Chrysler, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Convertible – Road Test

I had the opportunity to test the Sebring convertible back in April of 2006 while we were in California and came away quite impressed by a vehicle that was well past its sell-by date. The biggest surprise for me was the fact that so many people asked me what it was! I got plenty of compliments for a car that was not only a little bland, but wasn’t even an exotic. Go figure.

Anyway, when Chrysler announced that the all-new Sebring sedan would be arriving later that year, my first thoughts were of the all-new convertible that would naturally follow. A couple of months prior to testing the convertible I had the opportunity to Road Test the Sebring sedan, and I came away thoroughly impressed by Chrysler’s latest 4-door. Some people have commented on it being a bit too bland, but I think it’s just one of those vehicles that once there’s enough of them around then the perception will change -it certainly grows on people, but I liked it from the get-go. The same can be said of the convertible version. Some find it pretty plain, but it’s not designed to go head to head with the Mustang or a Viper in the looks department, let alone the performance department.

First Impressions
The Sebring convertible doesn’t jump out you and get the ticker pounding – it’s very understated, but it is very attractive in a world full of silver and gold, no-one-will-notice-me Honda’s and Toyota’s. The Sebring is also a lot longer than I anticipated – in fact it’s 3” longer, 4” taller and 2” wider than the outgoing model. Chrysler point out that it’s 3” longer than the 2008 sedan to provide enough room in the trunk to accommodate two golf bags when the roof is retracted. That sounded like a challenge to me -drop the roof and stuff two golf bags in the trunk. More on that later…

As I’ve mentioned in other recent Road Tests of Chrysler/Dodge vehicles, the quality in the materials used, as well as the fit and finish are far superior to Chrysler products of just a couple of years ago. The Sebring convertible continues along this same vein, with the looks and feel of the interior, as well as the cloth roof. Everything has a quality feel to it that you’d never expect from the same company that brought us deplorable convertibles like the LeBaron and Sundance of the 1990’s.

As expected, the convertible is virtually identical to the sedan in most aspects. The top of the dashboard is a rubberized type material that absorbs direct sunlight as well as contributing to a hushed interior. The leather seats are comfortable, but I found them lacking in shape -more like a park bench than a sports car seat, and even though it did have thigh bolsters the cushion is very flat. My wife complained that the passenger seat wasn’t very comfortable at all -it didn’t have as many adjustments as the driver’s seat, and no lumbar support area. This was a bit of a surprise since the sedan had perfectly contoured seats for exuberant driving down twisty back roads -the convertible is more boulevard-oriented so don’t confuse it with the word “sport” at any time. Other than the blah seats, I must report that the 215/55R18 Touring tires aren’t quite up to the bendy-bits either which is unfortunate because the sedan was very enjoyable through those same sections of tarmac. It’s not wallowy or tippy -it’s just not designed to be put up against cars such as the Mitsubishi Eclipse Roadster -that’s all I’m saying. If I purchased the Sebring I’d get those tires changed over to performance rubber immediately.

The 6-speed Auto/Stick transmission is quiet and almost seamlessly shifts through the gears to the point that it was actually a bit of a hindrance to use the semi-automatic option -I just left it in full automatic, as it was quite capable of handling the task even during hill climbs – it wasn’t worth shifting it myself. The steering is perfectly weighted and gives plenty of feedback to the driver. Like the sedan, the transmission and engine work in perfect harmony giving just the right amount of power at the right time, but you certainly felt the added weight (433 lbs) of the convertible on steep inclines ( the sedan weighs in at 3,499 lbs, while the convertible is 3,932 lbs).

Trundling over bumpy roads and railroad tracks didn’t upset the Sebring convertible or even bring attention to what little cowl shake there was. Only when going over extremely damaged railroad tracks, did the car get a little upset with a very brief quiver from the body. Chrysler says they’ve increased the body stiffness by 2.5 times and the twist 1.5 times over the previous model – and it shows.

