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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Born on the Fourth
  of July. Well, launched
  in the UK, anyway.
  Chrysler’s new four-
  door Sebring saloon
  looks good enough
  to tempt you into a
  test drive...”

APTLY, THE NEW MICHIGAN-BUILT Chrysler Sebring four-door D-segment saloon will be revealed at 88 Chrysler Group dealerships throughout the
UK on 4 July — American Independence Day.

I say aptly, because the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands are now more or less independent from Daimler-Benz; although the German company retains a reduced shareholding and will continue to supply technology, components and backroom services to the Chrysler Group operations in Europe and the USA.

Sebring is just one of a raft of new models for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge that will be premiered to the public in the UK from 4 July. The other new models will include the two- and four-door Jeep Wrangler, the Compass and Patriot 4x4s, and the Dodge Nitro and Avenger saloon.

Launching the new Sebring four-door saloon to motoring journalists this week, Chrysler Group UK's managing director Peter Lambert said: "The Sebring is the first opportunity we have had to enter the important
D-segment family-sized saloon market, and it opens up significant sales opportunities for us in both the retail and business-user sectors. Although the D-segment has dropped in size from 500,000 units to a little over 400,000 annual sales in the last five years, it is still the third largest sector of the UK's new car market attracting 17 per cent of new car buyers."

Lambert puts the decline of this sector down to customers moving to MPVs and downsizing to slightly smaller but cheaper C-segment cars. He added that they will also be introducing the new Dodge Avenger four-door saloon to the D-segment and it will have the same engine line-up but will be slightly less well equipped and with lower prices.
The Sebring and Avenger together will give them a broad spread of models to meet a wide variety of customer requirements.

Sebring prices range from 17,995 to 18,995, with 2.0-litre petrol manual, 2.4-litre petrol automatic and 2.0-litre diesel manual models
all available in one fully-specified Limited trim level. Avenger models
will have the same engine line-up with SE and SXT equipment levels and prices ranging from 14,995 to 17,995.

Lambert expects to sell around 1,000 Sebring saloons in the UK this year and double that in a full year. Avenger sales in a full year are expected to be slightly more.

"The Sebring, like the Avenger," he added, "is a niche car — not main-stream. We do not force cars into the market and our success with the Chrysler 300C is a good example of our sales policy. Sebring will find its own place in the market and it will sell on merit. Its core features are the distinctive design and styling, high equipment levels, price and scarcity value. It is for the customer who wants something different."

Around 70 per cent of Sebring's UK sales will be the diesel model, with the two petrol engines each taking around 15 per cent of sales. Predominately, customers will come from the retail or business user-chooser sector with up to 300 fleet sales likely in a full year.

The customer profile in the UK's D-sector is 90 per cent male buyers with an average age of 55 and with 2.6 people in the household with an average income of 50k. Thirty per cent are also retired. Chrysler see the Sebring as offering a great opportunity for them to attract
the 'grey pound' as the nation's average age is increasing and more customers are actively looking for value-for-money cars.

Chrysler says they have no existing customer base in this sector for their vehicles, so they need to invest in promoting the credentials of their products to buyers — hence a television advertising campaign
to support the launch of these new models.

Lambert sees the main competitor models to the Sebring as being the new Ford Mondeo, Honda Accord, VW Passat, Peugeot 407 and Toyota Avensis. Because the Sebring has a comprehensive specification as standard, when price-adjusted for equipment against these models the Sebring ranges from being between 6.6 and 14.2 per cent better value.

Lambert also revealed the Sebring — named after the famous American racing circuit — will have an additional model in its line-up during the first quarter of 2008. This will be the Sebring Cabriolet with a retract-able folding metal roof and it will be the 'halo' model for the range. An automatic transmission option for diesel Sebring models will also be introduced early next year.

So does the Sebring live up to expectations? For a start, I think it has a great name. And its American compact saloon styling is certainly
distinctive — it caused considerable interest to the general public during our test drive launch programme. There is no getting away from the fact that the car is exceedingly well equipped and it is roomy,
the price is competitive and it will not be a common sight on our roads.
For some customers those will be good enough reasons to buy; and consequently there must be at least 2,000 customers a year in the UK willing to help Mr Lambert meet his sales target.

However, the car lacks the refinement and finesse of European models. The build quality is not great; the engines not up to the latest refine-ment and performance from its mainstream competitors; the handling is rather 'old school' clumsy; the steering is somewhat leaden and lacking in response and feel; and parts of the interior trim plastics feel cheap. So customers have a choice: buy the Sebring and get a new, roomy and well-equipped saloon or buy a mass market discounted European car, a dealer demonstrator or pre-registered bargain — of which there are many because it is a tough market.

For the record, the Sebring is available with a 154bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine fitted with a five-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy will be around 36.2mpg. This unit feels underpowered but it does the job
all right. The 167bhp 2.4-litre petrol engine has an automatic gearbox as standard — so that will appeal — and it will return 31.7mpg. The best option is the Volkswagen-derived 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit with 138bhp and 229lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm.

This oil-burner comes with a six-speed manual transmission and fuel economy is shown as 45.6mpg. With a top speed of 126mph, it is the fastest model in the range. While this unit is relatively responsive, it
is noisy at tick-over and when pushed during acceleration; although
it is quieter at cruising speeds.

Where the Sebring scores highly is with its equipment levels. Most items — including, for example, heated/cooled front cup holders, air conditioning and heated leather-trimmed seats — are standard. As, too, are loads of safety features such as an electronic stability prog-ramme, traction control and side and curtain airbags. An extra cost option is a comprehensive combined information, entertainment, com-munication, navigation and audio system.

However, the Sebring trails its European competition in two areas: driving refinement and build quality. That said, it does offer buyers some big plusses: namely scarcity value, distinctive styling, high equipment levels, a roomy interior and a large boot. Be Independent: call in at your local Chrysler showroom on 4th July and make up your own mind. — David Miles

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Chrysler Sebring 2.0 CRD Limited | 18,995
Maximum speed: 126mph | 0-62mph: 12 seconds
Overall test MPG: 45.6mpg | Power: 138bhp | Torque: 229lb ft

CO2 170g/km | VED Band E 165 | Insurance group 10E
Visit Chrysler's website Click to go there now

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