Well, the death of the Sebring name anyway. The Detroit Free Press reveals some of the first details about Chrysler’s all-important refresh of the Sebring/Avenger, a vehicle that CEO Sergio Marchionne recently admitted (in what was surely a Lutzie-award-worthy understatement) is “not the most loved car by car enthusiasts.” The biggest detail: it won’t be named Sebring. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering that the Sebring’s issues are less related to a tepid reaction from the enthusiast market, and have more to do with the fact that even the least car-literate Americans recognize the Sebring name as a symbol for all that is wrong with America’s auto industry.
We’ve rolled up our sleeves and have torn apart that architecture. You’ll see a completely different animal. We’re having a discussion about what name this animal should have. The jury is still out.
And though the Freep notes that “tearing apart the architecture” (a technical term) can yield results in terms of ride and handling, it frets that Chrysler may be somewhat limited in the changes it can make to the Sebring and Avenger. Certainly styling (another problem area for the Sebring) can only be tweaked so much in a year (Chrysler’s latest product plan reportedly dates back to early last summer), and the only possible powertrain “intervention” hinted at by Marchionne is the introduction of Fiat’s “MultiAir” valve timing technology to the 2.4 liter GEM engine. That might improve efficiency by as much as ten percent, but the possibility of integrating it by the end of the year is far from certain.
Ride and handling are by far the Sebring’s worst dynamic elements, and there’s little doubt that a year of fettling by Fiat’s engineers will improve the car in this respect. The Caliber’s new interior lights the way out of Fisher-Price territory for the Avengbring’s passenger space, but will only carry it as far as the land of unremarkable adequacy. Meanwhile, there are brakes, seats, and build quality in need of attention.
But frankly, the most important aspect of the Sebring refresh, especially in light of the planned name change, will be changes to the car’s styling. Removing the hideous hood strakes has already been tried, and hasn’t made much of a difference. The Sebring is such a fundamentally ugly car that it will take more than minor revisions to remove all memory of the hot, fussy mess that Chrysler fields in a segment that requires nothing more than anonymous styling. The biggest mistake that Chrysler could make with its “intervention” would be to change the Sebring’s name while retaining clearly identifiable visual cues from the old car. The Sebring is infamous enough (and not just with enthusiasts) that visual reminders of the old, bad car will eliminate any advantages of the overhaul’s improvements, as consumers have seen past the cynical name-change-game before. How Chrysler will achieve this on its one year timeline remains one of the biggest open questions in the car business today.