Test venue: Belfast, Antrim and Giant's Causeway coast
Chrysler chose Culloden Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast and a tour of the Antrim coast to launch their first entry into the D-segment of the UK’s car market - the Chrysler Sebring.
The car hit the UK showrooms on July 4th and personnel in Milton Keynes are confident that they will surpass 1000 sales in 2007, rising to 2000 in 2008. The front-wheel drive car is available with two petrol engines – a 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre unit – or a 2.-0litre turbo diesel power plant.
Managing director Peter Lambert is convinced that the diesel unit will account for 70% of sales, with the remaining 30% split equally between automatic and manual versions coupled to the petrol engine.
The Sebring is set to target market share from cars such as the Ford Mondeo, Honda Accord, Toyota Avensis and Peugeot 407, although Chrysler’s market research suggests that it will appeal to the older, more discerning male driver.
Advertising is being based around the phrase ‘smart, sexy and, best of all, available’, but the jury is still out on whether this car will appeal to buyers of cars such as the Accord or Avensis.
A varied test route through Belfast and on to the Giant’s Causeway, via Larne and the Antrim coast, returning via Portrush and Coleraine, gave me an excellent opportunity to assess the abilities of both petrol and diesel-engined derivatives at close hand.
Based on an evolution of the 2003 Chrysler Airflite concept car, prices for Sebring start at £17,995 for the Limited 2.0-litre manual, rising to £18,995 for both the diesel and automatic models.
The base model develops 154 bhp, but acceleration is disappointing and the car feels sluggish unless you rev the engine hard. The greater torque from the 138bhp diesel unit gives it superiority over the petrol engine and overtaking is easier with the diesel. This model wins hands down in my estimation.
The five-speed manual gearbox is slick, but the ratios are close together and it takes a few minutes to get used to the gear change. It’s also quite easy to catch your shoe on the bulk head above the brake unless you are careful. The diesel version comes equipped with a six-speed manual transmission as standard.
The Sebring rides bumpy terrain with ease and is comfortable to drive, but the steering feels a little wishy-washy at times and the front end appears to wallow a little on narrow and twisty roads. It is not a car that you would want to push hard on slippery and undulating roads.
The list of standard accessories is impressive and includes the likes of ABS, front and side curtain air bags, tyre pressure monitoring, traction control and ESP. Other standard items include air conditioning, air filtering and heated leather-trimmed seats.
Company personnel also talk proudly about the Sebring’s state-of-the-art MyGIG entertainment and navigation system and a heated or cooled cup holder for storing various drinks.
Chrysler staff are confident that the 2.0-litre diesel engine will deliver around 45.6 mpg, falling to 36.2 for the smaller petrol unit and 31.7mpg for the 2.4. Optional extras include special paint, the £1,500 MyGIG satellite navigation system and a sunroof. Cars fall into insurance groups 9E and 10E.
Built at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Michigan, Sebring has been tested and developed to withstand freezing winter temperatures and the baking heat of an African summer. There is no disputing its build quality, but the interior features a typical American-style sprawling dashboard and gadgets.
Sebring may not have the raw driver appeal of the Honda Accord, the track record of the Toyota Avensis or the simplicity of the Ford Mondeo, but the Sebring is sure to appeal to niche market customers in the fiercely-competitive D-segment.
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