It's late summer, when taking off your top still seems to be the naturalthing to do. That's why convertibles are so much fun. And no one seems to know that aswell as Chrysler. After all, it was Chrysler that brought ragtops back to aconvertible-starved nation in 1983. Through a couple of generations,Chrysler's LeBaron Convertible and now the Sebring Convertible have become thebest-selling of their kind. It's easy to see why. This car is not just a two-door convertible that can only be used when thesun is hot and steamy. Chrysler designed decent, people-sized rear-seat spaceand a relatively roomy trunk, so it's practical enough to use all year around. Unlike the Sebring coupe, which is based on a derivation of a MitsubishiEclipse platform, the Sebring convertible is based on the homegrown ChryslerCirrus. There are two ways to go topless in this Chrysler: base JA trim orupscale JXI. The styling is a stunning iteration of American metal, with a lean yetmuscular look capped up front by a classic cross-hair chrome grille. Itmanages to have a tasteful character while avoiding the garish look usuallyassociated with chrome. It's somewhat less distinctive out back, yet stillidentifiably a Chrysler. No matter which trim level you buy, opt for the optionalMitsubishi-supplied 2.5-liter, single-overhead-cam V6 instead of the standard2.4-liter, double-overhead-cam four. With 168 horses vs. 150, the six givesthe car a refined feel; the four doesn't have enough power to move this carwith any amount of pleasure. But despite its pleasant growl, the six seemsonly adequate, leaving one wishing for another 20 or 30 horses to back thestatement the styling makes. The handling is good, with quick steering and modest body lean. While notsporty, it's far from a typical Detroit mushmobile. The suspension has a busy,jittery feel, yet it's never really annoying. There's some chassis flex --while not as rigid as some cars, it's less flexible than some others. Wind, road and tire noise find their way in, but this is a convertible, sonoise isn't a prime concern. Chrysler makes up for it by mounting the seatbelts on the seat a la Mercedes and BMW. This not only keeps them out of theway while climbing into the back seat, but is also safer in a crash. The convertible top is fully lined and has a glass rear window withdefroster. Flip two levers and hold the switch and it stows quickly. The driving position is good, with deep, comfortable bucket seats. The dashis the same one used in the Cirrus and is easy to use and operate. The backseat isn't bad, but whether your passengers want to travel there for longperiods is another matter. The six-disc CD changer is at the base of the dashboard, where it's easy toswitch CDs. The test car also came equipped with Autostick, which enables the driver toshift manually without a clutch pedal, left to downshift, right to upshift. The only sour note was a ho rn that emitted no note whatsoever. Otherwise,the car performed as expected. The Chrysler Sebring Convertible is the consummate Modern American cruiser,light on its feet with a deft blend of sport and style that just oozes withcharacter. That's rare in a car with a base price around $20k. For the priceof a bland, blob sedan, you can have lots of fun going topless. Just leave your clothes on.
Chrysler Sebring JXI ConvertibleStandard: 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, four-speed automatictransmission, dual air bags, keyless entry, security alarm, front disc-reardrum brakes with anti-lock, power rack and pinion steering, rear windowdefroster, headlamp-off time delay, power cloth convertible top, 16-inch tireswith cast aluminum wheels, fog lamps, dual heated mirrors, speed sensitiveintermittent wipers, leather bucket seats with six-way power drivers seat, airconditioning, 150-watt Infinity AM/FM-cassette-CD six-speaker stereo, tripcomputer with compass an d temperature, power windows with one-touch driver'sdown, power door locks, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, tilt steering wheel,cruise control, floor mats, leather-wrapped steering wheel.Options: Candy apple red paint, Autostick, Luxury Convenience Group(garage-door opener with Homelink Universal transmitter, auto-dimmingrear-view mirror), 2.5-liter double overhead-cam V6, dash-mounted six-CDchanger.Base price: $24,675As tested: $27,080EPA rating: 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highwayTest mileage: 19 mpg
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