Sometimes you shudder when you drive a convertible.

That's not shudder as in anticipatory chill-up-the-spine, but shudder in a literal sense when behind the wheel, when every nick, bump, or big bulge in the road sets the car to pulsating, especially around the dash, windshield, and A-pillars.

Mad Cowl Disease, I like to call it.

Avoiding cowl shake is a challenge to any maker of a convertible and, the bigger the car, the bigger the challenge. Without the crowning support of a steel roof, the cabin becomes an open bowl whose rim can tend to floppiness.

We are now in a renaissance of the convertible, from little sports cars to bigger cruisers, and virtually all display some vestige of cowl shake. (OK, maybe not the Porsche 911 Cabriolet.)

Chrysler got way ahead of the drop-top curve when, in 1982, even as it was introducing the minivan, it brought back the convertible. Its efforts were not notable until 1996, when it introduced the Sebring, a spacious four-seater.

It was a rough rider, but elegant nonetheless. Its powerplants - a wheezing four-cylinder and a six-cylinder cast iron job from Mitsubishi - were unremarkable in any positive sense.

The good news is that they all offer an all-aluminum, 2.7-liter, V-6 engine that develops 200 horsepower. That's not enough power to make it a muscle car, but it's plenty to make this a wonderful top-down cruiser. And it employs that power with only the faintest hint of front-wheel-drive torque steer.

I've always been a fan of Chrysler's cab forward design, its egg crate grille, and big headlights. Add the rear deck spoiler and 16-inch Blade Runner aluminum wheels that come with the GTC, and you get a fine look of sporty elegance.

It is not muscular in the sense of its stablemate, the rumbling 300 M, but top down at 70 miles per hour, it will turn heads.

On the road, it exhibits a puzzling combination of stiffness and softness.

It sits firm and flat in fast highway lane changes, yet rolls a bit softly in hard cornering on twisting back roads. It is also prone to dive when the brakes are applied in a firm stop.

As to cowl shake, yes, there is some. It senses highway expansion joints, rolling bumps, sudden potholes. You feel them, and the windshield and dash do vibrate before your eyes.

Yet, in a car this spacious, this open, I'd have expected more rattling. If you want big-sky treatment from your car, you've got to live with some ground-up feedback.

The steering could be a little tighter, a bit quicker in response. I found that the first inch or so of wheel travel in either direction was neutral, rather than aggressively sensitive.

The Sebring comes with either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission (as tested) and ABS is standard with the five-speed. I found the manual to be tight, if a bit long in the throw.

The suspension is fully independent with double wishbone, high arm unit, and stabilizer bar up front and, in the rear, a low arm setup with multlink system.

Before we go inside, let's stand outside and appreciate the convertible top. It is tight, clean, and sculpted.

To raise or lower it from inside, you need only manually release latches located at each A-pillar and then depress a button on the console between the front bucket seats.

The exterior elegance of the Sebring is carried inside, where fine leather, textured dash bisected by a woven graphite-look band, and a plush finish to the convertible top give the feel of a far more expensive automobile.

Ergonomically, all is simple. Gauges behind the wheel are spartan black on white, three large dials operate the climate control, and the sound system buttons and dials (except tone, bass, treble) are of good size.

The view out the windshield is expansive, an expected trait given the drop-away nose at the front of the cab-forward design. Views out the back are not good, given a two-foot expanse of upholstered C-Pillar and a small glass rear window.

The seating is firm up front, with buckets well-bolstered at thighs and up the torso, while the deep rear buckets felt a bit soft. Chrysler makes no pretense that a third passenger should even attempt to ride on the hump that divides the rear seats. Head space is fabulous.

As is common in convertibles, the trunk space is limited by the need for an intruding well to accommodate the folding top.

Is this a car meant to run with performance sedans? No.

Is it a convertible to run with hot little roadsters? No.

Is it a spacious, open air cruiser that does a good job of balancing luxury, a spacious interior, a vast view of the sky, all while fending off the worst symptoms of Mad Cowl Disease? You bet.

2002 Chrysler Sebring GTC

Base price: $25,415

Price as tested: $27,280

Horsepower: 200

Torque: 192 lb.-ft.

Wheelbase: 106 inches

Overall length: 193.7 inches

Width: 69.4 inches

Height: 55 inches

Curb weight: 3,435 lbs.

Seating: 4 passengers

Fuel economy: 23.3 miles per gallon

Source: Daimler-Chrysler Corp.; fuel economy from Globe testing.

Nice touch: The cutouts at the rear of the lower front seat bolsters. While the bolsters support your forward thighs and keep you in the seat in cornering, the cutouts allow you to slide your butt out of the seat and then lift your legs. No pushing yourself up and over.

Annoyance: The placement of the CD changer. They've tucked it below the audio/climate controls, pushed it a few inches toward the front of the car, and placed it behind the two front seat cupholders. Tres inconvenient.

Today, Chrysler offers four models of a redesigned Sebring (LX, GTC as tested), LXI, and Limited.