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An American convertible with room for four adults: you'd think this would be an obvious focus for U.S. automakers, but with the Sebring convertible family, Chrysler stands alone. The lovely Corvette, bless it, is a proper two-seater, and Mustang buyers generally don't care that its rear capacity is suitable only for smaller children, as did buyers of the late, lamented Camaro and Firebird.
Conceptually, the Sebring's closest competition comes from Toyota with the Camryesque Solara, built by the Japanese parent in Canada, or from Mitsubishi's Eclipse, which once shared a common platform with the Sebring. The gang from Auburn Hills has staked out the U.S.-manufactured niche as its exclusive territory for some time now, and in this day and age, you can't totally ignore the jingoistic tendencies of Uncle Sam's native buyers.
With the 2002.5 introduction of the Sebring GTC, Chrysler is hoping to turn up the sporting appeal of its ragtops. The effort comes off as a toe in the water--enthusiasts will want more vroom and tone--but the GTC will certainly add some incremental sheen to the bottom line.
Muscle car mirage
Behind the wheel, you'll never mistake the GTC for a muscle car, but it's one fine cruiser, and an eye-catching one at that. Featured is the 2.7-liter DOHC V-6 engine that puts out 200 hp, a sport suspension package and five-speed manual transaxle or automatic four-speed. Sporty looks are provided by a rear decklid spoiler, unique 16-inch painted aluminum wheels, color-keyed bodyside molding and new badging. Inside the GTC are two-tone seats in an "I can't believe it's not leather" vinyl, instrument panel inserts in a funky, woven graphite pattern in lieu of the wood grain, and white-faced instrument cluster dials. The GTC is available in silver, black, white or, in the case of our tester, the aptly named Inferno Red (a $200 option). Interior color options are taupe or sandstone with a matching vinyl top.
There are some hints at sporty aspirations under the throttle foot. The six has a nice, broad torque band, and pulls steadily from a standstill, but you're not going to chirp the T-rated Goodyear Eagles. You will, however, hear a rorty growl emanating from the chrome-plated exhaust tip each time you shift, and feel a definite push in your back as you step on the gas. It would be best to do so in a straight line, as there is a noticeable amount of torque steer.
The GTC's handling is cozy and neutral on freeways. The so-called "sport suspension" is a bit of a misnomer, however, as it inspires little confidence on curvy roads--body roll and nose dive are noticeable, and the steering feels a bit numb. About all the package does is firm up road irregularities enough for you to notice cowl shake. The four-wheel disc brakes are firm, responsive and effective.
The interior is a nice office for cruising. The black-on-white gauges are highly visible and most controls are well-positioned. (The entire industry can take an ergonomics lesson from Chrysler on how to create usable ventilation controls.) The one exception is the CD changer, which is low on the console, far forward, and directly behind the cupholders (also a bit too far forward and low to prevent spills). The two-tone bucket seats are quite roomy, but we'd go with the six-way power seat option to fine-tune individual comfort. Seat belts are integrated into the front seats, and they tended to cut into my extra-large neck.
And yes, two adults can fit in back with reasonable comfort. There's good toe room under the front seats, and the rear seat itself, amazingly enough, feels much better than a mere upright bench. Entry/egress into the back is accomplished through a pair of extremely wide doors that you may curse, as a driver, in crowded parking lots, as they won't open very far.
The power top is finished in a nice vinyl, and raises and lowers quite rapidly. The inner liner seems a bit thin, and the top let in a fair amount of wind noise when closed. The tonneau is a folding vinyl piece that attaches easily and stows in the trunk when not in use.
Trunks are always an issue in convertibles; the 11.3 cubic feet offered by the Sebring is about the most you can get in a ragtop. It's nicely finished but has a rather high lift-over height. Leave the tonneau at home, by the way, if you're carrying a load.
The GTC brings the total number of Sebring convertible offerings to four, but as currently rendered doesn't really distinguish itself enough as the sporty member of the family. Chrysler might take some tips from the Eclipse: with some edgier suspension bits and H- or V-rated rubber, the GTC would more truly live up to its athletic image.
2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC
Base price: $26,040; as tested: $27,480
Engine: 2.7-liter, DOHC V-6
Drivetrain: Five-speed manual with overdrive or four-speed Autostick, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height (inches): 193.7 x 69.4 x 55.0
Wheelbase: 106.0 inches
Curb weight: 3474 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 20/27 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front multistage airbags, seat belt pretensioners, ABS, child seat upper tether anchors
Major standard equipment: Alloy wheels, power steering, power windows, four-wheel disc brakes, power top with glass rear window, solar-control glass, keyless entry system, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, cruise control, trunklid spoiler, sport suspension package with front and rear stabilizer bars, tilt steering wheel
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles (bumper-to-bumper), Seven years/70,000 miles (powertrain)