Now, the U.S. arm of the German automaker DaimlerChrysler declares itself ready to tackle the midsize sedan market, a segment in which the company has had little success. Coming to market this fall is the completely redesigned Chrysler Sebring, which the company believes will be a formidable competitor against the segment's stalwarts, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, and such auto enthusiast favorites as the Volkswagen Passat and Nissan Altima.
Whether the new Sebring could ever make a serious dent in the sales of the Camry and Accord, though, remains to be seen. No automaker except Ford has been able to do that, and it's even been a while since the Ford Taurus was a serious competitor - after leading the segment in the mid-1990s.
Not even General Motors has been able to mount a serious challenge to the Camry and Accord, although it has decent entries in the midsize market with the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6. Chrysler, though, believes that a combination of innovative styling and technology will help propel the new Sebring to a high position, helped by the availability of the Hemi V-8 engine option. But whether that will remain as big a draw as it has been, with the recent hike in gasoline prices, remains to be seen.
The 2007 Sebring definitely seems to have the kind of styling it takes to be noticed in such a crowded field as the midsize segment, patterned as it is after the Chrysler Airflite concept unveiled at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show.
To me, though, the side profile of the new Sebring looks like that of the 2007 Caliber, which is already a hit after only a few weeks on the market. The curve of the roof from the hood to the tail is the same on the Caliber and Sebring, with the Sebring's only difference being a small trunk area extending beyond the bottom of the rear window. The look, then, gives the Sebring almost the appearance of a hatchback, although it is a sedan, with a separate trunk. Chrysler says the car's grooved hood, though, is borrowed from the Crossfire sports car.
Whatever its influences, the Sebring's styling seems to be right on target to appeal to midsize sedan buyers who want something besides the milquetoast appearance of the Camry and Accord, which are famous for their appliance-like qualities, not their good looks.
In this respect, the Sebring would seem to be more in competition with the other truly stylish midsize entries such as the Altima, Passat and Mazda6. Exterior design has yet to claim the midsize sedan sales crown, though.
Chrysler believes that styling is but one of the new Sebring's strengths, however. The car's "formula combines stunning design with interior craftsmanship, high-levels of safety and reliability, exhilarating performance and excellent fuel efficiency, all at a surprisingly affordable price," the company said in an announcement of the new model. "Sebring also features many class-leading technologies not available in the midsize segment," the automaker said.
"The all-new 2007 Chrysler Sebring sustains the momentum started by the blockbuster hit Chrysler 300 and continued with the Dodge Caliber," said George Murphy, Chrysler Group's senior vice president for global marketing. "Just as the 300 redefined the large-car segment and signaled the return of the great American car, Chrysler Sebring combines the levels of reliability and durability that midsize buyers demand with unexpected levels of style, craftsmanship, technology and affordable performance." Calling the styling "sleek and sophisticated," Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed said the car's overall look is "expressive, refined, athletic and passionate."
The car has the "distinctive face of the Chrysler brand, with the Chrysler signature grille, a uniquely sculptured hood, large, distinctive quad headlamps and available fog lamps," the company said.
"The expressive character of the vehicle continues at the rear where Sebring's wide tail-lamps are integrated into both the rear quarters and extend into the deck lid for visual impact," Chrysler said.
Styling isn't limited to the car's exterior, though. Care has been taken with interior design, as well, Creed said.
The interior has an expensive look, created by "soft surfaces, mechanical grains and selective gloss levels," he said.
Command seating gives front and rear passengers good views of the road ahead, and there are a variety of interior configurations that allow for carrying more cargo when necessary. There is a 60/40 fold-flat rear seat that has a pass-through from the trunk, and even the front passenger seat folds down to handle long cargo such as skis.
A two-tone interior is standard on all models, and the up-level Limited model comes with an exclusive two-tone cream and beige interior with leather seats.
The car's technological features should appeal to the 35-50 age group at which the car is aimed. They include an available Harmon/Kardon information, entertainment and navigation system. It includes a laptop-computer-style color screen, a 20-gigabyte computer hard drive that can store music and digital images, and a "Music Juke Box" that can sort and store MP3 files. The screen can play DVD movies while the car is parked. Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth hands-free communications also are available.
Here's a novel feature I've not seen in any other vehicles: The front cup holder can heat the contents of a cup to 140 degrees, or cool a drink to 35 degrees.
Three engine choices are offered. The base engine is the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder that powers the Caliber, rated at 172 horsepower. A 2.7-liter V-6 with 190 horsepower is the midlevel engine, and the top power plant is a 235-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. No, there will be no Hemi available in the Sebring.
A new AutoStick six-speed automatic transmission will come with the 3.5-liter engine; a four-speed automatic is connected to the other engines. No mention has been made of a manual gearbox, however.
The car will seat five adults in its roomy interior, and standard safety features will include seat-mounted side air bags for front occupants, and side-curtain air bags for both rows of seating.
Options will include remote start, express-down power front windows operated by the key fob, heated front seats, and a trunk organizer.
No EPA fuel-economy estimates have been released yet, but in the Caliber, the four-cylinder engine is rated at up to 32 miles per gallon.
The cars go on sale in the fourth quarter, but no prices have been announced yet.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.