MALIBU, Calif. -- The serpentine PCH -- Pacific Coast Highway -- wiggles up California's coast through the exclusive beach community of Malibu, where movie stars and zillionaire dot-com gurus dwell and drive some of the priciest convertibles and exotic sports cars.
You'll spot these mega-bucks vehicles ripping up the four-lane PCH, Malibu's main street, or in the Santa Monica Mountains zipping through Malibu Canyon or romping along ridge routes like Mulholland Drive.
But we're cruising the PCH in a different kind of convertible, one where the window sticker shows far fewer digits than on those ultra-expensive Malibu exotics.
Our PCH cruiser is the mid-size Sebring Convertible by Chrysler in a slick new design for 2008 with three choices for the retractable roof -- vinyl, cloth or steel.
Sebring as a drop-top splits into three versions -- entry-model Sebring Convertible, the upscale Touring edition and a deluxe Limited -- and each adds exterior trim elements and interior equipment for differentiation as well as a different powertrain.
Expect this new treatment of Sebring to become, like the predecessor, a new definition for the classic American convertible, with plush seats for four, reasonable power below the hood, and such striking body styling that the eye naturally draws to it.
It follows in a long line of convertible classics from Chrysler, with names like Town & Country, Imperial, New Yorker, LeBaron and, most recently, the previous Sebring Convertible, which bowed in 1996 and thereafter ranked as best-selling ragtop in America.
The new Sebring Convertible bears the same name as Chrysler's four-door sedan, which was recast in 2007, and shares in platform, powertrains and parts -- yet the sedan's two rear doors were discarded and the top was lopped off and replaced by the retractable lid in curvy coupe-like format.
The re-do produces a shapely new body that blends styling points of Chrysler's 300 series of full-size sedans and the racy Crossfire sports coupe.
There's a dominating egg-crate grille in chrome with glimmering corner-mounted quad headlamp clusters and a sculpted hood scored by lines strafing across the top.
Sebring's smooth silhouette shows brief overhangs in front and back, bold wheel arches and flanks chiseled with more strafing lines that suggest swift movement.
The windshield tips to the extreme to enhance aerodynamic efficiency and flows into a long arch for the roof canopy before tapering to a curt tail deck.
With the drop-top down, a hard tonneau cover on all editions fits behind the cockpit and creates a smooth transition between cabin seats and trunk lid.
No other convertible has so many options for the top.
The standard on Sebring Convertible and the Touring model is a vinyl top in black.
For Sebring Convertible Touring trim a cloth top in black or taupe is available.
For the Limited model a cloth top in black or pebble beige is optional.
And on Touring and Limited models with a V6 engine the painted steel retractable hardtop is offered.
All three of the tops -- vinyl, cloth and steel -- open or close quickly and easily with power controls and automatic latching, or by punching a button on the optional key fob with remote starter.
Sebring's designers also left a surprising amount of space for the trunk of a convertible. There's more than 13 cubic feet of room with the top upright, and even with the lid down and stowed there's enough room remaining to accommodate two travel-size golf bags.
Chrysler offers three different engines to motivate the new Sebring Convertibles.
Sebring Convertible the price-leader entry edition totes a 2.4-liter four-in-line plant with dual variable valve timing (VVT) to generate 173 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque of 166 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
The four-pack ties to a four-speed automatic transaxle.
This engine earns Sebring's highest fuel economy numbers -- up to 29 mpg for highway cruising.
Sebring Touring gets a V6 engine and a different four-speed automatic.
This plant, displacing 2.7 liters off an aluminum block with dual-cam configuration, delivers 189 hp at 6400 rpm with torque peaking at 191 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
Despite the boosted output, the V6 still achieves reasonable fuel economy numbers (18 mpg city/26 mpg highway) and runs on regular-grade gas.
The convertible's strongest powertrain goes to the deluxe Limited edition.
The single-cam 3.5-liter V6 produces 235 hp at 6400 rpm and 232 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
It links with a six-speed automatic that's available with Chrysler's AutoStick for manual sequential shifting.
With the larger V6, mid-grade fuel (89 octane) is recommended and the fuel economy figures decline to 16 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
Sebring's airy cabin sparks with stylish appointments, while some clever concepts make life comfortable aboard:
* A cupholder in the front console has hot/cold elements to keep a beverage piping hot or nearly freezing.
* Sliding armrest -- to fit a petite driver.
* Optional Harmon/Kardon audio and information system which includes a dashboard touch-screen interface to control a 20-gigabyte hard drive for music and video storage.
* Optional USB (universal serial bus) port for transferring WMA, MP3 and JPEG files to the 20-gig hard drive.
* Optional UConnect for hands-free wireless voice communication with a cell phone using Bluetooth technology.
Chrysler undercuts price points for the new convertible. The MSRP for a base Sebring Convertible comes to $25,470 plus a $675 delivery fee. Touring edition tallies to $28,070, while the Limited begins at $31,670. And the retractable hardtop lists for $1,995.
Description: Mid-size 2+2 convertible
Model options: Sebring Convertible, Sebring Convertible Touring, Sebring Convertible Limited
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches
Overall length: 193.9 inches
Engine size: DOHC 2.4-L I4, DOHC 2.7-L V6, SOHC 3.5-L V6
Transmissions/speeds: 2.4: Auto/4/40TES, 2.7: Auto/4/41TES, 3.5: Auto/6/AutoStick/62TE
Rear/front drive: Front
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Braking: Power disc/drum/ABS, Power 4-disc/ABS, Power 4-disc/ABS/HBA/ESP/TCS
Air bags: 2 (front), 2 (side)
EPA mileage est. city/hwy. 2.4: 20/29 mpg, 2.7: 18/26 mpg, 3.5: 16/26 mpg
MSRP: Sebring: $ 25,470, Touring: $ 28,070,Limited: $ 31,670