I really hate to post on this again but I just got back from another business trip, which meant another rental car. This time I was allocated a Chrysler Sebring Convertible, Limited Edition. I was initially quite excited - it's been a while since I drove a convertible. I retracted the roof which was a nice, smooth mechanism, and it vanished below a hard tonneau cover at the back. Nice. It certainly made the car look better once the roof was down. The overall external design was actually quite attractive. The interior left a bit to be desired but it was better than some of the recent stuff I've driven. The power seat was comfortable and had enough range of movement for me, although being a convertible, the lower windscreen top did mean I had to have the seat quite low. The tilt-and-slide steering column had a good range of adjustment in it, but I couldn't quite get it to where I was comfortable. No biggie though - things were looking impressive for an American car. I was prepared, for the first time in a while, to be pleasantly surprised.
Sadly it all went a bit wrong when I let the brake off and started to drive.
Where to start?
Well the engine certainly has a lot of torque and power (235hp in a V6). The problem is that the chassis is so bad that if the road is even slightly wet, you just sit there with the front wheels spinning. Oddly, the car did seem to have traction control, but it took a good 3 or 4 seconds before it kicked in. And when it did, it was like the engine had seized. There was this awful mechanical bang from the front, the car lurched forwards and it felt like 5 of the 6 cylinders had exploded.
It got worse when I got to the first corner. With the exception of the Smart ForTwo, this thing has the most awful understeer of any car I've ever driven. The Chrysler just plows straight ahead, irrespective of where the front wheels are pointed. To say it nearly killed me on the first motorway off-ramp is an understatement. As I slowed from 60-ish to 30-ish to deal with the cloverleaf junction, the front lost traction and away I went, over the hard shoulder and on to the dirt. I let off the brakes just in time to stop from going over the edge - the wheels regained just enough grip to turn the car away from disaster, but really - braking from 60 to 30 and it won't turn? Is this the dark ages? My Honda Element, with it's high centre of gravity and rollover-inducing long-travel suspension can handle clover-leaf junctions in the wet at 50mph with no problems.
The rest of the Chrysler's handling is commensurate with the boat-like size of the car. (It's 5 metres long yet the EPA classify it as a "compact".) It wallowed over bumps and undulations in the road and the steering was the usual over-excited affair. A bit keen - like a Jack Russell terrier. You know the sort - so sensitive that the car follows every rut and bump in the road unless you're actually trying to steer it in a straight line.
But perhaps worst of all, from the fill-to-fill calculation I made on the gas-mileage, this thing managed to squeak out an abysmal 14.5mpg.
Why does this keep happening? Do the car-buying public just not know that there are better vehicles out there?