Classic CARmentary: 1999 Chrysler Sebring LXi Coupe

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

The Sebring Coupe and its Avenger sibling have always perplexed me.  As Chrysler already had a 2-door convertible in the works based on the new Cirrus, would tooling a coupe really have been that much more of an effort?  My guess is that since the ongoing Chrysler-Mitsubishi on-again/off-again relationship was in full “on-again” mode, they wanted to leverage that relationship in order to have enough capacity to meet the expected demand for the convertible, which was by far the better selling LeBaron.  As the coupe market still had some (weak) legs, they likely wanted to maintain a player in that segment as well and just didn’t have the capacity.  I’m also guessing that they engineered the convertible from the Cirrus rather than the Galant (like the coupe) to have more control over one of their best-selling cars and also to maximize profits.  If anyone knows the whole story, please share.

I feel that the few people who bought the coupe made out far better than those that purchased the convertible.  I drove convertible press car one weekend when the magazine had a big meeting in Detroit, where our managing editor was located.  It creaked and groaned and felt like it was not screwed together very well.  The 2001 redesign didn’t bring much of a powertrain improvement, either.  I drove a rental Sebring sedan with the 2.7-liter V6 and, even though I know there was a V6 under the hood, ended up looking anyway because it felt like a four.

Surprisingly, the one I enjoyed driving most of all was a rental 2005 Avenger with the Mitsubishi 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine.  It was roomy, looked great, and had more than enough power for a lovely drive from Ft. Lauderdale down to Key West.  

The following review was written on March 13, 1999.

Let’s say you have your heart set on a Mitsubishi (It’s possible!). You like the spaciousness of the Galant, but don’t want a sedan. Your alternative is the sporty Eclipse, but it’s too small and “boy racer” for your tastes. What do you do? You hop over to your local Chrysler dealer where you’ll find the Sebring: platform of the previous-generation Galant, interior of the Eclipse, wrapped in a beautiful Chrysler-designed coupe body.

The Sebring coupe, which is a near-twin of the Dodge Avenger, was introduced in 1995 as a quick-fix replacement for the eight-year-old LeBaron coupe. By basing the Sebring coupe on the Galant/Eclipse, Chrysler was free to concentrate on the Cirrus sedan/Sebring convertible, which have Chrysler platforms and interiors. While not in Toyota’s or Honda’s league, Mitsubishi’s quality rankings are generally higher than Chrysler’s, and the Sebring coupe feels better screwed together than the convertible with whom it shares its name.

In base LX form, the Sebring is powered by a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that’s also found in the base Eclipse, and is noted for being one of the roughest, noisiest engines around. The upmarket LXi has Mitsubishi’s 2.5-liter V6, which is not a paragon of smoothness itself, nor very powerful. It’s these engines more than anything else that make the Sebring coupe inferior to its competition, including the Camry and Accord coupes as well as the Chevy Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix. In keeping with luxury coupe fashion, the LXi V6 is offered only with a four-speed automatic transmission.

Too bad, because the rest of the car is so good. The sporty Eclipse interior with its wrap around dash and console has been touched up with elegant woodgrain accents. The rear seat is spacious for a coupe, and the 13.1 cubic-foot trunk is near the top of its class. The Sebring’s handling is above average for a luxury coupe.

If the powertrain shortcomings bother you, wait until next year for the new Sebring, which most likely will be powered by the base Concorde’s 200-horsepower V6, and hopefully will be just as lovely.

For more information contact 1-800-4A-CHRYSLER


Type: Two-door Coupe
Engine: 163-horsepower, 2.5 liter V6
Transmission: Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 20 city/27 highway
Tested Price: $23,540

We all now know that only the sedan and the convertible were available with the 2.7, while the coupe received the Mitsubishi 3.0.  Lucky coupe.