2003 Chrysler Sebring
    MSRP
    $18,330 - $29,765
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    2003 Chrysler Sebring Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Airy, comfortable, and pleasant.

    Introduction

    Sedan, coupe or convertible, the Chrysler Sebring comes with sleek, good looks, a smooth ride, and comfortable accommodations. It's practical, with room for five. It offers value when measured against the imports. Responsive performance makes V6-powered models more enjoyable to drive, but the base four-cylinder engine is quite competent. 

    The sedan is comfortable and practical with a pleasant, airy cabin. The convertible combines a roomy interior and attractive pricing with style and top-down motoring. The sporty coupe offers an optional V6 engine. 

    For 2003, the coupe gets new exterior styling and interior trim. 

    Lineup

    Chrysler Sebring models are available in four-door sedan, two-door coupe, and two-door convertible body styles. Four-cylinder and V6 engines are available and there's a choice of trim levels. Sedans come standard with a four-speed automatic transmission. Coupes offer a choice of automatic or five-speed manual transmission for either engine. Convertibles come standard with an automatic, though the GTC convertible offers a manual. 

    LX models come with a twin-cam 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower. LX trim levels come standard with air conditioning, a cloth interior, and power windows, mirrors and door locks. Steel wheels with painted wheel covers and 15-inch tires are standard. Chrysler's 2.7-liter V6, which generates 200 horsepower, is available as an option for the LX ($1085). 

    LXi models come standard with the 200-hp V6, 16- or 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, eight-way power driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a premium sound system with CD player, a trip computer, cruise control, remote illuminated keyless entry, fog lights, bright exhaust tips, and a higher level of interior convenience features. Convertible LXi models get a cloth-coated top and leather seats. A new Sebring GTC convertible model was added late last year that comes with the V6, a sports suspension, and a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. 

    Optional safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes ($565) and side-curtain airbags ($390). An Enthusiast Group ($400) adds Chrysler's Autostick transmission, a sports suspension, firm-feel power steering, and an electroluminescent instrument cluster. A selection of options allows the buyer to add some of the LXi features to the LX model or further enhance the LXi, including a power sunroof ($695). 

    Walkaround

    Sleek, attractive designs enhance the Sebring sedan, coupe, and convertible. While all three look like they belong to the same family, distinctions give each its own personality. Sedan, convertible and coupe each present a gracefully arched profile with a dramatically raked windshield. 

    New styling gives the Chrysler Sebring coupe a fresh appearance for 2003. Appropriately enough, the coupe looks more aggressive than the sedan and convertible. A new hood and trunk lid design add to the bold looks of the coupe. A new grille features the Chrysler winged badge, complemented with a new fog lamp design. For 2003, Chrysler redesigned the coupe's front and rear fascias, headlamps, taillamps, and side sill moldings. 

    The coupe shares little in common with the sedan and convertible. It is built in a joint-venture assembly plant in Illinois alongside the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Dodge Stratus coupes, and shares their engines, chassis, and suspension designs. The Sebring sedan and convertible share components and roll out of a Chrysler assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. 

    Sedans and convertibles feature a broad, stubby nose highlighted by Chrysler's signature grille design, a big, oval intake inset with a shaded egg-crate grille pattern. Headlamps, shielded by polycarbonate lenses, wrap around the front corners, while available round fog lights flank the grille. Blackened center roof pillars on the four-door sedan give it the look of a two-door coupe. The roofline flows in a smooth transition from roof to body. The decklid incorporates a spoiler lip arched over large taillamps and thick monotone bumper. 

    We found the door handles can be hard to hang onto, particularly when in a hurry. Also, the coupe's mirrors are small. 

    Interior

    Airy cabins make the Chrysler Sebring a pleasant place to be, whether it's a sedan, coupe, or convertible. Obviously, the convertible offers an airy cabin when you drop the top, but all three use a cab-forward design that extends the windshield forward. There's lots of light coming in and the cabins are roomy, a benefit of front-wheel drive, a transversely mounted engine and a wide track. 

    These are practical cars that can seat three adults in back. The rear bench seats are split 60/40 and the seatbacks fold down to provide access to the trunk and space for carrying long items. 

    Several interior finishes are available. Sedan LX models come with cloth fabric upholstery. Sedan LXi models come with similar upholstery, but with vinyl bolsters and woodgrain trim that adds warmth. LXi gets eight-way power-adjustable seats and a reclining passenger seat. Sedans and convertibles come with round chrome-rimmed analog instruments with black-on-white graphics. 

    Coupes get a revised interior for 2003 that comes in black or two-tone taupe. Attractive brushed aluminum trim on the center console and doors of the Sebring Coupe lends an elegant appearance to LX models. A new instrument panel features clock-like gauges with black backgrounds, instead of white. The optional leather seats feel nicer, more supportive than the standard cloth. 

    Convertible LX models come with cloth fabric. The GTC is trimmed in two-tone Ultrahide (vinyl) with matching door bolsters and color-keyed door handles and trim. The LXi gets leather trim, while the Limited comes with softer premium leather trim. Seats feel firm and comfortable; the driver's seat gets six-way power adjustments. 

    Unlike some convertibles, the Sebring provides enough room in the backseat for two adults to sit comfortably; and it's fitted with three-point seatbelts. Twin cup holders extend from the rear of the floor console. Front seatbacks tip and slide forward quickly for easy backseat entry, and the front seatbelts do not impede entry because anchors are integrated in top corners of the seatbacks. Trunk space is also good for a convertible; the trunk will accommodate two golf bags stacked together. 

