- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

Hard to believe, but the Chrysler Sebring convertible has never been offered with a manual transmission. Until now.
Midway through the 2002 model year, the Sebring GTC five-speed manual transmission joined the lineup of America's second-best-selling open-top car.
By summer, manual-transmission Sebrings were accounting for 17.5 percent of the Sebring convertibles being sold, company spokesman Bryan Zvibleman said.
In the industry, about one-quarter of new convertibles sold have manuals, he said.
The hope is the GTC with its sport-tuned suspension and decklid spoiler will draw younger buyers to the noteworthy Sebring, which leads its segment with most spacious interior and roomiest trunk space. Current median age of Sebring purchasers is 52, the company said.
Offered with a choice of 150-horsepower, four-cylinder engine or 200-horsepower V-6, the Sebring convertible is mainstream-priced for a four-passenger convertible with lined, power top.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the base Sebring LX convertible with four-cylinder engine is $24,205. The GTC, which includes several standard features as well as the V-6, starts at $26,040.
Note the Sebring name is used on Chrysler coupe and sedan models, too. The convertible shares its platform with the sedan and is built at the sedan's Michigan assembly plant.
The new manual transmission lets the driver of the GTC tailor the performance from the 2.7-liter, double-overhead-cam V-6. And there's good performance, too, because this pretty two-door can get moving quickly. Maximum torque is 190 foot-pounds at 4,850 rpm.
The shifter in the test GTC had a notchy feel, though, and there were times when I couldn't locate a gear as easily as I'd like.
But fuel economy isn't bad, with a rating of 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. The Sebring convertible uses regular gasoline.
The soft top goes up and down easily in this compact car. Just release latches at each edge of the windshield and press a button.
All four of the Sebring's power windows lower and the roof powers back automatically, coming to rest on a shelf behind the rear seat.
The rear window is good-sized for a convertible and it's glass, which means it doesn't yellow and doesn't easily scratch. The window includes a standard electric defroster.
It can be difficult, though, to see out the back and side of this car as the thick top area around the rear window blocks the view. In fact, I backed out of a parking lot without being able to see off to the rear-side of the car.
The front-wheel-drive Sebring convertible does have considerable cowl shake, a common condition of many convertibles because they don't have the rigid roof of a coupe or sedan.
While automakers have been improving vehicle rigidity, I noticed the shake quickly in the Sebring convertible as even some manhole covers prompted a bit of a shudder in this car as I drove over them. If I looked in the rearview mirror as I drove over bumps, I'd see the Sebring's back window shaking, too.
The suspension in the GTC is the same double wishbone up front and multilink rear that are in all Sebring convertibles. But in the GTC, the suspension is Euro-tuned for a firmer ride.
As a result, riders can feel vibrations from mild road imperfections. I felt harsh jolts from bumpy industrial roads and railroad tracks.
The Sebring's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering isn't sport-tuned.
Two people can easily sit in back in the Sebring convertible. When the driver is relatively short, riders in the back seat have a surprising amount of legroom.
Note the Sebring convertible's 35.2 inches of rear-seat legroom is 5.3 inches greater than in the Ford Mustang convertible, the nation's No. 1 selling convertible.
It's also a tad over the 35 inches of rear-seat legroom in the competing Toyota Camry Solara convertible.
The Sebring has more rear-seat shoulder room than Mustang and Solara, too.
Neither person in the Sebring's back seat has a head restraint.
The gathered, accordionlike material that seemingly connects the Sebring's front-seat cushions to the seatbacks looks old-style. And the plastic accent trim on the GTC dashboard doesn't impress.
Gauges are well-sized. There's a white background in these GTC gauges, which gives a sporty look.
In the GTC tester, the optional audio equipment upgrade put the CD changer at the bottom of the dashboard, sort of inset under it, while radio buttons were separate and higher on the dashboard.
The glovebox does not have a lock, but the center console does. Too bad the console's keyhole lock is so awkwardly located, on the driver's side.
The seat belts are conveniently integrated into the seats, so folks climbing into the rear seat don't have to fuss with them.
The Sebring's trunk is a real treat for convertible fans. With a wide opening, it offers a usable 11.3 cubic feet of space, compared with 7.7 cubic feet in the Mustang model.
Sebring ragtops date to the 1996 model year, when they replaced Chrysler's aging LeBaron convertible, which had been the top-selling convertible in the country.
Chrysler said it has been selling about 50,000 convertibles each year.

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