Clearly, "subtle" is not in the 2007 Chrysler Sebring's vocabulary. The new mid-size sedan from Chrysler marches onto the scene with look-at-me styling inside and out, lots of nifty optional gadgets and a very attractive price. But what's the 2007 Sebring like on the open road? Maybe it's better you don't ask. $18,995 for starters, $26,455 as tested, EPA mileage 19-24 city, 28-32 highway.
First Glance: Something different...way different
The Chrysler Sebring's design theory seems to be "You can't beat 'em if you join 'em." Rather than stick a bold face on a bland shape as domestics like the Ford Fusion, Saturn Aura and Pontiac G6 have done, Chrysler is following a formula that worked for the 300: The way-the-hell-out-there school of design.
Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit that the new Sebring won't be mistaken for a Camry or an Accord in a crowded mall parking lot. The grooved hood (link goes to photo), short trunk lid and big taillights give the Sebring a look that's pretty hard to mistake for anything else.
Likewise, the interior is a medley of shapes, textures and colors that is delightful in its discordance. Wood trim? Shiny chrome? Brushed chrome? Straight lines? Curved lines? "Let's use them all!" cried the Chrysler designers, and the resulting interior is all the more pleasant because it's so different. Whereas other cars are gravitating towards BMWish dark-leather-and-plastic seriousness or Mercedesish light-leather-and-wood serenity, the Sebring goes off in a direction all its own -- and the results, provided you can get used to things like the tortoise-shell wood which comes in the top-of-the-line Limited model, are stellar. Check out this picture of the passenger-side dashboard for an example of how well the Sebring's divergent elements work together. Other details I liked were the chunky chrome door handles and LED interior lighting, standard in the uplevel Touring and Limited models.
In the Driver's Seat: Goodies galore
Cheap interior materials have long been one of Chrysler's corporate demons, but the Sebring shows notable improvement. The carpets are a bit cut-rate and the plastic around the ignition switch showed scars from a mis-aimed key, but other than that I thought the materials were decent. My wife Robin, however, disagreed: "Too rubbery and plasticky," she said. "It looks like a Tupperware explosion. You could murder someone in here, and think of how easy it'd be to clean up."
The seats were comfortable and the controls straightforward. The Boston Acoustics stereo in my tester was a bit button-happy, but the automatic climate control used simple 3-dial controls.
My kids (7 and 10) gave a thumbs-up to the back seat, as did I. Normally I don't like non-adjustable headrests, but the Sebring's were tall enough for most adults and didn't restrict rear vision too badly. But there's no headrest for the middle seat. The seatback splts and folds flat, but as with many mid-size sedans the pass-through opening is limited in height and the center seatbelt is always in the way. Too bad, especially considering that the Sebring's trunk is on the small side.
The Sebring offers optional goodies like a MyGig audio system with 30 GB hard drive and integrated GPS navigation system, rear-seat DVD player and heated-and-cooled cupholders. My tester didn't have them, but it did have the $185 remote engine start system. With the heat or A/C cranked, you can press the button while still inside your house and come out to a comfortably warm (or cool) car.
On the Road: Here's where it all falls apart
On the highway, though, it all starts to go amiss, particularly in the curves. Turn the wheel a bit and nothing happens, Turn it a bit more, and the car says "Oh - we're turning? Sorry, I was napping." All your steering input suddenly comes home to roost at once, and off you go in your chosen direction, generally much more abruptly than you planned.
Curvy two-lane roads exacerbate the Sebring's lousy steering and make it difficult to aim the car precisely. The ride is overly soft and floaty, and combinations of sudden bumps and curves toss the Sebring around to the point that the suspension just can't keep up.
The front-wheel-drive Sebring comes with a 173 horsepower 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine and 4-speed automatic. The Touring model offers an optional 189 hp 2.7 liter V6, while a 235 hp 3.5 liter V6 with six-speed automatic -- the combination in my test car -- is optional only on the Limited. It's quiet and powerful, but fuel economy is dismal -- I averaged less than 18 MPG in mixed driving. (For comparison, the 3.6 liter Saturn Aura I tested (read review) averaged 20.4). And the transmission seemed to be even easier to confuse than the steering. I'd floor the car, the transmission would downshift one gear, the engine would strain, then would downshift again with an alarming CLUNK and a neck-snapping jerk. Ouch -- not good.
Journey's End: Good value...too bad about the way it drives
With all the options checked -- we're talking GPS navigation, rear-seat DVD player, and electronic stability control -- the Sebring tops out just over $32,000. What I like best is that there's no need to upgrade to the most fuel-thirsty engine to get all the goodies -- Chrysler makes all of the comfort and convenience options available with the four-cylinder engine.
The downside is the driving experience. The Serbring is fine for suburban family duty, but its annoying on the highway and downright unpleasant on twisty roads. What a shame -- if it drove better, the Sebring might well make it onto my list of favorite family cars. If you're tired of look-alike cars and just want something different, then the Serbring may could be the car for you -- just be sure to take a very long test drive before you sign on the dotted line.