- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

PALM SPRINGS — For Chrysler, the arrival time of the new Sebring is ideal. When the car arrives at the dealerships in October, the four-door coupe may benefit from the success of the 300 model and the Dodge Caliber.

Sustaining the momentum is important as Chrysler wants to compete in the midsize segment, with the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord as leaders. The segment accounts for 2 million units a year, approximately 28 percent of the passenger-car market.

The 2007 Sebring is the Chrysler Group’s first midsize sedan built on the new D-segment platform, which has been developed during the joint-venture between DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi. The Caliber also is based on this platform, but for the Sebring it had to be longer and wider.

In total, it will be used for 10 models. Most likely the upcoming 2007 Dodge Avenger will be among them. To prepare the Sterling Heights, Mich., assembly line for the flexible production, Chrysler has invested approximately $500 billion.

The second generation of the new sedan will get three models, the base Sebring, Sebring Touring and Sebring Limited. Three engines will be available. The Limited will get the top engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 with 235 horsepower, 232 foot-pounds of torque and coupled to a new six-speed automatic with AutoStick. The base Sebring gets the 173-horsepower and 166-foot-pound-strong 2.4-liter four-cylinder world engine that has been developed by DaimlerChrysler together with Mitsubishi and Hyundai and that is shared with the Caliber. The Sebring Touring will be available with the 2.7 V-6 or the 2.7 V-6 FFV (Flexile Fuel Vehicle) engine, that can work on gasoline and E85. Both engines are teamed with a four-speed automatic transmission

The ribbed hood and the nose show a relationship with the Crossfire coupe and the Pacifica. The rear of the Sebring has a laid-back tail with a small integrated spoiler on the trunk lid that covers 13.6 cubic feet of cargo volume.

With the larger wheelbase (108.9 inches) platform, the 2007 Sebring is longer, wider and taller (190.6/71.2/59.0 inches respectively) than the outgoing model and offers more interior space With a 2.5-inch higher waist line, the driver sits taller. The rear seats fold flat 60/40, while the front passenger seat folds flat to provide a hard seatback storage and the ability to transport really long goods.

The Sebring uses the new Yes-Essentials fabric that is not only antimicrobial and anti-static but also water- and dirt-repellent, so that it is quite easy to clean. Standard on the Limited is two-tone leather seats and leather shift knob, while there are tortoiseshell accents on the steering wheel, dashboard and doors.

The safety gear on the Sebring includes dual front air bags, seat mounted side bags and curtain air bags, as well as ABS and a tire-pressure monitor. Stability control is an option.

Two new features are the heated/cooled cup holders in the center console and the MyGig communication system. It is a Harmon/Kardon audio with a touch-screen interface that controls a 20 gigabyte hard drive and a USB connection that allows transmission of music, video and pictures. The system has also voice memo recording for messages up to three minutes available that works with a microphone that is integrated in the rearview mirror. Sirius radio and Bluetooth connectivity are included. The MyGig system is available for $1,700.

The Sebring rolls on 16-inch wheels, the Touring on 17-inch units and the Limited comes on 18-inch wheels.

When you slide behind the steering wheel of the new Sebring, you can immediately appreciate the interior’s roominess that is enhanced by the use of the two-tone upholstery. It is quite easy to find the right driving position with the tilt/telescopic steering wheel and the seat proved to be firm but comfortable during a day’s drive.

The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine will be the most popular model — Chrysler expects it to account for 80 percent of the sales of the Sebring.

The 2.7-motor runs quietly, reacts willingly to the throttle and has enough torque to climb small mountains without hesitation. But you hear and feel the shift moments of the four-speed automatic more than you would have expected. That’s why the thought of the new six-speed transmission that is used with the 3.5 V-6 comes into mind. The 2.7 V-6 sells for $21,995 and offers a lot of car for the money. The 3.5 V-6 will be $25,995, but also offers a more luxurious outfit.

With a tight suspension, the Sebring gives a secure and stable feel in tight corners and a solid confidence in emergency situations, or when pushing the throttle in curves that you can oversee well enough to be seduced to go somewhat faster than allowed. In that case you can rely on the ABS brakes to reduce speed instantly. The steering feel is good and the car is obedient to your instructions.

The 2.4-liter engine is somewhat rougher than its larger brother, but quietly does its job. The remarks about the four-speed transmission also apply in this case. But if your daily commute is not in mountainous terrain, but in a much flatter area, the 2.4 can be a good friend. That starts in the showroom, when you see its sticker price of $18,995 (inclusive $675 destination charge) and in the gas station, you will not be left down, as Chrysler expects the 2.4 to average 24/32 miles per gallon for city/highway.

All in all, it is not unrealistic that Chrysler has high expectations of its new Sebring. The new model may be able to attract a diverse group of customers who will go for efficiency, style and a roomy sedan that is nicely executed.

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