TTAC recently placed Chrysler on suicide watch for the easily correctable fact that vast empty spaces and dealers’ lots are stuffed with Chrysler/Dodge cars, trucks, minivans and SUV’s that no one wants to buy. The new Sebring is a far deadlier proposition: a car headed straight for rental car Hell. For a few bills less than our semi-loaded (half cocked?) Sebring tester, you can buy a base Chrysler 300, which, according to Mr. Mehta, has “reinvigorated American car design.” The new Sebring is less invigorating than Vicodin. In fact, I reckon the model only exists because car rental customers are still willin’ to take what they get.
Viewed head on, the Sebring’s got a lot of Aspen and a bit of Crossfire and none of the underworld zazz that made the gangsta 300 such a hit. The Sebring’s nose isn’t particularly hideous, but the side view sure is. In profile, the Sebring is flat-out Frankensteinian. I can’t believe this abomination got out of Ralph Gilles’s lab alive. (Where’s a pitchfork when you need one?) From the doors back, the Sebring appears to be suffering from dwarfism. The strakes, while not plastic, are as ungainly as anything crapifying a Pontiac. And the Sebring’s top line was created via machete; it’s an ugly, deforming slash.
The Sebring is based upon the fetching Airflite concept car, a machine that betrayed its right-wheel driveness via a long hood and fenders. Just as DCX trashed the drop-dead gorgeous Crossfire concept car by mandating it be built on a truncated cast-off SLK chassis, the graceful proportions of the Airflite have been murdered by its Mitsubishi underpinnings. Here’s the knife in the back: the Mercedes C-Class is due for a refresh. If Dr. Z had based the Sebring on the old C, it would not have become a nightmarish eyesore. But he didn’t so it is.
A friend of mine goes numb with boredom whenever I discuss cars. She simply doesn’t care (and therefore drives a Saturn). After four seconds seated in the Sebring’s passenger seat she pronounced: “This feels like a rental car.” I’ll skip the obvious (don’t touch anything save the heated/cooled cupholder) and get to the glaringly obvious. The steering wheel features wings made out of the same plastic as your kid’s toy sword, angled so that reflected sunlight blinds any driver condemned to seat time in this clueless car. The ugly, even harder plastic sheet glued to the back of the seats makes sitting in the puny rear that much more miserable. This from an automaker owned by Mercedes? For shame.
The top-shelf $25k Sebring Limited is fitted with a SOHC 24V V6 producing 235hp and 232 ft.-lbs. of twist. That’s enough grunt to motivate the Sebring from zero to 60mph in… wait for it… 7.7 seconds. While not slow per se, the stat’s not competitive. A similarly priced 260hp Nissan Altima does the deed in 6.6 seconds. The 244hp Honda Accord takes 7 seconds flat. As for the Sebring’s engine note noise, well, if Angus and Malcolm Young and Bon Scott hadn’t written a song called “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” they would’ve jumped out of this car suitably inspired.
Aside from the Sebring’s grabby stoppers, middling acceleration is the car’s dynamic strong point. The handling puts the abyss in abysmal. There’s so much torque steer that it’s a constant battle just to keep the car pointed in a straight line. Even a minor stab at the go-pedal triggers the tiller’s disapproval. Turns are just plain awful. Moving left and right is a multi-step affair. First, turn the wheel. Second, wait for the vehicle to fully lurch over onto one of the front springs. Finally, sit in terror as the weight is unloaded and the car leans all the way back in the other direction, maybe (or maybe not) aiming where you pointed it.
Improbably enough, the ride is even worse. With the Sebring’s short wheelbase and lousy suspension, bumps aren’t just felt, but profoundly understood. A choppy stretch of pavement can induce sensory hallucination; I swear a tiny man with a jackhammer was attacking my kidneys. And the pizza box thick (and flat) seats lend no support whatsoever. I will testify under oath that the engineers responsible have never driven a car in their lives.
I don’t get it. DCX must be trying to kill Chrysler. They’ve faced-up to the fact that the monster profits once found in lardo SUVs have dried up and decided to move on. Sunny Von Bulow knows what happens next.
Do I sound insane? Paranoid? Delusional? I cannot think of another remotely credible reason why any carmaker, knowing full well that the Camry and Accord are out there, would bring such a tired dog to market. Seriously, how profitable can rental cars be?
[Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and a tank of gas.]