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Thread: 2009 Chrysler Sebring sedan

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    2009 Chrysler Sebring sedan

    By the time you read this, there may not be a Chrysler - so the following review of the 2009 Sebring sedan could end up being a historical document.

    As of early February, the automaker's sales have fallen a catastrophic 55 percent - which makes the 30-something percent losses suffered by GM, Ford and Toyota seem almost cheery.

    But, I digress...

    WHAT IT IS

    The Sebring is Chrysler's entry-level (and economy-oriented) mid-sized sedan. Prices start at $20,515 for the four-cylinder-equipped LX and top out at $25,920 for a Limited with the optional 3.5 liter V-6.

    Like most sedans in this price range, the Sebring is a front-wheel-drive vehicle. However, unlike almost all of the sedans in this price range - including direct competitors like the $21,605-$26,880 Chevy Malibu and the $20,905-$30,905 Honda Accord - the Sebring can be ordered with all-wheel-drive, too.

    WHAT'S NEW

    Very little. ABS has been made standard - and most trims now include ESP traction/stability control.

    Chrysler is out of money - and one consequence of this has been that it hasn't been able to update/redesign its cars. Several (think PT Cruiser) are seriously dated; others - like the Sebring - are getting a little long in the tooth.

    So, the "new" '09 model is essentially the same car as the '08 (and '07) Sebring.

    ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

    The Sebring is one of the few cars in its class/price range to offer buyers a wide range of drivetrain layouts, including three different engine choices - one four-cylinder and two V-6s - as well as your choice of FWD or AWD.

    The standard Sebring engine is an economy-minded 2.4 liter four rated at 173 hp - slightly more powerful than Chevy Malibu's standard 2.4 liter, 169 hp engine. Also like the Malibu, the Sebring's four-cylinder engine is teamed with a four-speed automatic transmission.

    There's no manual transmission option with either base or optional engines (though the soon-to-be-here 2010 Ford Fusion - and the current Honda Accord - does offer manual transaxles).

    The Sebring's 2.4 liter/four-speed automatic combo has a terrible case of The Slows - and is not recommended unless you are going to use the car almost exclusively as a stop-and-go commuter. Zero to 60 takes nearly 10 seconds under ideal conditions (one person in the car, no weight in the trunk) and there is minimal reserve for passing at speeds higher than about 45 mph.

    The 2.4 liter engine does, however, get decent gas mileage - 21 city and 30 on the highway.

    Next up - and much better for the highway and higher-speed work - is a 2.7 liter V-6 rated at 186 hp. Though it's only rated as being 12 hp stronger than the four, a Sebring with this engine is substantially quicker (0-60 in about 8.5 seconds) and much more comfortable to drive at speeds above 45 mph.

    This engine also comes standard with a four-speed automatic. Gas mileage is 19 city, 27 highway.

    Top-of-the-line Sebrings can be ordered with a much more powerful 235 hp 3.5 liter V-6, teamed with a six-speed automatic and your choice of FWD or (optionally) AWD. With this engine, 0-60 takes about 7.3 seconds - nearly three seconds faster than the base four-cylinder model.

    On the downside, city mileage tumbles to an SUV-like 15 MPGs (26 on the highway) if you order the optional AWD.

    RIDE & HANDLING/DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

    The Sebring feels ok - so long as the road is straight. But corners - and any sort of abrupt maneuvering, such as sudden application of the brakes at high speed - brings out echoes of the '70s and wire-wheeled Cordobas. You can almost hear Ricardo Montalban talking up the rich, Corinthian leather as the car lurches uneasily from side to side. And the faster you drive, the worse it gets. Even at normal (legal) speeds, the Sebring is quickly unsettled. The steering's vague; the shocks way too bouncy.

    This is the one category where the Sebring is completely out of the running compared with cars like the Honda Accord and even the Chevy Malibu - both of which feel modern, crisp and tight where the Sebring feels oafish and clunky and old. Put it through a slalom and it'll do a convincing impression of your granny's worn-out '95 Buick Century.

    Passing, too, is out - unless you have one of the two optional V-6s. Keep in mind that ten second 0-60 time in the base four-cylinder model is "best case." With three or four people on board and another several hundred pounds of weight to carry, the four struggles pitifully - like Richard Simmons trying to bench press 75 pounds.

