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Road Test: 2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

Awkwardly styled, the Sebring Convertible is the Pat Boone of automobiles – it hits the notes, but there’s no soul in its singing. The convertible does look slicker than the standard Sebring sedan and its hunchy shape, but the hood is still too short and the retractable hardtop’s roofline still doesn’t look quite right. Maybe it’s because of the high trunk out back? The roof looks like it was plopped on, Automoblox-style.

Road Test Gallery: 2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

There are some angles where the Sebring looks good. Catch it in the right light, and all those strakes and character lines manipulate the reflections just so. It doesn’t happen often, but the right shading down that strong Chrysler family swage in the body side will have you exclaiming “wow, if you stand here, close one eye, and squint, it actually looks good. If you can ignore the strakes in the hood.”

Middle management pencil pushers will focus on the spec sheet and convince themselves that the Sebring offers much of what you can find in the BMW 3 series for a lot less. It makes its case on paper, initially. Standard four cylinder power can be upgraded to either a 2.7 liter or 3.5 liter V6, big alloy rims conceal four wheel disc brakes bolted to a four wheel independent suspension, an available MyGig system bundling navigation and multimedia together with a LCD in the dash, leather seating, power folding hardtop, it all sounds very nice, though the price can scrape high into the 30s.

Road Test Gallery: 2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

Upon first setting eyes on the Sebring, the reaction to the price goes from a shrug to “are they on drugs?” In Chrysler’s defense, the good people at the Sterling Heights plant have solidly screwed all the pieces together, the Sebring Touring we tried was well-assembled. The fine construction job only goes so far when the pieces aren’t very good. While the outside has to deal with being generally ungainly, the interior is molded from plastic so cheap it’d make a milk jug blush. Door and dash panels are large swaths of injection molded cheapness. Surface textures are off-putting, and most everything is rock hard to the touch.

Road Test Gallery: 2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

The Touring wore seats that were generally comfortable and attractive with two shades of leather and contrasting stitching. The dashboard’s design appears more disjointed in pictures than it comes off in practice, though the attempt to dress things up with featureless expanses of silver colored plastic again screams cheap. A redesign isn’t really what’s needed, just new molds that will impart some high quality surface finishes so the HVAC controls don’t have to float in limbo. It’s easy to sit back and call for millions of dollars in molds and materials upgrades, but that’s what this car needs.

Actually, the Sebring needs one last thing: new engines. We’re astounded you can even get a four cylinder in the Sebring, even the 2.7 liter V6 feels inadequate. Chrysler’s Phoenix engines are slated to hit the production stream for the 2010 model year, and we hope they’re as good as promised so the wheezing, braying sixes Chrysler now has can go to the grave.

Road Test Gallery: 2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

It’s good at what it does; normal adults fit in all the seats, front and rear, and the trunk is nice and big, useful even when the top is down. Given the exterior size, the interior feels a little more intimate than you’d first expect, though, and the trunklid rises on very stiff struts yet has no grab handle, making closing difficult. The Touring comes well equipped and is solid on the road, but the price is unforgivable. Chrysler wants BMW money for the Sebring, but there’s a big difference between the two. The BMW drives with aplomb, while the Sebring drives like a bomb. Not entirely, but its limits are low, easily pushing the Turanzas into abuse territory and there’s not much feedback from the helm.

Road Test Gallery: 2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

For a car that doesn’t purport to be sporty (never mind what Touring badging implies), the Sebring hits all the right notes to satisfy the likes of Michael Scott, and it will please the audience that’s always bought Chrysler convertibles. It is nice to have a convertible with a useable trunk, and the retractable hardtop makes it possible to have a no compromises closed car when the weather doesn’t support top-down motoring. It’s not a cracking good bargain, but choices are limited when it comes to commodious domestic-branded droptops, and for that, we can hope that the Sebring goes to finishing school and sticks around.

Click to view our original 2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible Road Test photo gallery
Road Test Gallery: 2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

Road Test: 2008 Toyota Sequoia

Up until 2007 the Sequoia was considered a reliable sport utility, but not quite up to par or size with the full size segment leaders, the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition.   Starting off at a three-quarters scale disadvantage, Toyota knew they had to go bigger to angle for more sales from the full size segment.  Just as they did with the Tundra last year, the Sequoia is redesigned and up-sized going into 2008.  With a more aggressive front-end and a  5.7-liter 381-horsepower engine cherry picked from the new Tundra, Toyota has placed the Sequoia in an extremely competitive position relative to the also fresh Suburban and Expedition.  The big question: Is the new bruiser big enough to scare the other guys? The bigger question: If it is, did Toyota finally enter the super-hot SUV party just as it’s getting busted by high fuel prices?

