Sebrings and summer are like ice cream and children: There's hardly a better way to enjoy warm weather. The Sebring in question is Chrysler's four-passenger ragtop which now accounts for about one of three convertibles sold. It replaced the LeBaron in 1996, and since then it has proven to be extremely popular with open-air drivers. While mechanically similar to the Sebring coupe, and built on the same front-wheel-drive, 106-inch wheelbase platform as the Dodge Stratus/Chrysler Cirrus, the convertible has its own unique body. There are three models, the JX, JXi and fully equipped Limited. The JX has a 150-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine, while the others use a 168-horsepower, 2.5-liter V6. For 1999, DaimlerChrysler says model choices and options have been simplified to provide better value. Changes include the addition of low-power airbags, the winged Chrysler badge and new colors. Our JXi test car had the V6, anti-lock brakes and the very attractive 16-inch alloy wheels. These larger wheels and bigger tires not only look better but improve steering response and agility both. The Sebring is not a sports car, but it does have a certain flair that makes it fun. The V6 engine and automatic transmission are clearly the best choice. Chrysler's AutoStick, which can be shifted manually, is an option. Traction control is standard on the Limited but not available on the other two models. Probably the best thing about the Sebring, aside from the ease with which the top can be raised or lowered, is its ability to haul four people in reasonable comfort, a task that many convertibles cannot accomplish. While the back seat is a tad narrow, legroom is certainly adequate. The moderate-sized trunk will hold enough luggage for two people on a weeklong trip. Putting down the power top takes almost no effort and very little time, which means you will use it frequently. The cab-forward architecture means the cockpit never feels crowded, and the steeply slanted windshield provides good protection from windblast with the top down. With the side windows up and the top down it is possible to have a normal conversation at 60 mph. The top is lined to absorb sound but it is still noisier than a sedan, which is to be expected. A glass rear window and built-in defogger are standard. The body structure has been reinforced to compensate for the lack of a top, but I could feel some minor shakes and wiggles through the steering wheel on choppy pavement. The front seats are wide and accommodating, yet have sufficient lateral and lumbar support to make them comfortable. Seatbelts built into the seats are a nice touch since they always fit right now matter how the seat is adjusted. Getting into the back seat is less cumbersome, too. Instrumentation is simple and easy to read, and the radio and heating controls are tucked together in a center pod. Typical of Chrysler products, cupholders are generous and within eas y reach. Low-beam headlights were not very bright. Price The base price of our test car was $26,285. The only option was the built-in garage door opener and automatic rear view mirror. The sticker price was $26,995. Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles. Point: The Sebring's sharp looks and four-passenger seating make it one of the leading convertibles on the market. Counterpoint: There is a moderate amount of cowl shake over bumps and the space for the top impinges on trunk space. SPECIFICATIONS:
ENGINE: 2.5-liter, V6
CONFIGURATION: Front-wheel drive
WHEELBASE: 106 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 3,382 lbs.
BASE PRICE: $26,285
PRICE AS DRIVEN: $26,995
MPG RATING: 19 city, 27 hwy.
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