Chrysler Sebring: The Look and Feel of a Luxury RideThe stylists at Chrysler continue to work their magic creating a succession of flawless automotive gems like the Sebring and the 300M. These are big, bold and distinctly American cars that never fail to turn heads and arch eyebrows. The Sebring sports an aggressive classically inspired egg-crate grille that debuted on the 1993 Concorde, a styling milestone that launched Chrysler's trademark cab-forward design and vaulted the company into the vanguard of automotive design. Sebring's snarling front end is carried off with dynamic effect and clever detail, such as integrating a tiny air scoop under the winged emblem on the nose.
Inside and out, the Sebring has the look and feel of a top-of-the-line model. Its interior is attractive, finished in a dark slate gray leather, and is comfortable enough for five average-sized adults, two up front and three in the back. Head- and legroom are abundant both fore and aft.
Instrumentation and controls are nicely executed. Sebring's white-faced gauges have a turn-of-the-century chronometer look that captures vintage elegance while being thoroughly contemporary. The same faces are used on the 300M with great effect. Wood and leather trim blend nicely throughout the dashboard, center stack and the rest of the cabin. The radio and climate controls, borrowed from other Chrysler products, are located up high in the dash where they are easy to reach.
This sedan comes loaded with creature comforts including my personal favorite, seat warmers. Good seat warmers are just like good music: They soothe the savage heart. Most manufacturers are still offering a high-low rheostat for their seat warmers. After a while, the heating elements are either glowing red hot or hardly at all. But Sebring's seats have six settings for precise temperature control so you're never too hot or too cold. Setting the warmers at full and waiting for unsuspecting passengers to react is a popular game. "Ondol," my travel companion proclaimed with a delighted smile.
The standard 2.7-liter DOHC V-6 has been borrowed from the larger Concorde sedan. With a peak output of 203 horsepower, this 2.7 is a dandy: compact, fuel-efficient and smooth. Turn the ignition on and this baby is barely audible, idling at about 850 rpm. Slip the leather-covered automatic shifter into D and move off. Accelerating up to highway speeds under full throttle, the Sebring steps up through its four gears with the merest gulp between second and third. Very smooth. Settling down at 120 km/h, you realize that engine and wind noise are negligible, but tire noise now becomes significant and varies dramatically with changing road surfaces.
The shifter is a four-speed automatic that includes Chrysler's AutoStick, a semi-automatic shift mode that allows the driver to select gears manually without using a clutch. While drive gear shifts were smooth, moving up and down the PRNDL did produce some rather disconcerting clunks that revealed a lack of refinement. Chrysler's transmission engineers could use a few tips from Hyundai.
In the ride and handling department, Sebring responds well to steering inputs with adequate "feel" and road feedback. The suspension is an acceptable compromise of a soft, cushy ride and tautness for enhanced handling and minimized body roll through turns.
To quibble, the inclusion of cruise control as part of the LX package is a dubious choice since the feature is nearly useless in the Korean driving environment. I'm a big fan of cruise control when driving on the prairie but in Korea, audio switches mounted on the steering wheel in place of the cruise control would have made much better sense.
Only one trim level is offered, LX, which is a reasonably well-equipped package that includes the 2.7-liter DOHC V-6 engine, electric retractable sunroof, stylish 16-inch alloy rims finished in chrome, leather seating, power windows, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a four-disc CD changer, front seat warmers and an 8-way adjustable driver's seat.
Offering great value for the money and serving up plenty of driving panache, Sebring has my endorsement. It's a handsome and welcome arrival on these shores that breaks the monotony of Korea's automotive mosaic. And some will be heartened by the news that there's a Sebring convertible edition slated for a Korean launch later this year.
Price as tested: 37.7 million won ($31,417).
Next Week: Volvo S60
by Oles Gadacz