Design Study: Chrysler Sebring

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh

Sometimes the photos don’t do a car justice. This is one of those times: the 2007 Chrysler Sebring is even uglier in the metal than it is in the photos. Hunting for a parking space last week, I had the bad luck to come upon a parked black 2007 Sebring in full production trim. Chrysler’s PR flacks gush that the new sedan is a “strikingly beautiful design” that’s “poised to inspire.” They got the second part right. Chrysler fans are warned to look away as I share the fruits of my inspiration.

With the new Sebring, Chrysler’s designers have taken the art deco design cues that have made the Crossfire sports car such a rousing success (most depart dealer lots within a year of arriving) and transferred them onto the most cursed proportions in recent memory. A rotund proboscis attached to a huge front overhang leads into a sweeping arched roofline that terminates in an abbreviated rear deck. The Saturn ION employs similar proportions, as will the 2007 Nissan Sentra. But Chrysler’s rendition is the worst of a bad bunch.

Compare the Sebring to the 2003 Airflite concept that supposedly inspired it. You know those made-for-TV movies that were supposedly “inspired by a true story?” It’s the same deal: shared details, totally different result. On the Airflite, the car’s nose is more chiseled and much less bulbous, the front wheel opening doesn’t crowd the front door opening and the roofline has more sweep and less arch. The Airflite is strikingly beautiful. The Sebring is an Airflite that’s totally let itself go.

Returning to the nose; round contours and huge, droopy headlights suggest a theme originally intended for a minivan, but later stretched for sedan duty. As on the Crossfire, Chrysler’s stamped a half dozen grooves into the hood. Perhaps they’re there for the dozen or so people who have lusted after a Crossfire, but did not buy one because they needed a back seat for the kiddies.

The doors are the best part of the design— by default. As on the Pacifica, a deep undercut character line breaks up tall body sides. On the Crossfire, a character line that begins similarly performs a complicated transition from a concave to a convex surface. No awe-inspiring gymnastics here; just reasonably clean body sides whose sheerness conflicts with the blobby front fenders and amorphous rear lamps.

Sometimes when a car is designed, the designers and the engineers work at cross-purposes. Bad proportions are one clue. The window outline is another. When the engineers fail to deliver the window outline the designers desire, the designers often “cheat”; they’ll tack on a black bit of trim to make it appear that the windows extend further than they do. It’s a nasty little trick that never works well: the automotive equivalent of heavy eye makeup. Then again, I once told a [long gone] girlfriend she might look better without so much eye makeup. When she stopped putting it on I realized why she'd been using so much. It’s like that with the new Sebring.

On a black car, like the one I saw, the black trim triangle disappears into the body. And, what do you know, my eyes wanted it back. Man, that’s one fat, ugly C-pillar. Even if the window opening were as large as the designers wanted, the result still wouldn’t have looked good. The Sebring is only a couple inches taller than the Airflite, but those two inches, when combined with a seven-inch wheelbase reduction and a more conventionally-raked windshield, are passion killers. Like a pilot attempting an emergency landing on a short, alpine airstrip, the sweeping roofline must come down too far, too fast. Seems the designers had given up on a graceful landing. They just wanted to land.

The Sebring’s designers apparently ran out of any ideas, good or otherwise, once they reached the Sebring’s literal end. The sedan’s large tail lamps could be from any one of the innocuously styled, utterly forgettable sedans of the late aero period. Their shapelessness bears some kinship to the droopy headlights, but none to the rear quarters in which they are embedded.

Overall, the Sebring appears to be the outcome of a “just get it done” mentality. It isn’t hard to guess the source of such a mentality: DaimlerChrysler ended its decades-old partnership with Mitsubishi, the provider of the new Sebring’s platform, during the sedan’s development. Designers and engineers often have trouble negotiating the compromises demanded by art, science, budgets and regulations.

Spreading the effort across two companies that were increasingly at odds must have exponentially compounded this difficulty. It’s a shame the divorce didn’t come sooner. Because it did not, we have the 2007 Sebring, a car so hard on the eyes it might single-handedly destroy Chrysler’s lingering reputation as a design leader.

[Michael Karesh operates, a vehicle reliability and price comparison website.]

Michael Karesh
Michael Karesh

Michael Karesh lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, with his wife and three children. In 2003 he received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. While in Chicago he worked at the National Opinion Research Center, a leader in the field of survey research. For his doctoral thesis, he spent a year-and-a-half inside an automaker studying how and how well it understood consumers when developing new products. While pursuing the degree he taught consumer behavior and product development at Oakland University. Since 1999, he has contributed auto reviews to Epinions, where he is currently one of two people in charge of the autos section. Since earning the degree he has continued to care for his children (school, gymnastics, tae-kwan-do...) and write reviews for Epinions and, more recently, The Truth About Cars while developing TrueDelta, a vehicle reliability and price comparison site.

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  • Courtstone Courtstone on Jul 26, 2006

    Thank you Jonny, the Accord is quite attractive. Worse yet, Chrysler actually expects this Sebring to compete with the Camry/Accord. And just think how well they designed the 300c...

  • IgorSmirnov IgorSmirnov on Mar 01, 2009

    While I actually like the new Sebring, I've got to say that the hood looks like a ribbed know the Durex HerPleasure kind?

  • Ravenuer Looking forward to it!
  • Daniel J I love my mazda 6. It's getting harder and harder to drive it around where I live as municipalities fail to repair roads. SUVs are just easier to drive with all of the potholes.
  • 1995 SC On the plus side, I found a sedan I want to buy
  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!