Palm Springs, California - We admired the spacious cabin of Chrysler's last Sebring droptop, but we were disappointed with its cheap-feeling materials, anemic engine, and languid handling. Fortunately, the new 2001 Sebring retains what we liked while addressing most of what we didn't.
Like that of its predecessor, the new Sebring's capacious interior is its best feature. It easily accommodates four, with enough legroom and personal space to soothe even the most claustrophobic occupants. And the trunk, at 11.3 cubic feet, is the roomiest in its class.
Unlike that of the previous Sebring, however, the new interior is as attractive as it is roomy. The design looks more elegant, with fewer seams, cutlines, and mismatched trim pieces. It also feels more elegant: Gone are the dime-store plastics, replaced by softer, gentler materials.
Another drastic improvement is under the hood, as the 2.5-liter Mitsubishi V-6 has been dropped in favor of Chrysler's own 2.7-liter V-6. With an additional 32 horsepower and 22 pound-feet of torque, the 2.7 adds much-needed spring to the Sebring's step. It's also far more civilized and refined than the old Mitsubishi engine, particularly at higher rpm. Sadly, the new engine is still saddled with the same four-speed automatic as before.
If you set a leisurely pace, the Sebring rewards you with a comfortable, coddling ride. The compliant suspension mutes road impacts, the light steering encourages one-finger control, and the transmission manages slow, seamless gear changes. Increase the tempo, however, and the Sebring reveals its two left feet. Under even light cornering, the tires voice their discomfort, a precursor to the understeer that follows. The transmission is easily flustered, resulting in ungainly shifts. Continue to press the Sebring, and it eventually abandons all composure with a shudder from the cowl.
The new Sebring convertible is a good modern interpretation of the classic American convertible: a big, comfortable cruiser. But it will disappoint anyone hustling down a favorite back road or on-ramp. As a result, the Sebring is still a car we'd rather rent than own.