1999 Chrysler Sebring
    MSRP
    $17,340 - $26,360
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    1999 Chrysler Sebring Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Comfort with sports appeal.Elegance and practicality with the top down.

    Introduction

    If you're in the market for a mid-sized sporty coupe, there's a good chance that you're open to compromise. Sure, you want a car that will hustle in a pinch, give you a little rush when you're out on the twisties and make your heart go tweet-tweet when it's just lounging around in the driveway. 

    But you're not willing to accept a buckboard ride or skimp on backseat-legroom for your kin. So you're willing to give up a little in the road-burning department in return for comfort. And while you're not on a budget in the strict sense, you'd still like to get out the door for under $25,000. 

    That's where the Chrysler Sebring Coupe comes in. The Sebring coupe achieves a pleasing middle ground between the hot, cramped Mitsubishi Eclipse and the roomier, less nimble Chevy Monte Carlo. 

    The Sebring Coupe and its cousin, the Dodge Avenger, provide a smooth, quiet ride, ample legroom in front, a back seat that's big enough to keep folks from getting cranky on long hauls, and a suspension stiff enough to keep the tires planted in corners. 

    Chrysler introduced the Sebring as a 1995 model. For 1999, the company has added next-generation dual air bags, body-color mirrors and wheels for the LXi model, and two new colors, plum and shark blue. Chrysler's Sebring Convertible is America's best-selling convertible and it isn't hard to see why. It offers nimble performance that makes it a joy to drive. A well-designed top makes switching between good and bad weather a breeze. It's practical and roomy enough for four to travel in comfort. And its elegant styling has held up well, even though it is going into its third year of production. 

    Dozens of refinements went into the Sebring Convertible last year. This year, the model line has been streamlined. All Sebring Convertibles now come standard with the V6-the four-cylinder engine that came on the base JX model is no longer available. And many of the popular options are now standard on the JX. 

    1999 Sebring Convertibles are distinguished by Chrysler's new winged badge. Next-generation driver air bags were installed for increased safety. 

    Lineup

    Walkaround

    The Sebring Coupe comes in two trim levels: $17,660 LX and $21,760 LXi. 

    Our Sebring Coupe LXi came standard with air conditioning, power everything, a CD player and aluminum wheels. Options included leather trim and six-way adjustable driver's seat ($630); anti-lock brakes ($600); power sunroof and multi-function rearview mirror ($640); and upgraded stereo ($325). Subtracting a $630 discount brought the total to $23,325. 

    By comparison, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo Z34 lists for $21,095, while a Toyota Solara ranges from $19,058 to more than $26,800. 

    The Sebring LX comes standard with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine and 5-speed manual transmission. Four-speed automatic transmissions are optional. A 2.5-liter, six-cylinder, 24-valve engine is optional on the LX and standard on the LXi. Five-speed manuals are not available on the LXi. 

    Our LXi sported an elegant 'cafe latte' clear coat. Elegant is actually a good word to describe the Sebring coupe's all-around appeal. Its contoured and windswept lines, predatory-looking air dam, and compact grille convey a sense of motion and style. 

    The Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger share basic platforms with the Mitsubishi Galant and are built at the same Normal, Illinois, plant that assembles the Galant and Eclipse. The Chrysler Sebring Coupe should not be confused with the Chrysler Sebring Convertible. Though they share styling cues, they are built on entirely different platforms and have little in common other than their names. This is not just another sedan with the top cut off. It was designed as a convertible from the ground up. 

    In fact, the Sebring Convertible shares only its name with the Sebring Coupe. They are totally different cars, built on entirely different platforms. The Sebring Convertible shares its basic structure with the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus sedans. Conversely, the Sebring Coupe (like the Dodge Avenger) is derived from the Mitsubishi Galant. Got that?

    Three models are available: JX, JXi and JXi Limited. As mentioned, they all come with Chrysler's 2.5-liter V6. 

    The $24,405 JX is hardly a base model as it comes standard with cruise control, power everything and lots of convenience items that were optional last year. We drove the mid-line JXi trimmed in a darkly elegant Deep Amethyst Pearl. Inferno Red and Light Cypress Green have been added to the '99 palette. 

    The sculpted lines of the Sebring Convertible give it an eye-catching, but dignified, European look. It's quite distinct from the wedge-shaped Sebring Coupe. The Convertible's narrow, compact grille, sloping, contoured hood and slender headlights give it a self-assured visage. 

    Most important, the Convertible's firmly mounted retractable top is a snug fit. Trunk space is commodious for a convertible, with enough space for six shopping bags and a medium-sized suitcase. 

    Our JXi started at $26,720. Added to that was a $400 option package that includes an Infinity stereo system with cassette, CD player, 150-watt amplifier, premium speakers and graphic equalizer, along with a luxury convenience group that consisted of a HomeLink garage door opener integrated into the driver's side visor and an inside rearview mirror with the day/night feature. That brought the total price to $27,120. 

    A new Sentry Key vehicle immobilizer is available to improve theft protection by requiring a computer match between the key and ignition before the car will start. 

    Interior

    The Sebring's cabin is smartly laid out, with dials that are instantly readable and switchgear that is easily reachable. 

    When the driver's seat is pushed all the way back, it delivers enough headroom and legroom for a six-foot driver. Its 43.3 inches of front legroom is the same as the Camry Solara SE's, and surprisingly more plentiful than the Monte Carlo Z34. (At 190.9 inches bumper-to-bumper, the Sebring coupe is one inch longer than the Solara and 10 inches shorter than the Monte Carlo.) We wish the manually adjusted driver's seatback offered more precise adjustments. 

