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2004 Chrysler Sebring

     With all the flashy new cars on Chrysler lots, it’s easy to forget about the company’s more traditional models.
     Just drive by a dealership, and you’ll see what I mean. There are stylish 300Cs, sporty PT Cruiser convertibles, gorgeous Crossfires, and fancy Pacificas, all of which scream for attention with gaudy styling and prime placement on nearby billboards. Like the head cheerleader at a school dance, they’re hot and they know it.
     But hidden in a shadowy corner of this automotive dance hall is a car that’s a little more quiet and reserved, yet still quite pretty. It’s not loud and obnoxious, it’s not going to cost a fortune to take out, and it doesn’t have to be the center of attention everywhere it goes. It’s the Sebring sedan.
     You may not have known Chrysler still makes this model — its convertible sister gets all the attention, after all — but it’s worth noticing if you’re looking for a traditional, sensible, affordable, good-looking car.
     The first thing you’ll notice about the Sebring is its style. Swooping curves and sleek lines make it look slightly sporty and very elegant, a combination that’s hard to find at its sub-$20,000 starting price. A new front fascia shows off a large grille and sloping headlights, while modest fender bulges give it a hint of athleticism. For a midsize sedan, the look is better than average, despite its aging platform.
     The driving feel, however, doesn’t quite match the pretty body. The engine feels a tad rough and unrefined; the cabin lets in too much noise at highway speed; steering and brakes feel competent but don’t excel; and the suspension offers neither superb handling nor luxurious comfort.
     For basic trips around town, the Sebring gets the job done. The 2.7-liter V6 engine on our test car had plenty of power for confident acceleration, but the delivery just didn’t feel quite as smooth as its buttery competition from Japan. Likewise, the ride wasn’t harsh or particularly mushy, but it also didn’t match the refined feel of other some midsize sedans, most notably the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Jetta. Even the new Chevy Malibu feels more upscale from the driver’s seat.

     On the upside, the Sebring has a slight size advantage over some of its competitors, and its price compares favorably. Also, the interior has features that might not come standard on other cars, and there’s plenty of room in both the front and back seats. For carrying big payloads, the back seat can fold down to let you pass cargo into the trunk.
     This sedan is also noteworthy for its safety. In government crash tests, the Sebring scored a perfect five stars for frontal collisions. Safety features include multistage air bags that deploy with different levels of force depending on the severity of the wreck, optional side curtain air bags, and available antilock brakes.
     All in all, the Sebring is still worth checking out despite its slightly unrefined driving feel. It’s not as hot as the newest Chryslers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking out for a spin.

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