    Another weak point is the Sebring's mandatory (in base and mid-trim versions) four-speed automatic - and the absence of either a manual option or a five-speed automatic. It's true the Chevy Malibu also comes with a four-speed automatic but that's not much of a defense. The 2010 Ford Fusion - which will offer both six-speed manual and six-speed automatics as well as two V-6 engines offering 240-263 hp - is going to make both of these cars look like yesterday's news.

    Why are six forward gears better? Improved efficiency and better performance. You can have a more aggressive first gear ratio, for better off-the-line performance - with less noticeable steps between gear changes.

    Chrysler has a modern six-speed automatic available - and it should have been the Sebring's optional automatic - at least with the two V-6 engines and not just the top-of-the-line 3.5 liter engine.

    And the base model's four-cylinder engine should be offered with a manual - which probably could have pushed the Sebring's LX's highway mileage capability closer to 35 mpg, not to mention improved acceleration - and made the car much more enjoyable to drive, too.

    You know... like a Honda Accord.

    STYLING & UTILITY

    Like other recent Chryslers, the Sebring has 1920s-era art deco-inspired styling - pleats on the hood, prominent side scallop "swoosh" on the door, "wing" badges, etc. - which you either like or you don't. I think the Sebring is handsome - and certainly less dowdy-looking than the Chevy Malibu, which is the Wonder Bread of family sedans.

    But both cars look like rental car specials compared with the 2010 Fusion.

    The Sebring's interior is unobjectionable, with some nice touches including glacier blue backlighting for the instrument cluster, aircraft-style LED map lights and an analog (non-digital) clock in the center stack. The simple, rotary-style controls for the AC system are a welcome break from the increasingly common (and in my opinion, over-complex) touch-screen and mouse interfaces you find in some other cars. Yes, some of the materials used for trim plates and door panels, etc. are a bit cheap-looking - but so is the sticker price.

    Base LX models are decently equipped with the essential amenities - AC, cruise, power windows and locks plus a tilt/telescoping wheel and a satellite radio-equipped stereo with six-disc CD changer. The base Chevy Malibu LS is similarly equipped, but has a single-disc CD player and its base price is about $1,000 higher ($21,605 vs. $20,515).

    You can order some high-end equipment, too - including a touch-screen "Uconnect tunes" premium audio system with 30 GB music storage hard drive and DVD player, Bluetooth wireless, rear-seat entertainment system - even heated and cooled front cup holders that can chill your Big Gulp down to 35 degrees or keep your coffee a toasty 140 degrees.

    Malibu doesn't offer most of this stuff.

    And, again:

    Only one other car in this class offers AWD - or will offer AWD - the 2010 Ford Fusion. However, an AWD-equipped Fusion is expected to sticker around $27,435 - considerably more than the AWD-equipped Sebring.

    QUALITY & SAFETY

    Now that ABS is (finally) standard and electronic stability control included on all but base LX models, the Sebring is on par with others in this class in terms of safety-related equipment. Side-impact/curtain air bags are also included on all trims. Sebring's crash tests scores are excellent - 5 stars for both frontal and front side-impact crashworthiness (and four stars for rear seat side-impact).

    Build quality seems good and reported problems with the car aren't unusually high. The Sebring's chief quality-related issue is its free-falling depreciation - due in part to its dated design and consumer perception that it's a "rental car special"- and also because of market uncertainty about Chrysler's future. Two-year-old (2007 model year) Sebring sedans go for between $10-$12k or so, according to current Blue Book pricing guides. That's a 40-50 percent loss in retail value over two years - which makes both buying or leasing a new Sebring seem like not such a great move, financially speaking.

    Yes, other cars also depreciate, but the Sebring's among the worst in this area.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    It has its faults - but these and (Chrysler's current crippled state) can work to your advantage - especially if you're interested in AWD for a lowball MSRP.

    The Chevy Malibu costs more - and doesn't even offer it. The 2010 Fusion will - but it costs a lot more.

    The Honda Accord's a nicer, more sophisticated car that handles vastly better and doesn't depreciate nearly as fast - but no AWD and you'll probably pay full MSRP for the Honda name.

    Given Chrysler's desperate state, you could probably drive home a new, top-of-the-line Sebring Limited with the 3.5 liter V-6 and AWD for thousands less than sticker - and for far less than anything else with comparable equipment.

    And that might be worth thinking about.
    Last edited by Eric; 02-06-2009 at 01:25 PM.

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