficient that its predecessor. Advanced features like dual overhead cams and an adjustable intake manifold help give the engine more useable power and better mid-range performance.

All three Sebring convertible models — LX, LXi and Limited — get the new, more powerful powerplant along with a standard four-speed automatic transmission (a smaller, more efficient four-cylinder will be available on base models in 2002). Other across-the-board improvements include a retuned steering system, revised front suspension and larger front brakes. Safety has also been enhanced with multi-stage airbags, brighter headlights, seatbelt pre-tensioners and repositioned head restraints.

The Sebring continues to offer a substantial list of standard features on all models. Even the base LX gives you four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, a power driver seat, cruise control, a premium sound system and remote keyless entry. Stepping up to the LXi adds larger 16-inch tires and aluminum wheels; leather trim on the seats, steering wheel and shift knob; a 150-watt Infinity CD stereo; and an upgraded security system.

Our test car was a top-of-the-line Limited that featured an exclusive new Dark Royal Blue exterior color and Cream-colored leather interior. Other Limited-only features include an enhanced braking system known as "ABS Plus," the Autostick automanual transmission, chromed wheels, an in-dash CD changer and an electroluminescent gauge cluster.

We considered the original Sebring a sharp-looking two-door, and the revised version is every bit as handsome. The new Royal Blue and Cream color combo adds an elegant look, but even the Sebring's less vibrant colors exude an upscale appearance.

The interior is a pleasing mix of cushy leather seats, cleanly styled instruments and minimal dashboard clutter. The three-dial climate control system may not look high-tech, but it works with such ease and efficiency that you'll rarely wish for a more complex dual-zone system. The fake wood isn't exactly top-notch stuff, and there's a healthy dose of cheap plastic pieces littered about, but the overall design is attractive.

Although the steering and suspension underwent substantial changes for a more "athletic" feel, the Sebring is still far from nimble. It feels heavy through the turns, and the steering is utterly lifeless. We were able to push the car with confidence during well-controlled track maneuvers, but any kind of spirited driving on public roads is ill-advised. The upgraded brakes turned in a very respectable 128-foot 60-to-0 distance, so you can feel assured of confident stops.

The all-new V6 is a noticeable improvement over the previous Mitsubishi-sourced engine, but there's still no excitement from under the hood. Our fastest acceleration run yielded a 9.4-second 0-to-60 time — a few ticks slower than the last Honda Odyssey minivan we tested. To its credit, the engine's power delivery is silky smooth and even at full throttle, it's unobtrusive. Considering that the chassis and drivetrain are not designed for supercar performance, the Autostick transmission that comes standard on Limited models is rarely of any use.

Despite its less-than-stellar handling ability, the Sebring still makes a great drop-top cruiser. The suspension may not track tightly around corners, but it filters out potholes and other road hazards with admirable grace. The transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, and even the lackluster steering is light to the touch.

Like the suspension, the seats are designed for lounging. There's little in the way of side bolsters or thigh support, but they felt plenty comfortable gliding down Pacific Coast Highway one afternoon. Climate and radio controls are well within reach, but the CD changer's position just ahead of the shifter makes loading discs awkward when parked.

Unlike other upscale convertibles, the Sebring soft top offers two sizable rear seats, adding a measure of practicality that should offset any feelings of overindulgence. The rear quarters aren't exactly road trip-worthy, but adults will find enough room for short trips, and kids will love sitting in back with the wind in their faces. Generous trunk space (11.3 cubic feet) further contributes to the Sebring's usefulness.

If that's not enough to sway you, consider that the Sebring is also priced thousands lower than its only real competitor — the Toyota Camry Solara. Our top-of-the-line tester came in at just $29,590 with an extra $50 worth of options. A comparably equipped Solara would run about $32,400. With a similar propensity toward leisurely driving, the Solara offers much the same in terms of performance and luxury, but by virtue of its Camry roots, it wears featureless styling that doesn't quite measure up to the Sebring's more distinctive lines.

