Driven: 2010 Chrysler Sebring Sedan

May 4, 2010
The Chrysler Sebring has simply never lived up to its racy name, or to the Chrysler brand's aspirations to be a little more 'premium' in feel. Although it’s offered an impressive list of features, it’s largely missed the mark up close, with a look and feel that’s a step or two behind mid-size leaders like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, or even Chevrolet Malibu.

A more significantly redesigned version, renamed Nassau, is expected for 2011, but for now we have the 2010 Sebring, which incorporates a number of changes made over the past several years. For 2010, Chrysler dumped the Sebring's straked hood design for a smooth one, introduced a new gauge cluster, and upgraded wheels. And for 2009, Chrysler reported a "dramatically improved acoustic package for reduced noise levels in the cabin.”

Visually, the Sebring hasn’t really changed much. The Sebring remains a bit homely overall, and the stubby back end isn’t the best match for the front. The smooth hood, replacing the straked one that’s been used until now, doesn’t bring a new look.

Chrysler has made a lot of small changes to the Sebring’s interior, but it’s not all with positive results. While we like the soft fabric upholstery, the door and dash panels use too many different surfaces that don’t altogether match. The little tortoise-shell inserts for the steering wheel and instrument panel that come with the Limited model reminded us of a flattened hairband and felt oddly out of place with the rest of the trims, while the soft center-console armrest is covered in a rubbery vinyl-type material that doesn’t match anything else inside. Given the mediocre material feel, the Sebring did feel well assembled, with no creaks or rattles observed.

Chrysler also dropped the mid-level 186-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6, leaving just the standard 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or the 235-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. The V-6 gets a six-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick manual control, but a four-speed automatic is the only choice with the base four—at a time when most of the rivals come with a six-speed automatic.

The Sebring sedan lineup has been consolidated to just Touring and Limited models, with the four standard on both (the V-6 is a $2,250 option on the Limited). We drove a 2010 Chrysler Sebring Limited model with the four-cylinder model and remained quite unimpressed, overall.

While the four-cylinder engine looks very competitive in a specs comparison—it has dual variable valve timing and makes a substantial 166 pound-feet of torque—in terms of noise and refinement it still doesn't stand up to the base engines used in most other mid-size sedans. But it’s quite economical—we observed 21 mpg in only about 80 miles of driving, most of it in stop-and-go and short trips.

The engine has a coarse, raspy character in even light to moderate acceleration, and our test car had what sounded like an intake resonance or whistle around 2800 rpm. The Sebring has better road-noise levels than we remembered, but the engine’s ever-present coarseness that could prove hard to live with. Full-throttle acceleration is surprisingly strong, though, and the transmission responds quickly to a full-throttle demand, doing well with just four gears, though multiple times during the week we had the Sebring, the transmission downshifted roughly to first gear when making a ‘rolling’ right turn. That said, the throttle pedal is calibrated to be very touchy, with an aggressive tip-in—likely intended to make the engine feel even stronger—followed by a significant portion of accelerator travel where nothing much more happens.

Ride quality is still an issue in the Sebring. Roll over potholes or rough pavement at low speed and the ride is pitchy, with the suspension feeling quite firm; but at higher speed there’s more swaying and heaving motion. Load the Sebring up with four adults, and it makes a lot of sense. It’s easy to get into and out of the back seat in the Sebring, and there’s a decent amount of legroom and just enough headroom for taller adults. We noticed the ride quality improve with more passengers aboard, too.

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