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From the moment you start up the optional 381-horsepower i-Force V8, it’s overly apparent there’s some serious muscle lurking under the hood. Lay into the accelerator and the brute force push from behind lends serious doubt that you are in fact driving a 17-foot long full-size sport utility. The exhaust note harks of Nissan’s 5.6-liter but with the smooth bravado of a DOHC Ford V8.  While only 1-inch short of an Expedition in total length the Sequoia is surprisingly small on the road, if only in feel.  It fits in a normal mall parking spot, navigates with a tight turning radius, and does not exhibit the normal light rear end feeling that many trucks and utilities in this segment can’t seem to get away from.  Between the fully independent rear suspension and the tourqy V8, we came away surprised just how livable Toyota has made the Sequoia.  The normal plus size awareness one must usually heed when driving any vehicle of this size has been beautifully engineered away.

On the exterior, Toyota must get credit for draping the visually aggressive exterior from the Tundra onto the Sequoia without bloat. Wimpy looks this monster does not have.  There are a few changes from the Tundra aside from the overall shape.  Chrome on the grill has been switched for paint and the faux vent on the front of the hood has been removed all together. The interior keeps the truck’s dash configuration but adds a more rich color palate and less black polished plastic around the radio.  A power flat fold third row seat is quick and easy to operate, complementing the available power open/close rear hatch nicely. Power hatches are common options on many vehicles these days but Toyota has taken it one step further by bringing a power retracting window into the mix as well.  We used the rear window quite a bit as warmer weather starts to penetrate New England this time of year.

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On days the weather doesn’t work in your favor, as we also encountered,  the optional  four-wheel-drive system handles it all. With a half-foot of snow on the road, the Sequoia trudged through like the frozen road didn’t even exist. Stability control kept things strait and at lower speeds a lockable center differential firms up traction even more.  If you’re crazy, throw the transfer case in low and raise the air-suspension to its high level to gain an even greater advantage.

Again- not wanting to allow Chevy or Ford to have all the cake, Toyota took time with the Sequoia’s interior. Dual power front seats are large and comfortable. The second row is equally large and slides front to back giving the surprisingly spacious third row more leg-room as needed. Toyota claims the third row can fit three adults comfortably but we wouldn’t put more than two of our closest friends in the way back.  Even loaded up with a full bevy of adults, you can be rest-assured they will all have a place to bring along something to drink, with sixteen cup holders.  And if a 2:1 cup holder to passenger ratio wasn’t enough, many are large enough to fit a Nalgene bottle- a definite plus.

But besides all the flashy features, the bright spot on the Sequoia is the available 5.7-liter engine. It’s not standard, but if you absolutely need to tow something or are sadistic about fuel costs- this is your choice. 381-horsepower and 401-lb-ft of torque trump all the offerings from Ford, General Motors, or Nissan. As you might also guess- so does it’ s need for fuel. The EPA rates the Sequoia at 13-mpg in the city and 18 on the highway. During our 931-mile test we averaged just under 15-mpg.  For all the performance, those 931 miles set us back a cringe inducing $198 of regular unleaded. While not quite as tourqy, GM’s 6.0-liter with active fuel management reaches above 20-mpg with ease. In our example, driven a similar distance the GM would have only cost around $150 in gas. Over the course of a year this becomes a significant sum.  Toyota does offer an optional 4.7-liter V8, but with one less gear in the transmission (five versus six as found in our tester), the fuel economy on the highway drops to 16-mpg. Just something to make you go hmmmm.

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By the end of our two-week stint we were really feeling this new Toyota. It offered plenty of space, great driving dynamics and rocket-like performance. While we are never one to turn away a monster engine, the thirst for octane may be too great for many people’s budget. Both the Expedition and Suburban fair better in fuel economy, which is quickly becoming a deal breaker as fuel prices threaten to continue their steep climb.  Is the Sequoia a better full-size? There is no doubt. Better than the current market leaders? Time will tell as personal choice is a hard thing to judge. We argue that the Sequoia has everything it takes to be the segment leader  and then some. However if fuel prices have any relation to sales figures, Toyota still has some catching up to do.

Conclusion:
All the right stuff to beat up all those pesky Suburban’s on luxury and performance but with a thirsty disadvantage.

Things we liked:
– Hello- 381 V8 horsepower!
– Power third row that is comfortable and folds flat
-Could tow your house

Could be better:
– Hello- 381 V8 horsepower!
– Hard plastics used in sections of interior
– Fit and finish not as detailed as GM interiors

View our original Road Test photo gallery of the 2008 Toyota Sequoia

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