What's it about
Since the introduction of the in-your-face 300C in 2005, there has really been little news on the Chrysler SA front - until now. The second sedan to be introduced here, the Sebring offers value for money motoring in a mostly-attractive package.
The Sebring, typically of the rush of American imports from the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep labels associated with the former DaimlerChrysler, is equipped with a relatively high standard of equipment.
Our test unit, the high-spec Limited, adds very little in the way of luxury items since the base Touring comes stocked with items like power, heated side mirrors, fog lamps, eight-way power driver's seat, leather seats, leather-rimmed steering wheel with satellite controls, tyre pressure monitor and a full cache of airbags. It also has a nifty cupholder that keeps drinks warm or cold with the mere flick of a switch.
Added to this, the Limited has heated front seats, tortoiseshell trim on the steering wheel and across the door and dashboard that made my mum rather happy (she thought it was "classy", I just thought it was different?), headlight washers and 18-inch wheels.
However, these add-ons do little to detract from the tacky plastics covering almost the entire facia area. The hard shiny plastic covering the central hangdown section doesn't help either. Overall, surfaces just feel brittle to the touch.
One area in which the Sebring Limited excels is the audio department. The six-speaker Boston Acoustics system is mind-blowing, enough so to make the car's other faults almost forgivable.
Also, space within the cabin for all occupants is plentiful, so contracting the dreaded cabin fever on longer journeys is likely to be avoided. Boot space is something any Mafioso would grin about.
Another aspect counting in this Sebring's favour, depending on the personality traits enjoyed by its owner/driver, is that it never fails to grab attention.
It looks very different from what is currently available on South African roads, and the heavy Crossfire influences at the front end especially make for a very attractive look. I found females were especially keen to comment on how stylish my car looked. I just wondered whether they had had a chance to catch a view from behind? That rear light cluster's chaotic arrangement requires some getting used to.
However, when considering the level of equipment and the Sebring's price in relation to its main rivals, it is perhaps something that should not be judged too harshly.
Under the bonnet
What is particularly harsh is the driving experience. The Sebring is equipped with the 2.4 litre "World Engine" developed in conjunction with Mitsubishi and mated with a four-speed automatic gearbox.
Figures of 125 kW and 220 Nm at 4 400 r/min already indicate that the Sebring is not going to deliver blinding performance. On the contrary, the car is positively lazy. It hates being hurried. Give it juice and feel the rudimentary four-speed auto balk in response while the 2.4-litre unhappily whirrs to the red line.
It would be very entertaining if it wasn't as annoying. But ease the accelerator enough for it to gain speed slowly and it's at its best.
Taking matters into your own hands and shifting at will makes things bearable, but only just. A capable five-speeder would certainly make the 2.4 a lot easier to live with, but the current set-up is dismal.
Currently, the Sebring is only available with the 2.4-litre unit mated to the four-speed automatic gearbox, but let's hope the promised V6 is more pleasurable to pilot.
Loads of space
Great sound system
Cheap, hardly cheerful, but definitely worth considering when shopping in this segment of the market, the Sebring offers something new to the mid-sized sedan buyer. It's roomy without being barge-like and offers a very high level of standard trim.
Spending time with the Sebring allowed me to understand some of its quirks. And I can appreciate why someone looking for a decent-sized family sedan for under R250 000 would consider it.
However, given the recent severing of the ties binding Daimler and Chrysler, it would be as understandable if these consumers forgo the relative luxury of the Sebring in favour of something more Spartan from a manufacturer in a more stable situation.