1996 CHRYSLER SEBRING JX
Used Car - 1996 Chrysler Sebring JX in Houston, Tx
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1996 Chrysler Sebring ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Lots of image, lots of room.
Buying a sporty coupe is almost always an exercise in left-brain/right-brain conflict. Sure, you want snazzy good looks and lots of mile-eating performance, but you'd also appreciate some comfort, fuel economy and civility as well. Including room in the back for adult-size passengers. Is that too much to ask from one car?
Chrysler thinks not, and offers up its Sebring--and the near-identical Dodge Avenger--sport coupes as proof. On the surface, they seem like the ideal have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too cars; all gain, no pain. Sebring and Avenger suggest that you can enjoy driving pleasure and distinctive styling without having to endure a harsh ride or contort rear-seat passengers into pretzels.
Seen from this perspective, Sebring and Avenger seem to have no direct competition. The Mazda MX-6 and Mitsubishi Eclipse (for example) are smaller, the Ford Thunderbird and Chevy Monte Carlo are bigger. Others are faster but not as comfort-oriented.
This is a serious effort on Chrysler's part, but it's no bet-the-farm major gamble. What you see on the outside is new, but Sebring and Avenger are based on familiar hardware, mostly from Mitsubishi, and are built in the Normal, Illinois facility that turns out Mitsubishi Galants and Eclipses, as well as Eagle Talons.
The Mitsubishi connection pays dividends in the area of quality. Simply stated, Sebring and Avenger are the best-built Chrysler products we've encountered in recent experience, displaying high levels of finish and material quality.
There are two models of Chrysler's cloned coupes--the Sebring LX and LXi, the base and ES Avenger. As you'd expect, the more expensive Sebring lineup includes more standard comfort and convenience features. The basic Avenger ($14,040) is a little less hedonistic, though far from bare bones.
Our test car was a Sebring LXi.
Few current Chrysler products are lacking in visual drama. There's certainly plenty to look at in this case, from the cab-forward basic form--a company trademark these days--to the aggressive nose treatment.
Sebring differs from its Avenger stablemate in many details, but basic elements are the same for both. The large sloping grill, with a larger air intake flanked by fog lights below, is distinctive, and may be to more viewers' liking than the intake slats on the Avenger.
In profile, the duo look very much alike, though the Sebring has full lower side cladding (in body color except on white cars, where the plastic panels are in light gray) covering the convex shapes found on the Avenger's all-steel flanks.
The proportions are unusual for the class, eschewing the traditional long hood-short rear deck form for a compact minimal-overhang nose and long tail. Another element that may take some getting used to is the sudden upsweep of the body that begins in the middle of the doors and is carried all the way to the tail.
Rear views differ in detail; both are dominated by large taillights. The rump-rearward design does have a practical side as it creates an unusually large cargo area for a two-door coupe.
Individual reactions may vary, but there's no denying that Sebring and Avenger are attention-getters. In our experience, most onlookers' reactions have been positive, and that's one of the reasons folks buy sport coupes.
If you've seen the interior of a Mitsubishi Eclipse or Eagle Talon, you've seen much of the Sebring's cabin hardware. The dashboard is carried over virtually intact, complete with eye-catching shape and legible instrumentation. Not to mention dual airbags.
Base model gauges include speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and coolant temperature; V6 versions get an oil pressure gauge as well.
The key element missing in most small sport coupes is roominess, and the Sebring has that in abundance. The cabin can hold four adults easily for short and medium-length trips, or two adults plus two kids for any distance. None of the smaller sport coupes can make this claim.
The seats are comfortable and adjust to fit almost all occupants. The front passenger's seat has a one-touch slide-forward feature that substantially improves access to the rear. On paper, the rear seat holds three people, but two is a more realistic proposition.
Sebring is quiet inside, too. A combination of good aerodynamic design and plenty of sound insulation keeps outside noises at bay, allowing occupants to enjoy the standard AM/FM/cassette stereo sound system (with four speakers in LX, eight in LXi) without interference.
Air conditioning is also standard on all models, whether entry-level (Sebring LX or Avenger) or fancy (LXi or ES). Many of the upgrade model's standard features, including power windows/mirrors/door locks, cruise control, cast-aluminum wheels, remote keyless entry and a HomeLink 3-channel transmitter that can be programmed to operate garage-door openers and two additional remote-control home features, can be ordered for base versions. Leather interior trim is optional on LXi and EX models only.
Options common to all Sebrings and Avengers are a power tilt/slide sunroof, power driver's seat, and a smoker's kit that adds a lighter and ashtray to the center console.
