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The Sebring is one of very few convertibles built today that can carry five passengers.

2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible Road Test
Topless wonder

By Bill Roebuck

In the past, I've not favoured convertibles -- although my first-ever car was one -- because, , although they were fun to drive, they tended to be noisy, cramped and uncomfortable. Thanks to the newly designed 2001 Chrysler Sebring Convertible, my opinion has changed completely.

Not only is this four-passenger model one of the nicest looking vehicles I've ever tested, it is highly competent on many fronts. Inside, the soft, cream-coloured leather of the upscale Limited version nicely complemented the dark blue paint (Deep Sapphire Blue Pearl Coat). With the dark blue canvas top down, the car got stares from old and young alike in my neighbourhood. This colour combination is only available on the Limited model. Three Sebring models are available: The base LX, the LXi and the Limited.

Inside, the car is much roomier than the previous design. Seating positions front and back are comfortable, with adequate leg, shoulder and head room. The driver's seat is power controlled, but only manual adjustments are available for the passenger chair. Even my 6 ft 2-in. son fitted comfortably in the back with the roof up. Four adults would be very comfortable in this convertible.

Exterior design changes from the previous Sebring convertible include an impressive egg-crate grille and a more wedge-shaped profile with a lower hood and higher deck lid. The 11.3-cu ft trunk is one of the largest you'll find in a convertible today, although you need some of the space to store the headliner when the roof is up. The headliner is very easy to install, by the way, aided by two snaps and some Velcro, and enhances the clean lines of the car's appearance with the top down.

The ride also is impressive: It is surprisingly smooth, even over Highway 401's many potholes, and it is quiet, with very little road or wind noise. The insulated top keeps outside sounds and wind noise at bay, and there was hardly any buffeting of the air with the top down. The top raises and lowers at the touch of a button.

The Sebring's 200-hp, 2.7-litre V6 engine produces powerful and peppy acceleration, with decent city/highway fuel economy ratings of 11.8/7.6 L/100 km (24/37 mpg). You could easily use more fuel, though, if you apply the Limited's Autostick transmission to shift the four-speed automatic manually for more aggressive performance.

My teenage daughter aptly summarized the appearance of the Sebring. "It looks like a fun car, but it's sophisticated enough for older people to drive without looking out-of-place." In other words, parents can have a sporty, mid-life crisis car without looking the part. It appeals to old and young alike, I think.

A stiff body structure adds to the fun-to-drive factor, and control and balance is enhanced with improved suspension components. The turning circle is a tight 36.2 ft, making for easy manoeuvring. The ride is surprisingly agile for a car of this size. Handling is aided by 16-in. wheels, standard on the Limited and LXi, optional on the LX.

Safety features include pre-tensioning seat belts which are integrated into the front seatbacks, making access to the rear easier. Front air bags are the new multi-stage design. One drawback to the convertible is the thick A pillars, which restrict the view of oncoming traffic at intersections. The view to rear is similarly limited with the roof up as there are no rear quarter windows. The back window is glass, though, and has a defroster.

Standard equipment on the LX includes air conditioning, power driver's seat, power windows, power top with a button that lowers all four windows at once, heated mirrors, cruise control, remote keyless entry and more. The LXi adds fog lamps, leather seats, a 150-watt CD-radio, and more. The Limited adds yet more, including ABS brakes, Autostick transmission, and a great-sounding cassette stereo with a four-disc CD changer. The CD-equipped stereos feature a top-down audio equalization system that keeps the music pumped up even when travelling topless. This is one convertible that seems to have almost everything right.

The price of the Limited, as tested, is $37,900. The base LX is $33,595.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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