PALM SPRINGS, CA – There is something morbidly fascinating about watching a fight.
We all know violence is wrong and immoral, but still we are compelled to watch. Hockey fans understand this.
In 2007, this primal urge can be satisfied by monitoring the midsize-car segment. Chrysler Group’s Chrysler Sebring arrival should make that market a battle royal.
The recent debut of the Ford Fusion has raised the stakes by challenging perennial segment favorites, the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.
But the pentastar brand, emboldened by the havoc its Chrysler 300 created among stodgy fullsize cars, further ups the ante with the ’07 Sebring.
A legitimate contender in the industry’s defining segment, it is graceful, quiet and jam-packed with cutting-edge technology.
Consumers could face deep-seeded internal conflict when attempting to choose a powertrain, however. The 235-hp 3.5L SOHC V-6, which features a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic gearbox with Chrysler’s AutoStick manual-shift mode, is a no-brainer.
Generating peak torque of 232 lb.-ft. (339 Nm) at 4,000 rpm, it adroitly thrusts and parries, tag-teaming with the car’s independent suspension, with MacPherson front struts and a multi-link, coil-spring rear, to carve neatly through traffic.
And in case Sebring’s performance inspires too much confidence, electronic stability control, brake assist and traction control are neatly bundled as an option.
Slightly less exhilarating but still able to exploit the car’s balance and refinement is a 2.7L DOHC V-6. With a maximum output of 189 hp and 191 lb.-ft. (298 Nm) of torque and aided by a 4-speed automatic transmission, this flex-fuel mill flattens the rolling desert blacktop with marginal fuss.
But the underdog on this fight card is Chrysler’s 2.4L 4-cyl. World Engine, also featured in the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass C-segment vehicles.
To date, however, the Sebring represents the most appealing application of this new powertrain, if only because it is mated to a 4-speed step-gear automatic rather than the efficient, but life-sapping continuously variable transmission that serves as the “automatic” for the Caliber and Compass.
Available on all three Sebring trim levels, the World Engine’s 173-hp output is second in the segment, trailing the Altima’s larger 2.5L 4-banger by 2 hp. Its torque tops out at 166 lb.-ft. (225 Nm) delivered at a relaxed 4,400 rpm.
These numbers are more than a match for Sebring’s base curb weight of 3,310 lbs. (1,501 kg), which also helps in the passing department. More satisfying still is its demeanor on city streets, where vibration and harshness – already at a minimum – are insulated along with outside distractions.
Such performance is enabled, Chrysler says, by tuning Sebring’s powertrain and body mounts and optimizing the use of mastic. The sticky stuff is applied to pads in the floorpan and damps vibration in troublesome areas such as the dash and wheel wells.
Expandable polyurethane foam also is injected in body-structure cavities, enhancing the effect of a frame that is 1.6 times more resistant to bending. In addition, the new Sebring boasts torsional stiffness that is 1.7 times greater than its wiggly predecessor.
Adopting an approach first tried on the Caliber, the Sebring makes significant use of advanced-technology steel.
Hot-stamped steel forms its A- and B-pillars, along with its roof rails. Combined with high-strength steel, these new steel metalurgies comprise 30% of the car’s body structure.
Such integrity contributes to Sebring’s connectedness. Body roll is minimal, and its rack-and-pinion steering affords quick agility without requiring constant correction.
Indeed, the Sebring is a relaxed ride, made more so by a plethora of amenities, some of which border on the ridiculous.
Consider the much-maligned cupholder: Sebring has one that heats and cools at the touch of a toggle. Temperature extremes range from 40°-140° F (4°-60° C).
It also is the first midsize sedan to feature a rear-seat entertainment system. Not content to stop there, however, Chrysler offers MyGIG, an all-in-one MP3/DVD player and GPS navigation unit that features hands-free phone functionality using Bluetooth technology.
A 20-gigabyte hard drive spins at the heart of the system, which not only accommodates 100 hours of digital music but can store digital photos that can be displayed the same way images are used on computer screens.
With so much playlist potential, who needs satellite radio? Anyone who wants to take advantage of real-time traffic information, which Chrysler makes available through content-provider Sirius.
Despite its vast capability, MyGIG’s interface is intuitive. But like BMW’s iDrive controls, it requires patience. And for those who need reminding, MyGIG will not play DVDs unless the car is parked.
MyGIG also is available for the Dodge Nitro and Jeep’s Wrangler lineup.
Underpinning the rollout of Sebring, which starts at $18,995, is the more significant promise it portends: Sebring is the first derivative of Chrysler’s new D-segment platform.
Next up: the Dodge Avenger.
Let’s get ready to rrrrrrumble!