For the majority of drivers, those who spend a great deal of travel time on city streets and interstate highways, the Sebring will do the job very well. It rides smoothly, is quiet, and has enough power for passing or hill-climbing. If, that is, the Sebring--or Avenger--in question has the Mitsubishi-built V6 engine. The smaller Neon-derived inline-4 is less powerful and substantially louder. Although the Neon 4-cyl. is one of the most spirited engines in the world of compact cars, in Sebring-Avenger applications it's pulling a car that's substantially heavier.
If the 4-cyl. powerplant holds any appeal, it is in the availability of a 5-speed manual transmission; the V6 comes with 4-speed automatic only.
The Sebring's chassis is largely carried over from the Mitsubishi Galant sedan. It's stiff, and has all the right pieces, including double-wishbone suspension front and rear and ABS (V6 models have disc brakes all around, base versions use drums in back), but suspension tuning has compromised handling in favor of a sedan-like ride. While that's just fine for daily use, we'd have preferred a slightly stiffer setup that would deliver more driving pleasure as well.
To its driver, the Sebring feels far heavier than the curb weight indicates. It is reluctant to get into the spirit of back-road driving, leans more than we'd like, and in general lacks the kind of precise behavior expected in a sporting car. The Honda Prelude and Ford Probe, to name just two, are much stronger performers in this regard. So are the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Eagle Talon.
One major drawback is the power steering which, like similar units that vary boost based on engine speed, sometimes picks inopportune moments to reduce effort.
As practical, comfortable and stylish coupes, the Sebring and Avenger have few peers. They are well-equipped, competitively priced and easy to live with. For many buyers they might be a fine substitute for a compact sedan.
The emotions that drive sport coupe purchases are harder to quantify, but the Sebring seems to fall short here, at least in our view. It's more a passenger's car than a driving machine, regardless of which engine's under the hood. A manual transmission for the V6 engine would modify this impression substantially, but that's an investment Chrysler is unwilling, at this point, to make.
Options As Tested
V6 engine, automatic transmission, premium AM/FM/cassette sound system, heated power mirrors, power windows, remote keyless entry, cruise control, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, alloy wheels.
LXi.Fresh air never looked better than this.
Chrysler single-handedly brought the convertible back to the automotive scene in the mid-'80s, when Lido Iacocca realized he had a really good thing in the K-car, and could use its basic bones to make just about anything, short of a school bus. He had noticed a tiny little blip on the automotive continuum caused by a couple of shops in California that were turning out more and more convertible conversions on such vehicles as the Celica. Ever the shrewd marketer, Iacocca sensed a niche emerging and jumped in. Since then, Chrysler has been the leading seller of convertibles in a slowly expanding market.
The LeBaron convertible, the last survivor from Chrysler's K-car era, led the segment for a decade, an astonishing record.
We think the new Sebring convertible could very well match that record, and perhaps even beat it.
Chrysler design has turned out an unbroken string of stunners in recent years, and this new ragtop may be the best-looking of them all. The Sebring convertible is the most obvious example of the benefits of cab-forward yet. That new design school puts the wheels out at each corner, with the base of the windshield extended almost over the front wheels.
The hood has a dramatic slope, ending in a slanted grille flanked by thin, flush headlights and turn signal/side marker lights that wrap around into the fenders. Large driving lights flank a chin spoiler and air scoop. With the rear wheels positioned so far aft, the rear deck is a bit, uh, truncated, and there's not a lot of space under the lid. But the design is so compelling it's hard to care about practical things like trunk volume.
Long nose, short rear deck and a wide stance give the Sebring a masculine, almost aggressive look, softened by elegant sculpting and smooth, flowing lines.
The Sebring Convertible is available in two models, JX and JXi. The difference between the two lies in equipment and an optional V6 for the JXi, which was our choice for this test.
The standard engine for the JX is a 2.4-liter double overhead cam 4-cyl. that produces 150 hp. The JXi comes with a Mitsubishi-supplied 2.5-liter single overhead cam V6 of the same displacement, rated at 168 hp. Both engines are also used in the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus Sedans. Unlike Cirrrus and Stratus, the only transmission offered with either engine is a 4-speed automatic.
Chrysler wanted a replacement for the LeBaron, but didn't want to go to the expense of creating an all-new chassis for it. Surprisingly, the Sebring Coupe platform, derived from the Mitsubishi Galant sedan, wasn't selected. Its technology, Chrysler explains, wasn't easily transported to the convertible's assembly plant in Mexico.
