Chrysler, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2008 Chrysler Sebring 3.5 Limited/Touring & Limited AWD – Road Test

The all-new Chrysler Sebring was launched last year and is one of many new vehicles coming from Chrysler over the next few of years. To say it was long over-due for a make-over would be an understatement. I drove the 2006 model in California back in April of 2006 and came away impressed with a vehicle that was well past its sell-by date even then. Considering it hadn’t changed much over its relatively long life-cycle – long in terms of the Japanese and Korean brands, but just a newbie in the Ford/GM design cycle – it held up well, but was definitely showing its age.

Back in June of 2006, Chrysler announced the arrival of the all-new Sebring for the spring of 2007. Surprisingly, the public response of the news on PaddockTalk was far greater than we had imagined and the hits on the site were quite outstanding. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one looking forward to this vehicle’s facelift.Spring arrived and I got my mitts on one for a Road Test, but before I could complete the test, word came out that the Sebring would be available in an All-Wheel-Drive version for the first time. I had to wait a few months, but this week’s Road Test is based on two Sebring’s that are almost identical. The AWD version arrived at just the right time – winter. The winter test was more challenging because huge snow storm after snow storm hit us for the entire week of the test! Three storms in one week dumped three feet of snow and certainly gave the Sebring AWD a true test of its capabilities.

First Impressions
The Sebring doesn’t jump out like a Viper would, but it certainly doesn’t blend in with the usual suspects in the mall parking lot. In a sea of Accord’s and Camry’s the Sebring is refreshing in being just a bit different – even though it was charcoal-grey in colour (the AWD was a boring “Sandstone” otherwise known as gold). Parked beside a 2005 Sebring, it became noticeable that its looks and its dimensions were quite different. It is taller and wider than the previous model, as well as longer – although you wouldn’t think so by the stubby trunk on the new model. Looking at the 2005 model I couldn’t help noticing how bland it looks next to the new one.

As I’ve mentioned in recent Road Tests of Chrysler/Dodge vehicles (Avenger, Pacific & Aspen), the quality in the materials used, as well as the fit and finish are nowhere near the same levels as Chrysler products of just a couple of years ago they’ve moved upmarket! Honda and Toyota better watch out – the Chrysler Group has gotten its act together and they are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

The high-quality plastics used throughout the interior of the Sebring bring a luxurious feel to the car reminiscent of vehicles like Lexus and Audi. The top of the dashboard is a rubberized type material that absorbs direct sunlight as well as contributing to a hushed interior. The AWD version had a leather interior and strangely included four or five variations of the colour beige throughout the cabin. Two variations would have been sufficient and far more aesthetically pleasing. As a bonus though, you do get pretty good bum warmers with the leather seating.

The seats themselves are extremely comfortable and perfectly contoured to hold you in place during exuberant driving down twisty back roads. After a while, I started feeling around for a lumbar adjustment just to see if it was all the way out and that’s when I discovered that the lumbar support wasn’t even being used. This is the first time I’ve had a seat that had a lumbar adjustment and I didn’t have to use it! The standard 8-way power-adjustable seats were set once and that was it for the entire week I had the car, it’s not often that happens with either, usually I’m constantly fiddling with the seat to get comfortable.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel is the perfect size, tilts and telescopes making it very easy to find the most comfortable driving position. The AWD version had a leather/wood combination steering wheel that was attractive and in keeping with the car. I was expecting the Sebring to be very spongy and lethargic around those twisty corners and dips in the road, but I ended up being quite shocked at how tight and solid the chassis and suspension handled the roads. With the word “Touring” on the trunk, I was expecting to be bouncing around in a super soft luxo-barge, but it was quite the opposite. The Sebring Touring was actually fun driving down the back roads and inspired me to push the car deeper and deeper into the corners to find its limits. Oddly, the AWD Limited was completely different – it was nowhere near as much fun through the twisty bits – the suspension was way too soft!

The 6-speed Auto/Stick transmission is quiet and seamlessly shifts through the gears to the point that it was actually a hindrance to use the semi-automatic option – I just left it in full automatic and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. In the AWD version I used it more often when ascending the steep hills leading to my village. It felt a little bogged-down climbing the same hill in auto mode, so gearing down to 3rd gear proved invaluable – especially at the crest of the hill.

The steering is perfectly weighted and gives plenty of feedback to the driver. Whether burying the throttle or taking it easy, the transmission and engine work in perfect harmony giving just the right amount of power at the right time. While the car never felt lightning-quick, it certainly left all other vehicles in its wake when entering the freeway with the right pedal buried. While overtaking in the 50-70 mph range, it felt completely effortless and quick – the key to passing other cars safely. The only indication that the transmission was shifting was a slight noise – you don’t actually feel it shift. The AWD came into its own on the snow-covered roads, enabling stability and speeds well beyond what a FWD could do – even though Chrysler left “all-season” tires on the car.

