2001 Chrysler Sebring Photo
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Brand identity: It's a powerful marketing tool if the public recognizes it, and it seems to be the buzzword in Auburn Hills as of late. At DaimlerChrysler's preview of the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus coupes and sedans (the Chrysler Cirrus sedan and Dodge Avenger coupe are gone), we were told repeatedly about the brand identity for Chrysler and Dodge, as if they were lost souls with newfound direction. Plymouth, a brand that once upon a time had distinctive brand associations, is entirely retired this year from the DaimlerChrysler lineup. There is no fresh Breeze on the horizon.

Chrysler is now supposed to be athletic, luxurious, graceful, and European. Dodge is supposed to be more brash, traditional, boisterous, and blatantly sporty. You can see these two brand marketing angles when comparing the Chrysler Sebring with the Dodge Stratus. The Sebring has clear, defined character creases that flow along the car, flared wheel wells, and a sharp, conservative tail shape borrowed from the 300M. The Stratus has a smooth, slab-sided, NASCAR-ish look, lower body cladding, and a more bulbous, flamboyant style shared with the Intrepid.

The Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring coupes also have a different interior setup than the Stratus/Sebring sedans. The two-doors actually shares much of their swoopy, dark plastic instrument panel and instrument panel pieces with the Mitsubishi Eclipse, while the four-doors opt for a more conservative yet distinctive layout.

DaimlerChrysler boasts that the redesigned models all offer more power, better body stiffness, and a quieter interior. The coupes and sedans both boast these expected improvements, plus new engines, stronger brakes, revised suspensions, better noise isolation, and improved safety features.

But that's the normal roster of improvements, right? Whenever a car is redesigned it's claimed to be better in nearly every aspect. On the road, we found that DC delivers good performance at a decent value with all of these new models. The new models do feel noticeably stiffer than before (the coupes have a 90 percent improvement in bending rigidity and a new front strut-tower brace), enabling the handling to feel a bit more direct. Both the sedans and coupes claim to have greatly improved noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH). The models are greatly improved for wind noise and marginally improved for road noise, with the coupes still having quite a bit more road noise than the sedans. Brakes are much improved across the model line.

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