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How Chrysler Works

The Redesigned Chrysler Sebring

PT volume improved again for calendar 2005, reaching nearly 134,000. Full-year convertible sales helped, but a bigger boost likely came from price cuts on the mainstay wagons -- a sizable $2555-$4190, depending on model -- achieved by moving some standard features to the options column.

For 2006, the Cruiser got its first facelift, a subtle redo involving the headlights, front fascia, and dashboard. Prices remained stable, running $14,000-$29,000 or so, reflecting intense market competition and relentless cost cutting.

Overshadowed by "PT Mania" in 2001 were redesigned midsize Chryslers that now encompassed the sedans previously known as Cirrus. Car and Driver likened the new four-door Sebring to a scaled-down 300M, but sportiness wasn't its mission. Instead, refinement was the watchword, with a beefier, quieter structure; a more-supple ride; and the safety of available curtain side airbags, which dropped from just above the windows to protect occupants' heads in a side impact.

Though styling became a bit less cab forward, interior space remained exceptional for the class. A massaged 2.4-liter four provided the base power, but the optional V-6 was now Chrysler's own 200-bhp twincam 2.7, and the mandatory automatic could be had with optional AutoStick for the first time. Helped by an extra-long debut season, Sebring sedan sales almost doubled those of the final Cirrus at more than 67,000 through the end of calendar 2001.

Sebring convertibles were less visibly changed for '01 despite mostly new outer sheetmetal, but they got the same engines as sedans and, more important, a thorough structural shoring-up. The result was good enough to finish third in a five-way Car and Driver convertible test, ahead of a Ford Mustang GT and Toyota Solara.

At under $30,000 for their test Limited, "the Sebring emerged as our value champ," said the editors, "and also won as best to behold." About the only thing lacking was enough horsepower to make performance vivid instead of merely brisk. Calendar-year sales slipped to a little over 45,000 units, but that wasn't bad for what proved to be a turbulent year for Chrysler Group and the nation.

Though also redesigned for 2001, Sebring coupes remained more Mitsubishi than Chrysler, sharing the 1999-2000 platform of the Japanese company's latest Galant sedans and sporty Eclipse models. That also meant the V-6 option was a 3.0-liter Mitsubishi engine.

Dodge still offered its own versions, but now called them Stratus, not Avenger. As with the Sebring line, the aim was to simplify marketing -- and maybe reduce buyer confusion at last. For all the changes, however, Sebring coupe sales remained modest at some 16,600 for calendar '01, though that was actually a bit above the '00 tally.

Chrysler then seemed to forget the Sebrings through 2006, bothering only to shuffle features, names, and occasionally styling elements while the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord nabbed the lion's share of midsize-car sales year after year. The only signs of "progress" were a moderate facelift and optional front side airbags for 2003 coupes and a bold new "big-mouth" face for 2004 sedans and ragtops.

The coupes, always very slow sellers, were discarded after '05, while other Sebrings carried into '06 with hardly any change from 2004. Was Chrysler ceding the midsize war to its American-made Japanese-brand rivals? It sure seemed so. But perhaps the company was only biding its time until a more competitive replacement could be readied for around 2007.

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