    The power top drops in seconds with one-button ease to let the sun in and closes quickly to block a sudden shower. It's a snap to operate: Simply unlock two latches located above windshield visors, then touch a single button on the dashboard and the lid folds quickly into a well behind the rear seat. Continue to depress the button and side windows drop out of sight. Reverse the process to seal the top shut. It's quick. You can hide the collapsed roof by covering it with a smooth boot that locks in place with Velcro taps; when not in use, the boot folds and stows in the trunk. 

    Although the dashboard is essentially flat and linear, there's a wrap-around feel to the cockpit. Window and lock switches are mounted on the driver's door. At the top of the dash, an available display provides compass headings, outside temperature readings, trip mileage, fuel economy and estimated distance to an empty tank. 

    The center console in the sedan houses the transmission shift lever and a padded armrest. Above the console, a central stack of audio and climate systems contains large rotary dials in a simplified and easy-to-operate scheme. HVAC controls are rudimentary dials and look like those of a compact car, but they work well. 

    The Sebring provides excellent outward visibility for the driver with broad and tall expanses of window glass and relatively narrow A-pillars. The top of the windshield features a shade similar to that used on Mercedes cars. The glass is thicker than usual, which helps dampen external noise. It combines with the structural streamlining and layers of insulation added to doors, body cavities and the floor and ceiling to reduce noise. 

    Safety systems begin with a rigid structure that encases the passenger compartment. Passive measures include three-point seatbelts for. 

    Driving Impression

    The Chrysler Sebring is an enjoyable car to drive, whether coupe, convertible or sedan. It's no sports car, but feels tight and precise at speed, and nimble and confident without a lot of body lean in corners. At the same time, it offers a smooth, comfortable ride. There's plenty of power from the available V6 engine and we enjoyed the base four-cylinder. 

    When equipped with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the Sebring feels energetic through all gears. If your budget is a primary concern, this is the engine to pick. The main cost difference is that initial $800, however. Fuel economy differs by about one mile per gallon. The electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission is quiet and efficient and works surprisingly well with the four-cylinder engine. Geared for stop-and-go city driving, the Sebring feels quick and accelerates briskly onto the freeway. 

    The optional V6 is smoother and generates more thrust. It delivers crisp acceleration performance from a standstill and responds quickly for passing maneuvers at freeway speeds. This 2.7-liter V6 uses an aluminum block fitted with dual overhead cams and multi-valve technology. It delivers 200 horsepower, but offers respectable fuel economy and operates on regular-grade gasoline. The exhaust emits a pleasant burble when idling. 

    Chrysler's optional AutoStick provides shift-it-yourself control of the automatic. The AutoStick is fun to play with when you're in a sporty mood. But the standard automatic mode works just fine for everyday use, where it shifts quietly and efficiently. 

    The available 5-speed manual gearbox is easy to shift with smooth clutch engagement and easy up-shifts. 

    The Sebring suspension is fully independent and remains composed even when dropping the right wheels off the pavement to feel an irregular shoulder. Sedan and convertible share most suspension components, but a rear anti-roll bar on some models reduces understeer for sportier handling. Rack-and-pinion steering gives the Sebring a crisp feel. The coupe delivers a nice ride quality, but you do hear and feel bumps. Pavement strips generated a sound akin to a kettledrum in a pre-production 2003 coupe we drove at Chrysler's proving grounds. 

    Anti-lock brakes are optional, but we recommend them. Chrysler's so-called ABS Plus includes a software extension that senses when you're braking and turning at the same time, a tricky situation from a car control standpoint. Chrysler's system aids the driver in this situation by controlling the vehicle's yaw for improved stability. This is particularly useful on varying road surfaces, when the right side of the car is on a different type of surface than the left side. Other brake improvements include electronic brake distribution, which balances the brakes front to rear for improved stability and shorter stopping distances. Larger brake rotors and thicker linings are designed to increase durability. Headlamps were improved last year for better visibility on stormy nights. 

    Summary

    The Chrysler Sebring line attracts a wide audience with three body styles. The sedan offers a spacious and comfortable passenger compartment wrapped in a sleek, sporty skin. It offers a strong value when compared with mid-size import sedans. The coupe manages to fit a spacious passenger compartment inside the sensuous lines of a coupe. The convertible is perfect for people who don't want to be cramped in a sports car, but want to feel the wind in their hair and look good. Unlike most convertibles, the Sebring offers a roomy, comfortable interior. It's stylish and fun, but won't break the bank. If it does, drop the top and whisk those cars away. 

    Model Lineup

    Sedan LX ($18,095); Sedan LXi ($20,670); Coupe LX ($20,110); Coupe LXi ($22,385); Convertible LX ($23,700); Convertible LXi ($26,785); Convertible GTC ($25,535); Convertible Limited ($29,420). 

    Assembled In

    Sterling Heights, Michigan; Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. 

    Options As Tested

    side-curtain airbags ($390); ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution ($565); Luxury Group ($1265) includes leather seating surfaces, anti-theft system, automatic central locking, 120-watt audio with six premium speakers, electroluminescent instruments, cargo convenience net, universal garage door opener; Enthusiast Group ($250) includes Autostick, firm-feel power steering, sports suspension; power sunroof ($695). 

    Model Tested

    Chrysler Sebring Sedan LXi ($20,670). 

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