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2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible: Still Rental-Car Heaven

Arriving in Chrysler dealers over the coming weeks is the latest Sebring convertible, of which we brought you news from the Los Angeles show in November. This month, we had the chance to drive the new droptop from Santa Monica to Simi Valley and back. Most preview trips are graced with fabulous weather, so it only stands to reason that sometimes Mother Nature may refuse to cooperate. In this case a cold, rainy day meant little experience with the top down for Vehicle Voice contributor Stephanie Brinley, though contributor Keagan Patrick’s drive a few days later was less weather-challenged.



The Sebring Converitible is available in three flavors – retractable hardtop, cloth top convertible and vinyl top convertible. This breadth of selection is unique in the industry and will give the Sebring convertible a definite advantage when rental car agencies are selecting convertibles in their fleet. You might even be able to find Sebring retractable hardtops in Minneapolis.

Driving Impressions: Brinley
Having spent my time driving with the top up, I appreciated that the triple-layer, well-insulated cloth top provides a quiet, comfortable interior. (Insulation is provided by a foam- and Mylar-backed headliner, keeping heat in and noise out.) Convertibles are good enough these days to be all-weather solutions, cloth or retractable hardtop, and year-round use means you’ll have your share of top-up drives with a Sebring, so a pleasant top-up experience can significantly contribute to ownership joy.



Most of my day was spent with three people in the car, giving me the chance to ride in the back seat as well as the front. Conversations between front and rear were easy and there were no drafts from the not-quite-perfect fits of the headliner to the top mechanism itself. The rear seats are comfortable and roomy, though cupholders intrude into passenger space. There’s enough rear headroom for our six-foot-tall rear passenger to have clear space between head and roof. A frequent compromise with cloth softtops is rearward visibility; this is another area where Sebring delivers more than you might expect.

The retractable hardtop uses additional weather stripping to keep noise down, but the stripping leaves light-colored Sebrings to suffer with black stripes at the fold points detracting from its sleek look.
Speaking of looks, one of the best on-the-road views was from the rear or rear three-quarters. Side view is better with the top down; the retractable hardtop gives it a coupe silhouette but not as a smooth as a real coupe. Sebring’s looks are weakest from the front. Those Crossfire-inspired hood strakes, which are appearing on several Chrysler products, feel arbitrary. Crossfire’s appeal was never derived from those strakes. Nearly every Chrysler I’ve seen these strakes on would be improved by removing them.

Sebring convertible gets three powertrain options, the same as the sedan. But the convertible gains about 330 pounds with a softtop and another 60 if you opt for the hardtop. Tourers like this should have enough power to make getting through traffic seem effortless (if not fast), so we say the 3.5L V6 and six-speed automatic is the way to go. The 189HP 2.7L V6 is a competent partner in the sedan. In the heavier convertible, it isn’t quite up to the task and its four-speed automatic transmission was loud and a bit unrefined. The 3.5L V6, available only on the Limited, is likely to be a smaller part of the mix but is the way to go. The automatic is smooth and the 235HP from the V6 keeps the car moving along, if not zipping around.

Canyon drives are always fun and our route provided for a sprint up Latigo Canyon Road and Mulholland Highway. But there are more challenging canyon roads in this part of California, but Sebring isn’t about challenge. That being said, the Sebring was successful in its role as comfortable cruiser. Sebring’s draw is the ability to put the top down and carry four in comfort and style, not a challenging or exhilarating driving experience.
Target Identified and Hit
Four-seat cruising convertibles of Sebring’s type apply the same basic formula. A comfortable ride and predictable handling are higher priorities than a sport-tuned suspension, stiffer chassis, and high-end power. Within this context, Sebring is dynamically competitive. Chrysler also brings a couple of features the others don’t offer (MyGig navigation/radio, heated and cooled cupholder). The 2008MY Sebring in play for today’s market, but it doesn’t raise the bar or deliver more than you expect. The subset of specialty or sporty convertibles is fairly conservative in nature; while looking to reward themselves with something cute and fun, they aren’t boyracers in their spare time. Understanding this target, the Sebring plays to the easy side of driving, as does the competition. Despite the company’s occasional ability to take interesting risks, Sebring is not one of them.
Keagan’s NOTES:
Stephanie is quite right, the only thing risky about the new Chrysler Sebring is probably those ‘Crossfire-inspired hood strakes’. Chrysler has done their homework and they know this segment. They are familiar with the demographics and they understand what the Sebring is and is not. I found the Sebring to be a pleasant driving experience and a wonderful open-air cruiser but it is not a performance minded vehicle and may never provide an engaging experience, unless of course the top is down and you swallow a bug.
Keagan’s Driving Impressions:
My first drive in the 2008MY Sebring Convertible was with the 2.7L and then in the 3.5L with a 6-speed automatic transmission ($32,345 as tested). I was much more comfortable with the 3.5L mated to the 6-speed. It is definitely the preferred set up and really the only way to go. The 6spd transmission is very smooth and crisp but RPMs seem to drop off after 3rd gear. The steering is very quick just off center and there are hints of understeer. As for the interior aesthetics I was not excited about our ‘tortoise shell’ interior accents in our 3.5L Limited test model but the 2.7L touring model had ‘aluminum’ accents but neither of which matched the silver center stack.
Keagan’s Final Thoughts:
Sebring owners will not be car enthusiasts. They will probably be between the ages of 40 and 65 with a median income around 90K. They probably know a thing or two about golf and wear hats while driving in the fast lane. The older ladies will have blue hair. With that, I still think Chrysler ‘owns’ this segment and with Toyota dropping the Solara Convertible within the next two years I think Chrysler will continue to dominate, especially since rental car fleets will eventually need to restock.
Wishes: An auto-button for all 4 windows to go down

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