Chrysler was smart not to get too cute with one of its best-selling vehicles. The Sebring built its reputation on stylish looks, a tasteful interior and a reasonable sticker price. This latest version maintains the sharp exterior, adds an even more refined interior and still manages to undercut the competition at the bottom line. Throw in the extra horsepower, improved safety and still reasonable practicality, and the Sebring looks as though it will continue its reign as the convertible of choice in the midsize segment.

Stereo Evaluation

System Score: 6.5

Components:It's not hard to spot the speakers mounted on the dash, but good luck finding the CD changer. The familiar four-disc Chrysler unit is mounted deeeeeeeeep in the front console where it lives in a shadowy cavern behind the shifter (this just isn't safe). The head unit with tape player and changer controls is also mounted low, but at least it has a three-band equalizer that allows you to customize the amount of bass, treble and mid-range sounds. The mid-tweeter speakers up top are complemented by large drivers in the doors devoted to low range tones. Similar speakers above the rear armrests work to provide a full range of sound.

Performance:Poor Infinity. The company makes great speakers, only to have Chrysler throw them behind interior panels that rattle and groan whenever the bass is thumping. This is unfortunate, because the woofers have no trouble pumping out gobs of the low stuff. The subs in the front doors have a cleaner output than those in back because the crossovers keep high notes going toward the dash. The speakers up there do a good job of producing highs such as trumpets and cymbals, but while vocals sound good, they could be stronger.

Best Feature:Equalizer to suit your needs.

Worst Feature:CD changer mounted below the Earth's crust.

Conclusion:The speakers are good, but the rattles are annoying and loading the changer while driving is dangerous. — Trevor Reed

Second Opinions

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
When we are testing a car or truck, it is of utmost importance to remember who the intended market is for a given vehicle, and to keep that in mind when we are judging the car. I say this because it would be so easy for me to rank on the Sebring for its lack of handling prowess or gut-wrenching acceleration. But that's not what this car is about.

Leisurely, comfortable no fuss open-top motoring is this car's mission, and taken at that, it succeeds. Dropping the power-operated, well-insulated top is no sweat, and the occupants of the LXi or Limited models will probably be more than happy ensconced in their roomy, leather-trimmed cocoons.

Although the Sebring's lazy handling won't inspire one to strafe apexes, performance isn't completely missing from this car — the V6's 200 horses are nothing to sneeze at and move the car out briskly from rest and when passing. But will anyone bother manually shifting the Autostick automanual gearbox that's standard in the Limited version? It just doesn't suit this car's cruising-oriented personality — I imagine that those who buy this car won't be interested in banging up or down through the gears.

Perhaps the best way I can sum up the Sebring is to say it's a nice car for non-enthusiast-types looking for an affordable, attractive and comfortable four-place ragtop.

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
Approach the Chrysler Sebring Convertible like you would a Cameron Diaz movie. You don't expect Oscar-caliber performances, powerful acting or heart-rending emotions, but you'll have a sun-filled good time.

No, this isn't a serious driver and doesn't inspire you to take that twisty canyon road, nor does it tempt you to test its limits on a racetrack. A squishy pedal for both the accelerator and brakes, a vibrating steering column and the copious amount of cowl shake remind you that this isn't a performance car, with its chassis flexing and stretching when asked to take tight curves.

Get it out onto the open highway, though, preferably with a vast body of water on either side of you, and you appreciate its demeanor. The engine makes a fine bellow and allows for high-spirited sprints. Its suspension and tires are biased toward a comfortable ride, and its high cowling protects you from untoward amounts of wind in your hair. Plus, there's room enough in the back for full-size adults. And I dug the stylistic flourishes on the interior such as the font on the gauges, its fake-but-non-offensive wood accents, navy blue dashboard and creamy leather. The Sebring is a pleasant place to be, as long as you don't have any ambitions but to loiter around the beach on a Sunday afternoon. And isn't that what a convertible is all about?

Senior Editor Chris Wardlaw says:
Back when I was still wearing diapers, my father owned a dark-green-over-white 1968 Pontiac Catalina convertible in which I loved to ride. It was big and powerful and the top went down; kids relish turbulence in the back seat. But I'm guessing that it was a sloppy handler, and that giant chrome beak in the middle of the grille created an ungainly look.