As I’ve mentioned before – the Chrysler of today, is light-years ahead of the Chrysler of yesterday. I did not expect the Sebring to be this impressive. The engine/transmission combination is as close to perfection as you can get. You get the instant response, it`s fun to drive and provides great fuel economy – what else could you ask for in a car? A great price? It`s got that too! The Sebring stands out in that it’s extremely quiet – no matter whether you’re traveling at 40 or 80 mph – it’s almost Lexus-quiet. When we reached speeds above 75 mph the only noise we could hear was the wind passing over the side mirrors.

The automatic climate control is user-friendly and one of the best around. With three large round dials, it’s very easy to operate at a glance and you don’t need to read the owner’s manual to figure it out. Yet when my wife drove the car she complained incessantly that the dials were too low on the dash. The 6-disc in-dash AM/FM/CD/DVD Audio/MP3/WMA audio unit is first-class. With the optional Boston Acoustic speakers and 276-watt amplifier the sound is crystal clear and there’s tons of bass even though there isn’t a sub-woofer. Operating the unit is just like the climate control – simple and logical, why can’t they all be this good? Make sure you tick those boxes for these options when you buy/lease a Sebring – you won’t regret it.

Rear seat accommodation is extremely generous with plenty of knee, leg and foot space. Rear passenger sit quite low in comparison to the front seats making it very cozy back there. The downside is that basically all you see is the front seat. There’s a large tunnel running through the middle of the floor, so sharing for three pairs of feet will be a challenge. The person relegated to the middle position gets a better look out through the front window, but the seatback is very firm and uncomfortably shaped. The back seat is definitely only for two people, three in a pinch for a very short journey. The seatbacks fold 60/40 and the trunk itself is far larger than you’d imagine from the outside. It swallowed a big iMac, a cooler and all our camera gear with no problem at all – and we didn’t even push the stuff to the back of the trunk. The front passenger seat also folds flat allowing longer items to be transported with ease. The trunk is large and very square coming in at a respectable 13.6 cu/ft.

When I picked up the Sebring I didn’t look at the price of it for a few days – I wanted to make an educated guess as I had no idea what the price range was – not even the base price. After a couple of days I thought I’d look at the price after guessing $35,000 (Cdn) for the car considering the equipment content. Well I wasn’t even close – I was $5,000 too high. That’s impressive, as I usually get it pretty much dead-on in the pricing area. To be out that much makes the Sebring one of only three cars that has caught me off-guard in the price/value guessing department (the others being the Camry SE and the Subaru Legacy SE). At $34,000 for the AWD version it’s certainly a bargain. Just after I picked it up, Chrysler announced a price reduction – so check with your local dealer for the latest prices.

Safety abounds in the 2008 Sebring, among them are standard items such as front seat-mounted airbags, side curtain airbags, engine immobilizer, and ABS.

The Conclusion
As a 4-door mid-sized sedan – at any price-point – the Sebring is one very tough car to beat. The 3.5 litre V6 is smooth and very quiet, it’s roomy, comfortable and you get a fairly tight chassis and sporty suspension. Chrysler is on a roll right now and along with the outstanding fit and quality materials they are now using, they are pricing their new cars so competitively that even “budget” manufacturers like Hyundai and Kia will have to watch out! My only disappointment was that the Avenger – a lower-priced car – has a Chill Zone beverage storage bin, but the Sebring doesn’t. (Heated and cooled cupholders, however, are included).

Bumper To Bumper and powertrain warranty for 3 years/36,000-miles. In Canada it’s 3 years/60,000 kms Bumper To Bumper, plus a 5-year/100,000 kms powertrain. Roadside assistance is also included for 3 years 60,000 miles [100,000 kms]. Towing capacity is rated at 2,000 lbs.

For more details and options go to: or

2008 Chrysler Sebring 3.5 Touring (Limited in the U.S.)
As tested: $26,910 [$29,365 Cdn]
NOTE: to get the 3.5L V-6 you have to go with the Limited model in the U.S. with a base price of $23,320.
2008 Chrysler Sebring 3.5 Limited AWD
As Tested: $29,530 [$32,895 Cdn]
Base Price: $28,205 [$31,595 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: U.S. – $690 / Canada – $1,300

Fuel Consumption: [Fuel: Regular]
The 3.5 Litre V-6 is rated at 18.2 mpg [12.9 L/100 kms] City and 30.5 mpg [7.7 L/100 kms] Highway
I averaged 20.5 mpg [11.5 L/100km] in 90% highway driving with the FWD Sebring and 19.6 mpg [12 L/100km] with the AWD version in virtually the same driving habits.

Extremely quiet at all speeds
Very comfortable seats
Looks great and doesn’t blend in with all the other cars out there
Awesome stereo system at a bargain-price

Nothing I can think of

Back Seat Driver Test: 8.5 out of 10
“There’s loads of room back here, especially foot space.” “These seats are very comfortable, but I can’t see out the front.”

Immediate Competition:
Dodge Charger & Avenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Mitsubishi Galant, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, VW Passat, Volvo S40

By The Numbers:
Powertrain: 3.5 Litre V-6, 6-speed AutoStick transmission; FWD or AWD
Horsepower: 235 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 232 @ 4,000 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.65 seconds.

10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
7 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

10 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
10 – Bang for the $$
8 – Fuel Economy

 Total 144 / 150

Copyright © 2008 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland
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