IT IS a mark of Chrysler’s intent that the Sebring made its world debut at the London Motor Show this summer.
This was the first time an American car company had taken the wraps off one of its models outside of the States, and there’s a reason for this. The Sebring is designed to take on the might of the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra and Volkswagen Passat in the key upper-medium sector.
North American carmakers have been taking the UK and European car markets increasingly seriously for a few years now, but that will intensify next year when the Sebring goes on sale – in right-hand drive and with a diesel engine.
Due to its American flavour, in a market known for conservatism, the Sebring’s styling is going to stand out when it reaches showrooms in July. Don’t expect to see too many on the roads, though, as a maximum of 2,000 cars will make it to the UK next year thanks to supply limitations.
Expect prices to start at around £17,000.
The Sebring’s side profile is distinctive and the strakes on the bonnet are the same speedboat-inspired feature you see on the Crossfire sports car range.
The front works least well, I suspect, for European tastes. The radiator grille is pure American Chrysler, and the lights big and modern, but meeting pedestrian safety legislation has resulted in a chin-like bumper that looks a bit odd from some angles.
Overall, the Sebring’s look is motivated by the Airflite concept car from the Geneva Motor Show of 2003 but while the back end isn’t so memorable – it could be a Lexus or a Toyota – at least that means it’s neat and tidy.
Built on a new platform shared with Mitsubishi (the result of a now-defunct deal between the Japanese company and Daimler-Chrysler), the Sebring sits one size below the characterful 300C executive model.
The engines all result from joint ventures, too. The petrol engines come from a Daimler-Chrysler/Mitsubishi/Hyundai world engine family, while the diesel is bought in from Volks-wagen, as is the case with the Dodge Caliber.
Why Volkswagen? Essentially it boils down to costs – a diesel unit from family member Mercedes-Benz would have been too expensive.
Finally, on the engine front a 2.7-litre V6 petrol will join the range later next year.
Although sales aspirations are small for the sector, the Sebring will play a key role in driving Chrysler Group sales in the UK – the firm’s largest market outside of its native North America.
Managing director Peter Lambert wants to increase sales from this year’s likely total of around 20,000 units to more than 30,000 by the end of next year.
The firm now has three dedicated corporate staff in place and a further 25 corporate specialists across its 90-strong UK dealer network.
The Sebring joins six other new Chrysler Group products being launched in the UK next year – the Jeep Wrangler, Wrangler Unlimited, Patriot and Compass, and the Dodge Nitro and Avenger.
The latter is also an upper-medium saloon although, as the value brand in the Chrysler Group line-up, it will be priced lower than the Avenger.
The Sebring will come in two trim levels, the high-spec Limited and the entry-level Touring, and will feature some clever touches designed especially for company car drivers.
The 20GB hard drive lets drivers store music, films, images, and maps, while the front passenger seat can fold flat to form an impromptu desk.
Behind the wheel
THE Sebring is an easy riding, easy driving sort of car; happy to consume long distances with little effort.
The large gearknob might not suit smaller hands and space around the accelerator pedal is tight for my big feet on these pre-production left-hand drive versions – a glitch that should not transfer to right-hand drive.
The part-leather, part-mock tortoise-shell steering wheel is a matter of taste. In our mix of British and European journalists, the feeling was 50/50, although Chrysler designers see it as a character feature like the analogue clock in the dashboard.
Two versions were available for test. The 2.0-litre petrol was very quiet on the move, partly because the sound-deadening materials for the diesel model are also used.
But I was less enamoured with the diesel. It delivered plenty of low-down thrust but even on a light throttle in higher gears that diesel noise was always evident – there are quieter engines on the market.
All this was noted down by Chrysler engineers so things might improve on production cars when they arrive.
Clutch effort was low and well cushioned in both engine varieties and the brakes were positive, but without too sharp a bite.
Though more a long-distance car than a back-road fun machine, the Sebring’s steering is reasonably precise and you can drive it with enthusiasm and not scare yourself. And there’s none of the body roll or wallow that used to characterise American cars.
CHRYSLER realises the brand is not a recognised force in the UK so it needs to price the Sebring below the established competition. Offering more equipment and high-tech features will woo some drivers, and low volumes should keep residual values fairly healthy.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||156/6,300||170/6,000||140/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||140/5,100||162/4,500||229/1,750|
|Max speed (mph):||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||36.2||31.7||45.5|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||146||170||211|