    Some two-doors are better than others when it comes to climbing into the back seat and the Sebring is among the better ones. An adult can easily pass through the driver's side opening -- as long as the driver's seat is slid all the way forward. That's accomplished easily, unless the driver is occupying the seat. The back seat offers sufficient legroom for two normal-sized adults -- 35 inches, compared to 34.9 inches in the Monte Carlo Z34 and 35.2 in the Camry Solara SE. 

    Nice features include the digital compass readout that appears in the upper right corner of the rear-view mirror; all cars should have compasses, but many don't. And instead of having to reach over and behind your head to locate a dome light switch, the Sebring provides good map lights accessed by three small, easy-to-locate buttons that run along the bottom of the rearview mirror. Recessed cupholders in the Sebring are far superior to those unsteady slide-out trays popular in other cars. The JXi comes with a fabric top in place of the JX model's vinyl top. We loved its ease of operation. Chrysler designers have spared us the agony of having to pore over an owner's manual and wade through a painfully sequential list of instructions. 

    Simply flip two windshield latches, press a button and the top goes down. Once lowered, the top can be tucked under a boot that fastens with Velcro tabs. If a sudden cloudburst appears the top can be raised while sitting at a traffic signal, though this move draws attention from other motorists. The front windows automatically slide down a few inches allowing them to align properly with the top. Fasten the latches, turn on the windshield wipers and lights, and head into the storm. 

    The seats are supportive and quite comfortable. Seatbelts are height-adjustable, making them more comfortable for drivers of different heights. They are integrated into the back of the front bucket seats to prevent rear passengers from tripping over them when climbing in and out. 

    Those back-seat passengers shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to get out, however. The Sebring Convertible features roomy comfortable back seats that Chrysler claims are the best in its class. There really aren't too many convertibles in its class, however, so it competes with the Camaro and Mustang. 

    A big trunk adds to the appeal of the Sebring Convertible. 

    Driving Impression

    Earlier, we speculated that sporty-coupe buyers might be the compromising sort. But with the Sebring coupe, you won't have to compromise when it comes to ride quietness. Whether darting in and out of main-drag traffic or barreling along at 80 miles an hour on the E-way, the Sebring offers a quietude that rivals Chrysler's more up-market entries like the Concorde and Dodge Intrepid. It kept noise at bay even when flanked by 18-wheelers on a downtown-Detroit freeway. 

    On a winding, weaving Michigan road, full of hills and dips, the Sebring's speed-sensitive steering and independent suspension made it a pleasure to drive. The Sebring Coupe offers a comfortable ride quality that added to this pleasure on Michigan's rough roads. 

    A stable platform allows the Sebring to soar through sweeping corners with ease. Sharper curves induce some body roll, one of the compromises of the coupe's nice, quiet ride. So, while the Sebring can outmaneuver a larger, heavier sport coupe like the Monte Carlo, it's not as sporty as a smaller coupe, like the Honda Prelude. 

    The Sebring's 2.5-liter V6 deploys its 163 horses with little effort and minimal engine noise. It offers excellent performance for passing maneuvers, healthy low-end torque for driving around town and plenty of horsepower for high-speed cruising. 

    While we prefer the V6, the 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine costs less and offers better fuel economy. This engine is best paired with the standard five-speed transmission as the Sebring is no lightweight. 

    In the braking department, the Sebring's combination of discs in the front and drums in the rear bring the vehicle to an admirably quick stop, with no grabbing and minimal fade. The V6 engine provides plenty of power for critical passing situations. It propels the Sebring Convertible quickly from a dead dig, but fades a bit in the homestretch. As a result, it takes more than 10 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. That eliminates the Sebring from consideration as a high-performance roadster, but there's plenty of torque available to keep most drivers happy cruising around town or on the highway. 

    Chrysler isn't best known for ultra-quiet, silky smooth engines and the Sebring Convertible suffers from some engine noise under hard acceleration. And, of course, road noise more audible in a convertible than in a hard top. 

    When cornering, the taut suspension keeps body roll to a minimum, while the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering provides precise response. 

    The JX and JXi models came with front disc and rear drum anti-lock brakes. Braking performance was never an issue, but we can't help wondering whether the four-wheel disc brakes that come on the JXi Limited are worth the extra cash. The Limited also comes standard with traction control, which is not available on the other two models. 

    There's nothing quite like cruising along a twisting, tree-lined road with the top down and the Sebring Convertible shines in this setting. Chrysler's engineers have eliminated much of the wind buffeting associated with convertibles in the old days. And the Sebring's smart windshield design provides unblocked sight lines in all directions. 

    Summary

    Sebring Coupe is in a category by itself. It's roomier and more comfortable than coupes like the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Honda Prelude, but smaller and more maneuverable than the Monte Carlo Z34. The Honda Prelude and Ford Mustang are faster and hug the road harder, but have niggling back seats. 

    The Sebring Coupe is proof that compromise can be a very good thing, indeed. The svelte styling of the Sebring Convertible and its crisp handling make it an enjoyable top-down motoring experience. Add its spacious back seats and there's no reason we all shouldn't have the wind blowing through our hair. 

    Model Lineup

    Assembled In

    Normal, Illinois. Toluca, Mexico. 

    Options As Tested

    ABS, 6-way power driver's seat, power sunroof, 150-watt Infinity audio system with AM/FM/CD/cassette, graphic equalizer and eight speakers. Integrated universal-transmitter garage door opener, premium AM/FM/cassette/CD. 

    Model Tested

    Sebring Coupe LXi. JXi Convertible. 

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