Until this year, Chrysler offered three midsize cars bearing the Sebring name, much as Toyota offers a Camry trio--sedan, coupe, and convertible. Based on a different platform than the sedan and convertible, the coupe has been retired, reflecting the shift in the market away from two-door vehicles, among other manufacturing factors. The remaining Sebrings make incremental improvements for this year, with the standout news being the addition of a performance-oriented TSi sedan.
For 2006, the sedan comes in base, Touring, TSi, and upscale Limited forms. There are no fewer than four convertibles: base, GTC, Touring, and Limited. Four-cylinder and V-6 engines are on the menu for both body configurations.
In a conservative class, the gracefully aging Sebring sedan still looks classy, despite tracing its origins to the 1990s. In contrast, the convertible looks plainer, lacking the distinctive curved roof, dramatic rear pillar, and bold wheel arches.
Various Sebring trims are distinguished externally mainly by their wheels. All Sebring sedans except the TSi have 16-inch aluminum wheels; the top-of-the-line Limited has chrome-finished versions, while the TSi gets 17s. Strangely, the base convertible has only 15-inch wheels and tires. GTC, Touring, and Limited models have 16s, with the Limited sporting chrome embellishment. The TSi is the most visually interesting model, with a complete ground-effects package, decklid spoiler, three-inch exhaust tip, and special badging.
The Sebring interior looks attractive, but lacks the high-quality fits and materials of the best Japanese and Korean (yes, you read that right) cars. Both body types are reasonably roomy, with the convertible being one of just a handful of affordable four-place ragtops on the market and perhaps the most spacious of the bunch.
Base Sebring sedans and convertibles are reasonably well equipped, with air conditioning, power windows, and cruise control as standard. Things become confusing when progressing through the trim levels. The Touring version of the sedan has a satin silver instrument panel and electronic cruise control, but you need to move to the Limited or TSi models to get a full share of luxury features such as leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and an eight-way power driver's seat.
The GTC convertible has a sportier interior than the base car, with bucket seats and a sport steering wheel. Touring has leather seats, a power driver's seat, leather shift knob, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The Limited is mildly uprated, with fancier leather and an Infinity speaker system for the stereo. As with the sedan, real California wood inserts, heated seats, and navigation can turn the car into a relatively luxurious piece.
The Sebring scored well in government crash tests, with the sedan earning a five-star rating in the NHTSA frontal test. All Sebrings have driver and front-passenger airbags, but you'll have to pay for additional safety features, such as side curtain airbags (optional on all sedans) and anti-lock brakes and traction control (optional on all Sebring sedans except the TSi, where they're standard equipment).
The base convertible has disc/drum brake configuration, whereas the GTC, Touring, and Limited tout more desirable discs all around. ABS and traction control are standard on the Limited, and ABS is optional on the other three convertible trims. Side airbags are unavailable in the convertibles.
Essentially, Sebrings have either an inline-four or a V-6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The base sedans are fitted with a 2.4-liter/150-hp DOHC four-cylinder engine that makes solid power, but doesn't seem too happy about its work. Touring, Limited, and TSi models get a small-displacement 2.7-liter V-6 engine that makes 200 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. The TSi gets the four-speed driver-interactive AutoStick transmission. The problem is that Toyota, Honda, and Nissan all have V-6 engines that are more powerful, more willing, and smoother.
The convertible has a similar powertrain hierarchy: the base model has the four, while the other three have the V-6 as standard. The Limited, however, is available with the AutoStick transmission.
The Sebring sedan is a pleasant car to drive, but it's underpowered relative to its Japanese competition, whether you choose the four- or six-cylinder engine. The powerplants also want for smoothness, sounding quite coarse at the top of their rev ranges. And while the four-speed transmissions are smooth shifting, they aren't quite up to par with a Honda automatic.
The sedans ride nicely, though, with a bit more body movement than the current norm, as they ultimately lack the subtle refinement of the Japanese sales leaders. The one exception is the TSi. With its sport suspension, standard anti-lock brakes, and AutoStick transmission, the TSi is the eye-opener of the range, instilling more immediate dynamic response from the Sebring than expected, leaving us wanting more engine. It's quite entertaining to drive, though the rear wing may be a bit much for some buyers over 18 years old.
The convertible, however, does a much better job of fulfilling its mission, aided by limited competition at its price point. It isn't a rocket ship, nor is it a back-road champ--despite a so-called sport suspension on the GTC--but it is a very pleasing open tourer for full-size adults.
Having been produced for years, the Sebring should serve well, as any production issues should have been worked by now. Nevertheless, resale value has taken a hit due to the domestic automakers offering incentives over the past three years. The standard warranty is hardly class leading, at three years/36,000 miles, but similar to most of Chrysler's rivals. Check the IntelliChoice Five-Year Cost of Ownership closely, as many Sebring models and trim levels fall in the "Worse than Average" or "Poor" ratings range.
Sebring is a decent, midsize car line that has held on for years without a significant redesign, amid newer, exceptional competitors. The new TSi is notable for bringing sport to the range, but the standout is the four-place convertible. This drop-top has been a leading seller, with precious few true competitors.
Safety ratings Sporty TSi sedan Roomy, comfortable convertible
Safety features cost extra Neither exciting nor refined drive Trapped in time, showing age at all corners
For 2006, there are only minor trim and color changes to the two body styles.
The standard four-cylinder engine is a bit feeble, so go with the V-6-engined versions. The Limited editions are nicely appointed vehicles, but look closely at the other trims to find the right match for your equipment needs and budget. If available on the trim level you choose, specify ABS and traction control, as these are essential safety features.