Chrysler Introduces Sebring at Home
At DaimlerChrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds, Chrysler Group President and Chief Executive Officer Tom LaSorda introduced the new-generation 2007 Sebring. The Sebring will be in dealers by November 2006, and VehicleVoice and AutoPacific were on hand for the unveiling.
Chrysler has promised the new Sebring is “creating inspiration in the common car,” is “as good as or better than the best mid-size sedans in the world,” and that brings “unexpected levels of style, craftsmanship, technology, and affordable performance.” Sebring offers some features new to mid-size sedans, but for the most part, it leans toward the “as good as” side of the equation rather than on the “better than” side. Safety is advanced from the current Sebring, but only to the point they match the top players. In terms of performance, the base four-cylinder should be a strong contender and Sebring offers an atypical six-speed automatic for the top V6, but at 235HP the top V6 puts Chrysler only mid-pack in the brochure horsepower wars.
The Sebring package is well researched and well plotted. Based on our initial review in the metal, it is in the subjective area of overall styling and in the look and feel of some interior materials where we think Sebring may have landed just off the mark.
Final pricing comes later, but LaSorda promised MSRPs lower than Toyota Camry or Honda Accord models closest in content to new Sebring models. Where the 2006 Sebring sedan has a short $20,730-$23,160 price ladder, a taller ladder is expected for 2007. The 2007 Camry and the 2006 Accord start a bit below $20,000 and go as high as about $29,000 (aside from hybrids). Chrysler has said the 2.7L V6 models will be priced closer to competition’s four-cylinder-equipped offerings. Chrysler will position this new, longer ladder so that the both top and bottom ends stay below the key competition. The Sebring may see a drop in MSRP from 2006 to 2007, which may bring the MSRP closer to transaction price.
The Chrysler Group has been successful in finding a sweet spot for pricing their new entries of late; Sebring will be just as aggressively priced and well contented.
The 2007 Sebring gets base, Touring, and Limited models. Side-curtain and front-seat-mounted side airbags, a tire-pressure-monitoring system, and ABS are all standard. The standard airbags bring Sebring in line with Accord, Camry, Hyundai Sonata, and Pontiac G6, but does not exceed expectations.
Sebring brings convenience options new to mid-size sedans, with heated and cooled cupholders; a stereo system with a 20GB hard drive with software for storing and sorting WMA, MP3, and JPEG files; heated cloth or leather seats; LED interior lighting; and express-down front windows on the key fob. The optional navigation system is a Harmon/Kardon infotainment system with touch-screen and voice activation, a three-dimensional look, and the ability to watch movies when the car is stopped.
It is not surprising that door handles from Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, and Jeep Patriot show up in the Sebring, but they don’t play any better here. Sebring offers a similar dashboard arrangement to the 300, including an analog clock between the center HVAC vents and optional tortoise-shell trim. The look of the Sebring’s interior, with tasteful two-tone colors and the chrome and tortoise shell accents, is better than much of the competition, but the dashboard of the pre-production unit on display felt hard and rough. The hard dash plastic and wimpy door handles are turnoffs in an otherwise attractive interior.
Three Engines for 2007
The Sebring remains a typical front-wheel-drive, mid-size sedan. The 172HP 2.4L I4 moves the base car; the 2.7L V6 carries over (output is reduced to 190HP, but still a flex-fuel engine); and the 235HP 3.5L V6 is the top engine. The 2.4L and 2.7L get four-speed automatic transmissions. Though a six-speed automatic is uncommon for the segment, as is mated to the 3.5L V6, GM and Ford are also rolling out six-speed automatics in the segment this year.
At 235HP, the top 3.5L is mid-pack against the competition. Chrysler reports that in internal 0-to-60-mph testing, the 3.5L “rivals the leaders in the class.” It will be interesting to see how Chrysler positions the Sebring when it comes to the brochure wars. Consumers don’t generally accept the idea that a car with less power offers the same or better acceleration, though the six-speed automatic may be to Chrysler’s favor.
Exterior Previewed by Airflite
Do you remember the Airflite concept? Introduced in Geneva in March 2003 alongside the Crossfire, U.S. consumers could be forgiven for not taking note. If you did miss it, you get the chance to see its evolution into production Sebring this fall.
A year after Airflite, Chrysler introduced the 300 to rave reviews and excellent sales. But by 2007MY, the 300 is a design anomaly in the Chrysler showroom. Chrysler is not leveraging the personality of the 300, which resonated with at least 144,000 buyers in 2005. The 2007MY showroom holds a range of products with recognizable and consistent Chrysler cues, but no overall design language or theme. The 300 looks like a mid-course deviation instead of part of a clear strategy, as does the PT Cruiser. Perhaps we’ll see a more cohesive family later, but for 2007, the sedans are unrelated to one another and the Sebring has the unenviable position of marrying cues from tall minivans and SUVs to those from low-slung sports cars. We do acknowledge that a very unscientific poll of those at the reveal found far more praise for Sebring’s design than criticism. Clearly not everyone will share our reservations about the design.
Sebring gets headlights along the lines of the Pacifica and minivan, a grille like everything but the 300, and hood strakes from Crossfire (plopped onto the 2007 Pacifica and Aspen as well). On the Sebring, the family grille brings to mind the Pacifica and minivan more than the Crossfire. The Sebring’s bold upper and lower bodyside character lines are like the Crossfire’s, but quite unlike the slabsided 300 or anything else in the family.
The short decklid causes some to compare Sebring to a five-door like the Mazda6. Blackouts on the B-pillars accentuate the window graphic, like the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, and Jeep Patriot. The taillight shape is reminiscent of Airflite, but evolved for the real world. There is a nicely integrated decklid spoiler and crisp lower rear fascia, but the back end could be called as boring as the front could be called busy.
Chrysler has missed an opportunity to further develop a passenger car theme. Sebring pulls from minivans, Pacifica, and Crossfire, all products about to be renewed or in the latter part of their lifecycles. The Sebring tweaked old cues off aging entries instead of evolving the 300’s forceful personality and take-no-prisoners attitude into a fresh Chrysler sedan theme, apparently justified by research that told them mid-size car buyers are a conservative lot.
Sebring A Minor Player in Mid-Size Segment
Chrysler wants Sebring to do for mid-size cars what the 300 did for large cars. The 300 sold 144,000 units in 2005. But the large car segment is much smaller, accounting for 760,000 of 7.7 million passenger cars sold in 2005, up from 531,000 in 2004. Mid-size cars accounted for about 2.9 million units in 2005; Sebring accounted for fewer than 50,000 of that number while the top models sold more than 350,000 of their sedans. The number of entries (more than twenty) and volume of mid-size cars sold are against Sebring making a 300-size splash, either in terms of the market share Chrysler could steal or in their ability to increase the segment’s overall size.