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Car reviews - Chrysler - Sebring - Cabriolet range

Our Opinion

We like
Value, space for four adults, choice of soft-top or hard-top, V6’s smoothness, solid feel of the body
Room for improvement
Shockingly low-rent cabin, weight blunts V6 performance potential, soft-top’s boot no bigger than space-hogging folding hard-top

7 Mar 2008

VIEWED objectively – which is asking a lot from a buyer of something as subjective as a convertible – and the new Chrysler Sebring Cabriolet should take the four-seater drop-top market by storm.

For starters, it looks better than the sedan that spawned it.

“Not hard” is what some might say, but even these Negative Nancys will agree that the cabrio cuts a prettier profile with its lower, sleeker and longer stance. A sort of modern-day boulevard cruiser springs to mind in a car that certainly has a sense of occasion about it.

Value, too, is a strong suit, with the well-equipped Chrysler offering V6 petrol power against most rivals’ barely adequate four-cylinder engines – with the important exception of the all-conquering VW Eos’ turbocharged units.

That the Sebring also eclipses the German car for space, making it the roomiest four-seater convertible for under $65K (sorry Peugeot, the 207 CC is too tight in the back seat) means that you could even look at the Chrysler as a sort of cut-price Saab 9-3 Convertible competitor.

This is another feather in a cap that is available in either soft or hard-hat modes.

Because, literally topping all these Sebring strong points is a choice of black fabric roof on the Touring (which we think looks rather better as it sits lower and tauter on the car), or a three-piece retractable hard-top.

At $7500 more than the Touring, the $51,490 Limited is certainly attractive if utmost security is your thing, and also adds leather, larger alloys, ritzier trim, better audio and heated seats, among other bits and pieces.

Having the choice of what roof you can have makes the Sebring Cabriolet a very unique proposition in an ever-expanding segment.

Now, all these attributes should have us waxing lyrical about how great the US-built Chrysler drop-top is.

And, by and large, it is not going to disappoint the sort of people we think are going to be attracted to it – namely, folk who are trading up from older vehicles such as a Hyundai Accent, Toyota Camry or Ford Falcon.

But the Sebring cabrio has to contend with some handsomely styled and impressively presented opposition. The Eos is one that naturally springs to mind, but there is also the nicely finished Ford Focus CC, attractive Holden Astra TwinTop, Renault Megane CC and, err, the distinctive Peugeot 307 CC.

To be blunt, we cannot see how the Chrysler can compete with the ageing French CCs for perceived quality inside, let alone the VW and Ford, because its interior seems depressingly cheap.

Hard plastics, a persistent rattle in one of the cars, and a look and finish on par with the $12,990 Proton Savvy points to an interior experience that is bound to disappoint anybody used to a lowly Hyundai Getz.

This is far and away the worst thing about the Sebring Cabriolet, and a serious setback for a model that trades so heavily on style and image.

On a less serious note, as buyers of the soft-top, we would also feel a little cheated that it does not offer more boot space, as Chrysler did not bother re-engineering the roof to stow away more efficiently in a manner that would not be possible with the bulkier hard-top.

Otherwise, the car – cabin and all – actually works pretty well.

The Touring’s soft top stayed up snugly and without any problems even at speeds well beyond the national speed limit, conversation from the impressively spacious back seat at 100km/h is easy due to the lack of buffeting going on, and the dreaded scuttle shake that inflicts so many convertibles is kept commendably low.

While the 2.7-litre V6 does not feel especially powerful (probably because of all the extra weight it has to haul around as a result of Chrysler beefing up the body to keep it from flexing), it is smooth enough, capable of a respectable turn of speed, and responsive to the demands of a determined right foot.

But we felt that the gearing in the new six-speed automatic gearbox is perhaps skewed more towards achieving better fuel economy than sprightly performance.

And, like all the other cars that have sprung off the Sebring’s front-wheel drive platform – Mitsubishi Lancer and Outlander, Jeep Patriot and Compass, Dodge Avenger and Caliber – the Cabrio’s steering is well-weighted and backed up by handling that is civilised and contained.

There is no denying that the Sebring’s brash styling is not to everybody’s taste, but at least it stands out. And if you are turned on by it, then the Cabrio has the potential to really give the competition a great big headache simply because it actually offers so much car for the money.

But people buy cars in this sector with their hearts as much as they do with their brains, and the cheap feel of the interior is an issue that even the most objective cross-shopper for a convertible will find difficult to overcome the moment the Chrysler is compared with its peers.

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