Where the sedan and convertible differ the most is the instant response – or lack thereof, when stomping on the gas pedal. It’s not painful -the drop-top just lacks a little in the “fun to drive” category. Probably 90% of the people buying this car won’t be as demanding as I am, so it serves its purpose perfectly.

The Sebring convertible certainly stands out in the noise department – it’s extremely quiet no matter whether you’re traveling at 40 mph or 80 mph. Conversations were conducted with no increase in volume – other than when we had the stereo blasting away. Without a doubt the Sebring is one of the quietest convertibles I’ve been in. Chrysler has done a first-class job with the sound insulation as well as the fit and finish of the interior of the retractable top – an area where many other convertible manufacturers fall short. One thing of note is the blind spot that comes with every convertible -or everyone but the Sebring! There simply isn’t one! The large rear side windows offer plenty of visibility to the point that the top doesn’t interfere at all. Usually with convertibles, a small truck can be lurking in your blind spot, so I’m very impressed that I can report that this convertible is really no different than a regular sedans C pillar in thickness, when viewed from the driver’s seat.

Dropping the top is completely effortless in the new Sebring. You can drop the roof and the four windows using the key fob -a first for Chrysler. Unlike the previous model that required you to unlatch the top, then push and hold the power top button, you can now have the top down before you’ve even reached the car. Chrysler claims you can drop the top in less than 30 seconds, but my stopwatch timed it at 34 seconds. From inside the car you just have to push the roof-down button once and the top folds away. The return trip requires you to hold the button for the duration -that’s probably a safety feature. The body-colored folding hardtop is a very reasonable $1,995 [$2,300 Cdn] extra. The test vehicle had the optional windscreen that can only be used when there are no rear occupants. It worked surprisingly well, keeping not only the wind from swirling around and pounding on the back of our necks, but it helped keep the noise level down too.

The automatic climate control is user-friendly and one of the best around – with 3 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. This was my first experience with Chrysler’s much-touted MyGig Multimedia Infotainment system. The system is a navigation/entertainment/infotainment unit that incorporates a 20-gig hard drive at the root of its technology. The system features next-generation navigation -light years better than the outgoing one! The 6.5 inch screen is now a touch-screen panel and provides a three-dimensional appearance to graphics and animation thanks to its 65,000 colours.

Among the key features are: Navigation system with GPS; 20-gigabyte hard drive that includes Music Juke Box for organizing music and pictures; USB for downloading WMA/MP3 (up to 1,600 songs can be stored) and JPEG’s on to the hard drive; Gracenote database that provides song identification including composer, artist and title; a Playlist creation capability and Radio screen that can display movies -while the car is stationary (I don’t see the point of this but – whatever..). So how does it work in the real world? My wife was infuriated with it when trying to program the radio stations -she said it’s the worst she’s ever had to deal with. Otherwise, it’s great when you consider that in most cases it costs around $2,000 for a SatNav system and the MyGig is $1,810 [$2,000 Cdn] – with all those added features, you can’t go wrong on splurging for the MyGig. It’s a single-disc unit, but otherwise there is no downside to having the MyGig system, even the station programming only has to be done once, so that aggravation is a one-time deal. It comes with Boston Acoustic speakers and the sound is crystal clear with tons of bass despite the absence of a subwoofer.

Further on the MyGig – Programming and adding songs to the MyGig system is very easy, but you definitely need to take a quick scan through the manual to learn which buttons to push in which order, so that you don’t sit there thinking it’s uploading when in fact nothing’s happening. Uploading a regular CD took about the same amount of time as if you were burning it -4 to 5 minutes. Uploading a large number of MP3 songs from a CD is much faster -about 25 songs in around 4 minutes. Uploading 3 MP3 songs via the USB was the slowest of all, at 5+ minutes for just 3 songs. You can listen to the radio while the songs are being uploaded but nothing else, like programming the SatNav. One big disadvantage to this SatNav is that you can’t -or should I say your co-pilot -can’t re-program it while the car is moving. Like almost all SatNav’s however, it couldn’t find our house on its system even though we’re only 5 minutes from a major town and located on a major thoroughfare between two cities. Country living has it downfalls -it’s a good thing we know where we live!

