2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible Review

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High Gear Media Staff High Gear Media Staff  
December 25, 2000

Amid corporate degeneration and soapy executive shenanigans, DaimlerChrysler has somehow managed to keep issuing actual new products.Yes, believe it or not, they still build cars.

They’ve even introduced a new, better Chrysler Sebring Convertible to complement the still-fresh Sebring Coupe and Sedan. And if the Sebring droptop can bring to dealer showrooms even a hint of the drama Juergen Schrempp has brought to the corporation as a whole, it should be the most compelling vehicle in the history of automobiles.

Persistent visions

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However, the Sebring is probably highly appreciated within the company because it’s drama-free. The lack of controversy begins at the nose and gradually, works its way into every pore of the Sebring to a near-cellular level.

And yet, while the front-drive Sebring convertible connects with its sedan and coupe brethren with style cues like the egg crate grille and winged logo above it, it’s really a unique creation. Mechanically it shares engine and transmission with the sedan, but practically nothing at all with the Mitsubishi-built coupe of the same name. Structurally it’s more closely related to the car it supersedes than to anything else in the DaimlerChrysler inventory. In fact the roof, windshield and side glass all carryover virtually unchanged (there’s some tweaking with top fabric and drip rail design) from the Sebring convertible that was introduced for ‘96.

The 106-inch wheelbase, 60.2-inch front and rear tracks on the 2001 edition of this car are also unchanged from the ‘96-’00 iteration and that, not surprisingly, means head, leg, and hip room for all four passengers is, according to Chrysler, unchanged. However the front passengers do get an additional 1.3 inches of shoulder room and the rear seaters an extra 0.1 inches — and, really, isn’t that the most important dimension of all?

Under the skin the structure itself has been fortified with heftier lower rails, a new stamped steel front crossmember, revised sills, and a bracket inserted into the space that also contains the rear side quarter windows. The result, says Chrysler, is a structure that resists bending forces better and is generally stiffer than before.

2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

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Though the structure has been improved, the suspension remains very much the same. The front is double-wishbone design and the rear a multi-link independent system. Of course the suspension works better if it’s attached to a stiffer structure, and the rack-and-pinion steering feel gets better thanks to the more secure mounting of the aforementioned new crossmember. Braking gets better thanks to the adoption of larger 11.1-inch front and 10.6-inch rear discs that are equipped with electronic front/rear balancing when the optional ABS is ordered.

There’s not an aggressive molecule in this car; cornering is modest, braking stolid and acceleration adequate. None of the slight changes to the Sebring’s suspension, structure or overall package in any way changes the car’s well-defined character as a relatively large, relatively soft, relatively spacious, relatively handsome one-handed cruising machine. Since Chrysler revived the convertible back in ‘83 with the LeBaron (the Sebring’s direct ancestor), they’ve avoided ladling on sporting pretension to a chassis incapable of supporting it. They know what this car is, and they’re not doing anything to screw up that clear vision.

Substance and change

The two elements that are thoroughly revised on the 2001 Sebring are the drivetrain and appearance. The previous Sebring’s engine and trans were pretty pedestrian, so the new one had a low bar to hurdle on that front. However, the first Sebring convertible was a fine-looking machine and improvement on that front can only be appreciated subjectively.

Tossing the turgid Mitsubishi-built 2.5-liter V-6 which had powered most Sebring convertibles up to now on the scrap pile, they’ve replaced it with the satisfyingly innocuous 2.7-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6 that was first seen in the ‘98 LH models. Though rated at 200 horsepower at a relatively lofty 5900 rpm (up 32 ponies from the Mitsu motor), when the 2.7 is lashed to the Sebring’s mandatory ultra-placid four-speed automatic, its biggest claim to dignity is quiet and smooth operation. The new engine should make the latest Sebring quicker than the previous one, but brain-bruising acceleration is not the intent of this machine. No four-cylinder (or V-8, V-10 or V-12 for that matter) engine is available. For buyers seeking the illusion of manual operation, Chrysler’s AutoStick shifting system is optional.

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2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

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Since the new Sebring’s proportions were determined by the retention of the previous car’s wheelbase, roof and glass, the change that has been wrought in its appearance is surprisingly extensive. The front fascia is dominated by both the eggcrate grille and much larger headlights (which provide 25 percent more light), and complemented by the winged logo that rises over a smaller air inlet. The sculpture of the convertible’s flanks is clean and lacks the heavy wheel opening eyebrows that characterize the Sebring sedan.

Most attractive is the rear view which is obviously related to the hind end of last year’s  300C show car and features a peaked trunk lid that visually shortens the appearance of the rather long deck while retaining the large trunk area. It’s not the sort of car that inspires obsession or even infatuation, but it’s handsome and slightly less than anonymous.

As in the previous Sebring, seat belts are incorporated into the front seats and those seats can accommodate even the widest of bodies. The steering wheel continues a tradition of roundness at Chrysler that dates back almost four decades and incorporates the cruise control in a natural, intuitive way.

2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible Limited interior

2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible Limited interior

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Enlarge Photo
Clearly visible beyond that is new instrumentation that features elegantly ringed gauges and classy lettering. Those gauges feature white lettering on a black face in base LX and slightly-luxurious LXi models, while the range-topping Limited (ugh, another “Limited”) gets black letter on white faces that electroluminescently reverses out at night.

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This is a roomy convertible with a high quality, nearly effortless power top and real glass rear window. But it’s not an expensive car and that shows up in details like the impenetrable and shiny quality of the optional leather and chintzy texture of many interior plastic pieces. The quality of Chrysler’s interior materials has improved, but it still has a way to go.

Mainstream, especially in price

The revisions to the Sebring’s structure work a small miracle with the car. Not only is the new Sebring stiffer than the car it replaces, it’s got a structural integrity that cars like Toyota’s Solara convertible don’t approach. Sure the Sebring still isn’t as stiff as a comparable coupe, but for a convertible this one is damned solid.

And solidity is really what this car’s about. It’s not the sort of vehicle that announces the owner’s financial success or sexual availability to the world. It’s the sort of machine best appreciated with the confidence of someone who has nothing to prove and enjoys sunshine. Whether wearing the LX’s standard P205/65R15 tires or the LXi and Limited’s P205/60R16s, the chassis is happiest pointed straight ahead on smooth pavement headed for the horizon.

Unless you’re paid to stock Budget’s lot at Miami International Airport, the wise shopper will skip the LX and proceed on to the LXi or Limited. But even the priciest Limited will barely scrape $30,000, and most will probably hit the street wearing stickers a couple thousand bucks lower than that.

The previous Sebring was a value. So is this one. There’s not a lot of drama in that, but DaimlerChrysler has plenty of that already.

2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

Base Price: $22,500 (est.)

Engine: 2.7-liter V-6, 200 hp

Transmission: four-speed automatic

Wheelbase:  106.0 in

Length: 193.7 in

Width:  69.4 in

Height: 55.0 in

Weight: 3489 lb

Fuel economy city/ hwy: N/A

Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes

Major standard equipment: Power-operated convertible top with glass rear window, AM/FM/cassette, air conditioning, automatic transmission

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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