The Chrysler Sebring has simply never lived up to its racy name, or to the Chrysler brand's aspirations to be a little more 'premium' in feel. Although it's offered an impressive list of features, it's largely missed the mark up close, with a look and feel that's a step or two behind mid-size leaders like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, or even Chevrolet Malibu.
A more significantly redesigned version, renamed Nassau, is expected for 2011, but for now we have the 2010 Sebring, which incorporates a number of changes made over the past several years. For 2010, Chrysler dumped the Sebring's straked hood design for a smooth one, introduced a new gauge cluster, and upgraded wheels. And for 2009, Chrysler reported a "dramatically improved acoustic package for reduced noise levels in the cabin."
Visually, the Sebring hasn't really changed much. The Sebring remains a bit homely overall, and the stubby back end isn't the best match for the front. The smooth hood, replacing the straked one that's been used until now, doesn't bring a new look.
Chrysler has made a lot of small changes to the Sebring's interior, but it's not all with positive results. While we like the soft fabric upholstery, the door and dash panels use too many different surfaces that don't altogether match. The little tortoise-shell inserts for the steering wheel and instrument panel that come with the Limited model reminded us of a flattened hairband and felt oddly out of place with the rest of the trims, while the soft center-console armrest is covered in a rubbery vinyl-type material that doesn't match anything else inside. Given the mediocre material feel, the Sebring did feel well assembled, with no creaks or rattles observed.
Chrysler also dropped the mid-level 186-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6, leaving just the standard 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or the 235-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. The V-6 gets a six-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick manual control, but a four-speed automatic is the only choice with the base four—at a time when most of the rivals come with a six-speed automatic.
The Sebring sedan lineup has been consolidated to just Touring and Limited models, with the four standard on both (the V-6 is a $2,250 option on the Limited). We drove a 2010 Chrysler Sebring Limited model with the four-cylinder model and remained quite unimpressed, overall.
While the four-cylinder engine looks very competitive in a specs comparison—it has dual variable valve timing and makes a substantial 166 pound-feet of torque—in terms of noise and refinement it still doesn't stand up to the base engines used in most other mid-size sedans. But it's quite economical—we observed 21 mpg in only about 80 miles of driving, most of it in stop-and-go and short trips.
The engine has a coarse, raspy character in even light to moderate acceleration, and our test car had what sounded like an intake resonance or whistle around 2800 rpm. The Sebring has better road-noise levels than we remembered, but the engine's ever-present coarseness that could prove hard to live with. Full-throttle acceleration is surprisingly strong, though, and the transmission responds quickly to a full-throttle demand, doing well with just four gears, though multiple times during the week we had the Sebring, the transmission downshifted roughly to first gear when making a 'rolling' right turn. That said, the throttle pedal is calibrated to be very touchy, with an aggressive tip-in—likely intended to make the engine feel even stronger—followed by a significant portion of accelerator travel where nothing much more happens.
Ride quality is still an issue in the Sebring. Roll over potholes or rough pavement at low speed and the ride is pitchy, with the suspension feeling quite firm; but at higher speed there's more swaying and heaving motion. Load the Sebring up with four adults, and it makes a lot of sense. It's easy to get into and out of the back seat in the Sebring, and there's a decent amount of legroom and just enough headroom for taller adults. We noticed the ride quality improve with more passengers aboard, too.
Analysts at the market-research firm AutoPacific report that though there are many indications that the recession is ending—or over—there might not be any strong indicators in the automotive sector that things will get much better anytime soon.
The firm has found that new-vehicle purchase intention has weakened, not strengthened, in recent months; so, barring stimuli like sales-stoking special deals and incentives—of which there have been plenty—demand this spring might actually be lower than it was for part of last year. Last September, the firm found that 23 percent of those polled indicated that they "were definitely or probably likely to acquire a new vehicle in the next 24 months." But in data from this March, only 20 percent indicated that.
AutoPacific also noted the continuation of an unexpected trend that we reported back in February. The firm had found—again through its Fuel Price Impact Survey—that interest in small cars and hybrids was, surprisingly, waning as pump prices continued to rise (albeit gradually).
Consumers' intention to replace whatever they were driving with a sport-utility vehicle (including a car-based crossover) has gone from 16 percent a year ago to 27 percent in March, and small-car consideration has fallen from 22 percent to 12 percent from March 2009 to March 2010—in a period when the price of gas rose 44 percent.
The most dramatic was hybrid intention: down from 22 percent in March of 2009 to 11 percent in January 2009 and on to just nine percent this March. Actual sales trends contradict this; Toyota just reported a 41-percent increase in hybrid sales in April versus a year ago—although in all fairness last April the redesigned 2010 Toyota Prius hadn't yet reached dealerships.
Of course, as before, gas-price volatility probably has a lot to do with the change in attitude. Over the past year or more, the market hasn't experienced the dramatic volatility that it did from 2005 until early 2009. Since then, prices have risen, gradually, from a national-average $1.71 to a current average of nearly $2.90 (as of May 3).
Are these trends occurring simply because we haven't had $4 gas in some time so shoppers are becoming complacent, or because the market is changing in other ways—replacing larger family vehicles but having fewer of them, for instance—that we won't recover from for a long time, if ever? To this, we'll just have to hold on and hope for more positive signs.
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection
Key fobs—those little remotes that typically just lock and unlock our car doors—are about to become a lot smarter.
Although there have been glimpses of innovation—incorporating remote start, for instance—they haven't changed much in more than a decade. For several years, Volvo has offered hints of their potential, in an interface called the Personal Car Communicator (PCC) on several of its models, including the S80, V70, XC70, and XC60. The system allows two-way communication between the keyfob and car, so it can tell you whether or not you remembered to lock the doors (and even do so from a much longer distance than normal). But its most noteworthy feature is that it actually has a heartbeat sensor and can inform you if someone's hiding in the vehicle.
But the Volvo system hasn't proven to be the "gotta-have-it" item the Swedish automaker was hoping, as it begs the question, if someone broke into the car and set off the alarm (therefore setting off the red lights on the keyfob), why would he or she stay in the vehicle? It's a very limited scenario.
Nevertheless, it's the first of a new generation of keyfobs that help the vehicle owner monitor their vehicle or fine-tune vehicle functions when they're a short distance away—for instance when the vehicle is outside in the parking lot and the owner is at his or her desk.
Up until now, one of the issues was that standard RF keyfobs didn't have enough of a range. The upcoming 2011 Nissan Leaf electric vehicle will come with a smartphone app that helps users check their state of charge remotely, for instance, or look for charging stations, and gets around that with a transceiver that uses mobile network data services.
But mobile data connections on a large scale could get pricey, and new key fob technology from Delphi, employing medium-range Bluetooth transceivers, also called Near Field Communications (NFC), allows owners to share data with their vehicles at a distance of 650 feet or more without an access point. The company has developed a Bluetooth Gateway Key Fob that communicates with the vehicle then makes that information available via close-range Bluetooth with a smartphone.
Among the possibilities for such a key fob setup include trip computer data such as fuel economy or mileage; safety features such as tire pressures; maintenance tracking or alerts; and personalized settings for climate control, seat and steering-wheel position. Through GPS, the vehicle location might also be displayed in fine detail, on a map, to help find it in a very large parking lot.
It's a lot smarter—and a lot less obnoxious—than hoping you're in range and hitting that panic button.
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection