Last October, I wrote a series of articles comparing economical family sedans from the Land of the Rising Sun. Numerous readers challenged me to perform a similar comparison of similar cars from American manufacturers. Define “American.” [ED: just step back from the can of worms and walk away.] This time ’round, I’ve tested the Ford Fusion S, Chevrolet Malibu LS, and Chrysler Sebring LX, with automatic transmissions and common, entry level features. While I anguished to find positive or negative attributes that would distinguish one Japanese car from another, evaluating the relative virtue of the American’s was a slam dunk piece of cake. In distant third place: the Chrysler Sebring LX.
Introduced in 2007, the styling of the current iteration of the Chrysler Sebring is an Art Deco mess. The appeal of the bold ribbed hood is so specific that it would require a car of far greater stature to pull it off. Since the Sebring is of such lowly accomplishment, the over-styling only serves to accentuate how pathetic this car truly is. To be blunt and concise, it’s ugly. Moving on . . .
When I landed my butt on the seat, the flabby, unsupportive sponge of a seat collapsed to the floor pan under my 200 lb. Although the foot wells offered copious legroom when I moved the seat back, I felt crowded between the transmission tunnel and door.
I’m sure that the interior of the Sebring seemed spectacular on paper. The designers incorporated pleasing airfoil-inspired shapes that have terrific flow. The layout is elegantly restrained and utilizes metallic paneling, wooden trim and a beautiful crystalline clock. Just don’t expect to find any real aluminum, chrome, wood or crystal.
In fact, the look is entirely spoiled by grotesquely cheap components, ill-fitting plastics and poor construction. On the negative side, the left side of the glove box sagged, leaving a 3/16″ gap. On the positive side, the right side fit snugly. Gaps at the base of the A-pillars were similarly wide and uneven. Everywhere, the panels looked like unmatched jigsaw puzzle pieces forced together by a kindergartner. Flip the Sebring’s sun visor up and the entire headliner bounces like it is one sharp pothole jolt away from crashing down around your ears.
A Chrysler salesman saw fit to accompany me on my test drive. Since the Sebring is such a delicate thing, we began our route in the traditional positions. As I bounced uncomfortably along in the passenger seat, the man-whose-life-elevates-mine explained that the Sebring is very comparable to the Acura TSX. (Yes, very.) In fact, the Sebring exceeds the TSX in some respects.
I was so stunned by the brazenness of the lie that I was utterly speechless. I sat in doe-eyed silence as he continued to find machines worthy of comparison to the Chrysler Sebring. How about the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry? How ’bout them Cowboys?
The ill-informed Chrysler salesman was just telling me that the Continuously Variable Transmission in the Sebring made it so that I would never feel the gear shift—right as the rough running four-speed automatic clunked its way from first to second. Chrysler claims 173 hp and 166 lb·ft from the 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine, but real world performance is not nearly so generous. Even at just 3310 lb, this Porky Pig wants nothing to do with accelerating up a freeway onramp or passing on a two-lane highway.
One would think that as harshly as the LX takes bumps that perhaps it was sport tuned. Eh, noooo. The Sebring is the worst of all cars tested in this class—American and Japanese—for both ride quality and excessive body roll. The Sebring rewards neither driver nor passenger with its primitive and crashy driving dynamics.
Is there anything that Chrysler did better than Ford or Chevy? Yes, sort of. It does match Chevy for the best highway gas mileage. And it does brag the largest interior volume (at the expense of the smallest trunk).
So Chrysler builds ’em cheap. There’s a place in this world for inexpensive cars, right?
Would that it were so. The sticker price of this little Inferno Red Crystal Pearlcoat Sebring LX was $21,480, a scant $145 less than the Chevrolet Malibu LS and $845 more than the Ford Fusion. Throw in the suicide rebates and “employee pricing” Chrysler is slapping on the ribbed hood, and the Sebring price drops to $18,947, still about $2,000 above a comparably equipped Fusion (with its rebates).
At the end of our tour, the Chrysler salesman asked me what I thought. Without equivocation I told him. [Note to self: never play poker with a Chrysler salesman.] But if it makes him feel any better, I hope he finds solace in the fact that the Sebring does cost $10K less than an Acura TSX.