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Driving a Slow Sebring in the Bay Area

Whoever is making product decisions about Chrysler models in the new Fiat/Chrysler company has a problem they need to fix.

On a recent trip to the Bay Area I drove a rental car, a Chrysler Sebring LX Convertible with a 2.4 liter DOHC four-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic transmission.  It was underpowered.  It understeered badly on freeway ramps.  The engine and transmission were extremely rough and noisy above 3,000 rpm, which was especially noticeable when accelerating from 40mph to 65mph on the freeway to merge with traffic. 

As I drove around, pondering this, a thought struck me, “Maybe I’m not the driver this car was made for.  Maybe it was made for a driver who doesn’t want acceleration or handling.”   I decided to see what would happen if I drove the car is if I were that kind of driver. 

At the next stop light, I feathered the accelerator pedal, pushing down only about a quarter of an inch.  The car accelerated slowly to 2,500 rpm and then upshifted.  Voila! No noise!  A Mercedes behind me was trying desperately to get past me.   Drivers in the lanes on either side of me passed me, but at least I wasn’t in their way. 

At the second stop light, I accelerated a little harder.  At 3,000 rpm, the noise and roughness began.  3,000 rpm seemed to be a virtual red line.  I held up someone in an American sedan, but the driver considerately waited half a block to go around me. 

At the third stop light, my victim was a 3 Series BMW.  The driver was noticeably agitated and sped past me at the first opportunity.  

The next time I drove around a curve on a freeway ramp, I held the car at the speed posted on the yellow advisory speed sign.  I have always found those speeds to be ridiculously lower than the safe cornering speed.  Not for this car.  It had no understeer at the advisory speed, but it plowed at 5 mph above that speed.  

Is this the kind of driver the Sebring Convertible was made for, someone that never revs the engine past 3,000 RPM and always dodders around corners?  It must be. 

The Sebring LX Convertible is about 500 lbs heavier than an Accord or Camry sedan with the same size engine, one reason for its pokey acceleration.  Granted, some of the increased weight is because it’s a convertible.  A Sebring Sedan, 443 lbs. lighter than the Convertible would be a better comparison; but there are other considerations. 

The 4-cylinder engines in the Accord, the Camry and the Sebring all reach their peak horsepower at 6,000 rpm or above and their peak torque at 4,000 rpm or above.  The Accord and Camry can reach 6,000 rpm smoothly and easily and are quite comfortable at 4,000 rpm.  The Sebring can not.  With a virtual 3,000 rpm red line, imposed by noise and roughness, the Sebring’s actual power to weight ratio is substantially less than the ratio calculated using the peak horsepower at 6,000 rpm.  At 3,000 rpm, it does not have the horsepower or torque needed to provide satisfactory acceleration. 

I don’t know why the Sebring is rough and noisy above 3,000 rpm.  It sounds like the problem is the automatic transmission.  The engine is manufactured by GEMA (Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance LLC), a joint venture of Chrysler Corp., Mitsubishi Motors and Hyundai Motor Company.  Mitsubishi and Hyundai certainly know how to design and manufacture small, smooth, high-revving 4-cylinder engines. 

 Whatever is causing the problems with the Sebring, they need to be solved.  The noise and roughness needs to be eliminated.  The transmission needs to be replaced with a modern six-speed automatic with a six-speed manual as an option.  The suspension needs to be redesigned to provide transient and steady state characteristics on a par with an Accord or a Camry.   The resulting car will sell.  The target market for the present Sebring LX Convertible is small; drivers who want to accelerate and corner slowly.

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