Rear seat accommodation is more generous than you’d expect with plenty of knee, leg, hip and foot space once you’ve wiggled into the back. Getting in and out is typical of a 2-door coupe, but once seated there is plenty of headroom, and unlike other convertibles, there isn’t a claustrophobic feeling because of the sometimes awkward positioning of side windows. Rear passengers sit quite low in comparison to the front seats making it very cozy. There’s no pretense of the Sebring being a 5-seater because there are only two seat belts for the rear occupants. Although I didn’t spend much time back there, it is certainly noticeable that the rear seats coddle the passengers more than the relatively flat front seats. When I first looked at the rear seats I didn’t think they’d be comfortable because they looked so small and upright, but in fact they are completely the opposite. There isn’t a lot of foot room when getting in, but there is plenty once you’ve sat down and put your feet under the front seats. If the driver and front passenger are taller than 6 foot, then it will definitely be an issue with regards to knees and legs pushing into the front seat. For short drivers and passengers like my wife and I, rear passengers have no problem and do not encroach on the front seats.

The trunk is large and very square, coming in at a respectable 13 cu/ft. (the sedan’s is 13.6 cu/ft.) with the top up and 7 cu/ft with it down. There is a very large area that has a sticker on it telling you not to put luggage in that area. In a pinch you could get away with putting something light in the area such as jackets or sweatshirts, but you’d better not forget about them if you decide to lower the top without removing them. As for Chryslers claim that you can put two golf bags in the trunk and lower the top – you must be kidding!! I’ve got a smallish golf bag with wheels attached to it. I had to remove the wheels to get it into the trunk, leaving no room whatsoever for a second set of clubs. I can only imagine it’s kiddy golf clubs the PR people are talking about, because adult-sized are a no-go. Even one bag would be a problem if it was a whole set of clubs -I’ve only got half a set.

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

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The Conclusion
As a 4-seater convertible 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 that doesn’t shake over bumps and railroad tracks. Dropping the top is painless and quick – just press the down button and everything takes care of itself. When you’re forced to use it with the top up -it’s equally as pleasant thanks to the excellent sound insulation. I’d strongly recommend the optional wind blocker which makes a big difference when speeds get up over 50 mph.

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].

Pricing for the 2008 Chrysler Sebring 3.5 Limited Convertible
As tested: $34,935 [$42,970 Cdn]
Base price (Limited): $32,345 [$38,995 Cdn] / Base price (LX): $26,145 [$29,995 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $675 U.S. / $1,300 Canada

Fuel Consumption: [Fuel: Regular]
The 3.5 Litre V-6 is rated at 16 mpg [12.9 L/100 kms] City and 26 mpg [7.7 L/100 kms] Highway
I averaged 19.3 mpg [12.2 L/100km] in 90% highway driving.

Extremely quiet at all speeds, whether the top is up or down
Looks great and doesn’t blend in with all the other cars out there
Awesome MyGig system at a bargain-price

Tires – I’d change them to performance rubber and that would certainly improve the handling

Back Seat Driver Test: 8.5 out of 10
“Wow, there’s more space back here than you’d think to look at it.” “These seats are very comfortable, I wasn’t expecting that.” “The headroom with the top up is pretty good.”

Immediate Competition:
Audi A4 Cabriolet, Ford Mustang, MINI, Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, Toyota Solara, VW Eos, Volvo C70

By The Numbers:
Powertrain: 3.5 Litre High-Output V-6, 24-Valve Engine; 6-speed AutoStick transmission; FWD
Horsepower: 235 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 232 @ 4,000 rpm
0-60 mph: 8.1 seconds

10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – 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

9 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
9 – Bang for the $$
9 – Fuel Economy

146 Total / 150

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