What is it?
It’s Chrysler’s upmarket effort in the D-segment, which means it picks up where the cheaper Dodge Avenger left off (they exchange the baton at £17,995) and takes on Mondeo, Vectra, Accord and Avensis. Actually, Chrysler is really targeting the Honda and Toyota, believing that their more elderly customer base will be attracted by the Sebring’s different looks and hefty kit list.
Just one spec is available – Limited – which perversely is packed with kit. There are only three option boxes to tick: metallic paint, sat-nav (which also includes a 20Gb entertainment system) and sat-nav with sunroof. So as standard you get an MP3 CD player, air-con, heated seats, cruise control, traction control and tyre pressure monitors.
There are only three variants in the range, then: the 2.0-litre 154bhp petrol (five-speed gearbox only), a 2.4-litre 167bhp petrol (four-speed auto ’box only) and a 138bhp turbodiesel, which comes with a six-speed manual. Chrysler expects the £18,995 oil-burner to account for around 70 per cent of Sebring sales.
What’s it like?
First impressions aren’t bad. It’s more distinctive than a Mondeo, even if it can appear a little ungainly and while it comes with 18in wheels as standard, they still look small within high-profile rubber that borders on the chunky.
Inside, there’s just about enough room for four adults and there are some neat touches, like a cup holder that can cool cans and keep coffee warm (a very American feature, that). But while the dashboard is neat, it is swathed in a cacophony of plastics that range from above average quality and soft to the touch to downright nasty nail-file territory.
On the road, the Sebring wants to be more dynamic than it ever could be; the VW engine is particularly noisy but it’s gutsy with it, and a slick gearbox with a positive action helps to encourage spirited driving.
There, I’m afraid, the chassis intervenes. It’s an odd blend, really, for it feels stiffly sprung and yet poor body control means that it still wallows in corners and gets a shimmy on when road surfaces deteriorate. The steering is oddly weighted too, and too vague around centre.
The result is a car whose drivetrain is happy enough to press on, but whose handling characteristics aren’t up to coping when you do.
Should I buy one?
Chrysler won’t say how many Sebrings it hopes to sell but it admits its targets are ‘modest’, which is to say a few thousand examples, not tens of thousands.
It’s right to be cautious, for while the Sebring is different from the class norm, it achieves this for too many of the wrong reasons. It doesn’t do a good enough job as a driver’s car to live up to its sporty styling touches, so keen motorists will simply walk on by and go straight to a Ford dealership for a Mondeo (if they’ve any sense).
And the grey pound? I can’t see OAPs being swayed by bonnet strakes, even less by a hard disk-based entertainment system that would make programming the video recorder seem as simple as turning on a light switch. And when all’s said and done, £18,995 doesn’t seem that cheap when the interiors of Honda Accords or VW Passats are much more pleasant places to be.