So the Cirrus/Stratus sedan platform was chosen as the basis for the convertible. However, Chrysler made enough modifications to this chassis for convertibilization--including extensive measures aimed at restoring the chassis rigidity that goes away with the loss of the steel roof structure--to give the new car a separate platform designation of its own: JX.
The independent suspension system is double wishbone, front and rear. In front, there are shock absorbers, coil springs and a stabilizer bar. It uses rubber isolators for mounting points to help keep road shocks from reaching the passenger compartment.
At the rear, upper A-arms and transverse links attach to a cross member for precise alignment. Like the front underpinnings, the rear assembly also uses soft rubber bushings to smooth the reduce noise and vibration that can find its way through suspension components.
The interior reinforces the theme established by the exterior: flowing lines, handsome design and a feeling of solidity. Chrysler's exterior and interior design teams work literally side by side and there is a constant interchange between the two. It's a practice that eliminates the old 'Here's the instrument panel, make it fit in your body,' school of design.
The instrument cluster is simple with dials and gauges gathered under a prominent cowl that flows smoothly off the right side into a vertical section housing the air conditioning vents and the usual in-dash controls. In the JXi, the controls are surrounded by very good simulated woodgrain.
The darker top half of the instrument panel contrasts with a lighter colored knee bolster which matches the color of the door panels and the seats. Leather seating surfaces are standard in the JXi, and we give them high marks for both looks and quality. Overall, the JXi has the look and feel of luxury, which is, of course, what the design team had in mind.
Although the seats don't provide much lateral support, the padding is firm and they offer plenty of squirm-around space--just right for boulevard cruising. Chrysler figured that seats designed to keep driver and passenger centered in hard cornering wouldn't be appropriate here. After all, this is not a sports car.
An interesting feature of the front seats is their integrated belts. The upper anchor is hidden inside the outside upper portion of the seatback, and automatically adjusts for the height of the user. It's a clever and thoughtful touch that eliminates the awkward reach that's normal for belts in most convertibles.
A main advantage of the cab-forward philosophy is increased interior room within a given body length. The JXi has good front leg room, and enough leg room in the rear to make seating for four a reasonable proposition. Although the Sebring Convertible has no structural commonality with the Sebring Coupe, the two share the commendable trait of a useable rear seat, something that's rare for cars in this size class.
The convertible top is power-operated and has a glass rear window in both versions. The JX top is fabricated from vinyl, while the JXi has a higher-grade cloth top in either black or camel. The lighter-colored top looks very spiffy indeed, particularly with a saddle-tan leather interior.
Standard JXi features include air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, power driver's seat, keyless entry, power mirrors and speed-sensitive wipers.
The level of refinement that Chrysler has built into the Sebring Convertible is remarkable. As we suggested earlier, the convertible engineering team went to great lengths to match the chassis rigidity that distinguishes other Chrysler cars, and the result of all the hard work is very impressive.
The new convertible is generally just as solid on the road as Chrysler's other entries in this size class. And with the top up, it's nearly as quiet as a sedan.
With the top down, there is surprisingly little wind buffeting, although your hairdo will undergo some rearrangement as speeds increase. Then again, what's a convertible with some buffet? Wind-in-the-hair, sun-in-the-face, right? That's part of the fun.
The 4-cyl. engine should be perfectly adequate for most tastes, but the additional power and smoothness of the V6 adds another layer of pleasure to driving. Although the Mitsubishi V6 isn't the strongest in its displacement class, it produces decent acceleration and effortless highway cruising.
It also produces a fair amount of noise as the tachometer nears redline, and full-throttle shifts are a bit abrupt, but these traits are hardly noticeable at routine speeds.
The wide stance and rather sophisticated suspension system pay off in a couple of ways. The quality that drivers will notice--and appreciate--most, is a ride that's comfortable and generally free of harshness and vibration. Second, drivers with a little sporting spirit in their blood will discover that this car also handles quite well and feels sure-footed in the twisty bits. The steering is not over-assisted and transfers road feel in the right amount, and the suspension, though supple, keeps body roll to a minimum in all but the hardest cornering.
Although the JXi's emphasis is clearly on luxury, there's a lot of fun to be had here, too.
The Sebring JX convertibles don't really have much competition. The Chevy Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire combine good looks and relatively low price, but they're not in the same size class, and rear seat space is restricted. The Chevy Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and Ford Mustang thrive on muscle car image, and are also cramped behind the rear seats.
The JX and JXi aren't road-burners. But they do offer exceptional roominess for ragtops, and when it comes to elegant good looks they stand alone.
Options As Tested
ABS, automatic climate control, leather seats, AM/FM/CD/casette Infinity sound system, power driver's seat, power cloth top.