The Chrysler Sebring convertible has been unveiled so many times it must have curtain burn by now.More than a year in the sneek-peek and auto-show circuit stage, the drop top is now in showrooms for the spring buying season. We expect quantities will be snapped up since it's one of the more fashionable vehicles on the road, top or no top--a convertible that looks like a Chevrolet Camaro with one important distinction--you can fit folks comfortably in the front and the rear seat. Adult folks, not munchkins. Not since the midsize Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible, which was dropped after the 1995 model run, has an open-top domestic car accommodated more than two adults at any time. The Sebring comes in two versions, base JX and uplevel JXi. We tested the dolled-up JXi rendition. The convertible borrows the subcompact Sebring coupe nameplate but is built off the compact Chrysler Cirrus sedan platform. That's why you can get two people in the back seat without bending or spindling them as you would have had to do to get them in a drop-top version of the subcompact coupe. There's not only ample leg and arm room in back, but headroom as well. The primary consideration with a convertible is the top, and Chrysler did an excellent job with this slip-down cover with a form-fitting and sound-deadening liner. Pull the two release handles, push the power button and lower the top, which comes with glass backlite with defroster to ensure rear vision in spring rains or winter snows. The problem with some convertibles is that lowering the top is simple, but fixing the cover over it is more strenuous than a 30-minute aerobic workout. When Sebring's top is dropped, you need only pull the one-piece vinyl cover from the ample trunk (made so by removing the vinyl cover) and slip it under a couple of lip-holder extensions. No knuckles bruised trying to buckle snaps, and no torn vinyl from coaxing it into narrow grooved holders. Even the homecoming queen will be able to put the cover over the top before the parade--unless, of course, she's a blonde. When the top is up and the windows are open, the vinyl is secure enough to save passengers the aggravation of hearing it flap in the breeze. The Cirrus platform was designed to provide a Sebring convertible variant, which means body stiffness and rigidity in all the right places to prevent the typical squeaks from body flexing in a soft-top car. Contributing to the appeal are the standard dual air bags and anti-lock brakes (ABS optional in the base JX). The only drawback is the problem with just about any wrap-around convertible top: a bit of a blind spot in back that calls for added caution when pulling out from the parking stall or attempting to move into the passing lane. The JXi we tested had a few unique annoyances, one being limited vision from the sharp windshield rake and unusually large metal swivel bars for the sun visors. The convertible hardware and swivel bars hang low at the top of the windshield and could reduce the field of vision for taller drivers. The test car's brakes had way too much pedal play. The pedal had to be applied well in advance of any stop sign or red light. We hope only the test car making the rounds of media drivers has this quirk, but we would advise consumers to check pedal travel on the cars in the showroom. You may or may not like the front seat-belt assembly. With a soft top there's no pillar to fasten the belt to, so Chrysler contained the belt in the seat. The belt pulls from the top of the seat near the headrest. The position takes some getting used to when grabbing for it. One big benefit: There's no belt blocking access to the rear seat. Tip of the hat to Chrysler. Power, or we should say energy, is supplied by a 2.5-liter, 168-horsepower, 2 -valve, V-6 teamed with 4-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5 is tame, but that's the nature of most convertibles. Drop tops are meant for cruising lazily along the highway. Unfortunately, the 4-speed automatic on our test car seemed to shift as lazily as the V-6 cruised and spent too much time hunting gears--another item to check when you drive one at the store. Don't be afraid to push the gas pedal hard as if pulling out to pass or preparing to maneuver the steep hill to ensure the transmission shifts properly. The base JX comes with a 2.4-liter, 150-h.p., 4-cylinder as standard, the 2.5-liter, V-6 as optional. The 2.4-liter is not offered in the JXi, and for good reason. You probably wouldn't want any less power than the 2.5-liter provides. It would be nice if the 2.7-liter, V-6 coming soon from Chrysler's Kenosha plant would fit in Sebring. Standard equipment in both Sebring convertibles includes air conditioning, tilt steering, power windows/door locks and AM/FM stereo with cassette. Chrysler borrowed (the politically correct engineering term for "stole") from Ford an instrument-panel arrow to let you know what side the fuel-filler door is on. The arrow keeps you from pulling up to the wrong pump at the gas station--a feature that families with more than one car will appreciate. The JXi adds, as standard, power driver's seat, tinted glass, remote keyless entry, cruise control, speed-sensitive power steering, illuminated entry system, fog lamps, touring suspension with 16-inch tires and dual cupholders in the front of the center console. And now that Chrysler is recognized for its cupholders, it is offering a pen/tire-gauge holder in the inside lid of the console, a clever and thoughtful touch for two often-needed items typically buried in the glove box. >> 1996 Sebring JXi convertible
Wheelbase: 106 inches Length: 193 inches Engine: 2.5-liter, 168-h.p., 24-valve, V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic EPA mileage: 20 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway Base price: $24,675 Price as tested: $25,015. Includes $340 for sound-system upgrade with cassette, compact-disc player and eight speakers. Add $535 for freight. Pluses: A Camaro look-alike but with room inside for four adults. Easy up/down power top with glass window and exceptionally easy slip over cover. Quiet operation with top up. Roomy back seat. Dual air bags and anti-lock brakes standard. Minuses: Bars holding sun visors are much too big. Tall folks may lose some vision through low/slanted windshield. Far too much brake pedal play. >>
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