Chrysler, despite undergoing massive corporate restructuring, has launched it's second passenger car in the South African market since 2005, the mid-sized Sebring sedan.
Entering the market in the severely competitive D-class segment, Sebring is tailored to buyers more attuned to easy driving and efficient motoring. Despite this easy-driving bias, the Sebring shuns the mundane and carries on Chrysler's current outlandish design vision.
Chrysler will be offering two levels of trim mated to a single 2.4-litre, four-speed drivetrain initially, with a 2.7-litre V6 model to follow later on this year.
The current range is set to consist of the Limited and Touring, of which the latter is the lower spec version. Practically the only features eschewed on the Touring are heated leather seats, tortoise shell finish interior trimming and a navigation system.
Visually those key Chrysler design cues are all present. There is a surfeit of chrome and a very aggressively styled rear, emblazoned with a huge Chrysler badge which takes up nearly all the space left over between the outlandishly large rear light clusters. A strong styling crease runs across the sides just under the door handles and leads the eyes across the flanks.
The Touring and Limited are essentially visually identical, bar the difference in rolling wheel and tyre dimensions. The Touring runs on 17-inch mags, whilst the Limited rolls on 18-inch chrome finish numbers, both shod with 215 mm rubber. These substantial wheel sizes further enhance the styling presence of the Sebring range.
Options? What Options?
When you familiarise yourself with the interior the marketing vision and new direction of Chrysler dawns upon you. Chrysler is in the midst of a major restructuring having just been taken over by a private equity firm.
Subsequently their new marketing and product philosophy is to simply offer everything as standard specification and still enter the market at prices undercutting their rivals.
Suffice to say the Sebring range is very comprehensively equipped. The higher specification Limited has power everything, including heated front seats and a variable temperature ratio front cup holder, which can heat or cool your drinks.
It also features tortoise shell interior trimmings, which might look like your old sunglasses frame finish, but makes a pleasant departure from the world of wood and aluminium interior finishes. Materials are generally of a high quality feel, and overall design ambience, with round dials, is contemporary.
Chrysler's innovative integrated navigation/entertainment system MyGIG is set to become an option on Limited before the end of the year too. It features MP3/DVD compatibility, while allowing digital image download and viewing capability on the navigation screen.
Touring essentially only does without the heated leather seats, but retains powered operation for it's YES essentials fabric trimmed seats, which are practically stain proof, a boon for buyers with sticky-finger eating families.
Interior capaciousness is impressive too, with amble room. The fold-flat passenger seatback, which enables the front passenger seat to be folded flat, adds immensely to the interior practicality of Sebring.
At 441-litre boot capacity is especially generous, and should easily deal with even the most demanding family vacation luggage challenges.
Safety is well catered for with front driver and passenger airbags supplemented by side-curtain airbags for the rear passengers. The ABS brakes have brake assist, and ESP keeps things decent when things get slippery.
A nice to have feature is the tyre pressure monitor, especially when traversing dirt roads or travelling with a load, which can cause tyre pressure fluctuations. With the Sebring you will be on top of any pressure changes.
On the road
Powered by the familiar 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine which does duty in the Jeep Compass too, the Sebring range only offers this powerplant mated to a four-speed automatic gearbox.
Chrysler claims best in class emission and fuel consumption figures for the Sebring, yet admits it is not the quickest vehicle in class either. On the road though, it is positively ponderous.
The 2.4-litre engine produces 125 kW, and you really struggle to muster all 125 of those because the four-speed automatic transmission is always in between ratio's and hardly ever in the mood for downshifting when you want it too.
Refinement is high with respect to vibration, but it's a raucous engine in the Sebring application, and sounds like a strident electrical appliance when you give it serious reason to kick-down a ratio in anticipation of overtaking.
General road demeanour is good, with neat handling characteristics, acceptable ride quality and reasonable steering feel.
Priced at R219 900 and R239 900 for the Touring and Limited respectively, the Sebring range offers a comprehensive features package within a price range few rivals can match.
Combined with a very alluring, unique styling package, it should appeal mightily to emerging market buyers or those wishing to break out of the traditional mid-sized sedan mould, without sacrificing spaciousness or fuel economy.
All it needs now is either a more responsive transmission or more powerful engine to synergise the driving experience, something the coming 2.7-litre V6 model should redress.
Touring R219 900
Limited R239 900