Our dark-blue-over-cream leather sample of the redesigned 2001 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible reminds me of that American classic, updated for the 21st Century. It's big, able to seat four adults without problem. It's powerful when compared to the anemic V6 model that preceded it, which made all of 165 horsepower and plenty of noise, vibration and harshness. And hey, lookee here, the top easily powers down with the flick of two handles and the push of a button, exposing lightly colored leather that will become grimy in no time, just like the white vinyl in the Catalina.

Also like Dad's old Poncho, the Sebring is a sloppy handler. The ride-biased tires fold over at the merest hint of a corner, causing the Chrysler to plow and squeal like Farmer Ted and a pen full of pigs. The car looks ungainly, too, as this new design isn't nearly as fluid or cohesive as the beautifully executed previous generation. And there's plenty of chrome, right there on the multi-spoked alloy wheels.

Despite the fact that it's not as attractive, what's underneath the sheetmetal is certainly improved. The car is quicker, more refined, more comfortable and structurally stronger than before. Just don't expect much in terms of outright performance, and you likely won't find much to dislike about the new Sebring Convertible.

But would Dad buy one? Nah, he's into Mercedes-Benzes these days. Sedans. Gotta stay out of the sun, don't you know.

Consumer Commentary

"I love driving this car. It just turned 500 miles today. If I have any complaint about my Sebring, it's that it just doesn't have that 0-60 pep that I would have hoped for. Other than that, having driven top-down for most of the last week and a half, the skin on my receding forehead is starting to peel from a mild sunburn!" — theweissman, "Sebring Convertibles," #910 of 1236, May 8, 2001

"Awesome weather in San Diego lately. Going on month number four with our 2001 Limited. My first initial impression, how could anybody go back to a 'regular' car after a convertible?It's hard to describe. So far no problems to speak of. Mileage is approaching 2,000. Heater does need a little more oomph below 50 degrees. However, with the top down, windows up and the vents aimed right at you it feels like a nice, warm little cocoon with a view. Only thing I can see upgrading on the car in the future is the sound system. The Infinity is thebest 'stock' system I have heard (in a car below $40,000). I figure even a simple speaker upgrade and possibly a subwoofer would work. All in all, the whole family and I lovethe car! We have gotten numerous positive comments. She seems to be holding together just fine. Miles per gallon are a combined city/highway of 21. I am sure it will improve a little as the engine breaks in. Acceleration is great, no Mustang, but it's not being touted as one, either." — bbunch, "Sebring Convertibles," #930 of 1236, May 16, 2001

"I hope to be a happy owner of my 2001 Gold/tan in the long run.... I am a frequent renter of the previous body-style Sebring convertibles and feel I know the old cars very well. They lacked only power, nothing else I could ever complain about. I am a 6'1" driver. I find the space to be adequate and comfortable. However, the shifter throw to Park, is wayup there. I keep ending up in R and trying to pull the key out. Got the upgraded CD player (not real thrilled with the control layout) and no power antenna! I HATE the foglight control. It and the cruise control are the most cumbersome controls I have ever encountered. Just not par for a 2001-engineered vehicle. My Suburban has speed-sensitive radio volume. In a convertible, that should be standard! The door locks, airbag, seatbelt pre-tensioners are all keyed to the speed input, why not the radio, too? There are no interior lights under the dash. Try to find something down there at night, like your keys. Majorthings: The hood seems like (convertible only) it is not aligned properly. There is a large gap, on mine (more than other convertibles I looked at) I can put half my hand up through that opening, and the dealer claimed to adjust it with no impact. Is that improved aerodynamics? I think not. The top in this model (despite what they say) seems not as quiet as the previous model. The handling is definitely spongier than the previous model, despite claims of added rigidity.... The pickup from a stop doesn't feel as brisk, although we have the bigger tires and stroke now, which might affect the 'feel.' Things I like the most: The improved power definitely shows itself in the 30-50 mph passing range. Thrilling! I like the standard LXi 'rough man' leather at no noticeable extra cost. Overall, comfort seems wonderful(no long trips yet, though). The in-dash CD changer is the best idea so far this millennium!" — krylos, "Sebring Convertibles," #1117 of 1236, July 25, 2001

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