Spring: the season of love, flowers and convertibles. As warmer weather approaches, car dealers put away the 4×4 SUV’s and pull the drop-tops from the back of the lots in the hopes of snagging passersby wanting a vehicle to celebrate the (global?) warming weather. Pontiac tempts buyers with the G6 GT Hardtop Convertible while Chrysler lures in the public with the newly-introduced Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible. As the only American-branded four-passenger hardtop convertibles, which one truly deserves your hard-earned income? Or should both be tossed into the bonfire of the vanities?
The Pontiac instantly seduces you with a restrained and handsome profile– terminating in a rear end stolen from the Toyota Solara. In midnight black, the gargantuan panel gaps disappear to present a nicely- integrated whole, set off by similarly restrained 18 inch wheels. The G6 looks like a svelte coupe with the top up, and a boulevard cruiser with it down. Dalmatians of the world rejoice! GM left the Cruella De Vil grill intakes from the G6 GXP off the convertible.
While the Pontiac might pass as a little black dress, the Chrysler looks like a prom gown from the 1980’s, complete with poofed sleeves. Design cues from around the world are presented in a discombobulated package, attempting to look refined. The American hood strakes and chrome grill start the mess, European crease lines and rub strips make up the middle, and last decade’s Japanese tail lamps wrap up the rear.
The Sebring looks best when topless. Yet no one would ever call the Sebring handsome. The omnipresent rental-car beige (Chrysler offers three shades) and black paint subdue the “we will try anything and everything” style to almost inoffensive levels. Almost.
The excitement the Pontiac presents outside only makes your jaw drop harder when gazing upon the acres and acres of cheap black plastic slathered throughout the interior. The G6’s interior is like that popular girl in high school who shows up at the reunion ten years later, a complete throwback to the past with a lot more jiggly bits and a reminder that some things from previous decades should be consigned to the scrap heap of history.
Not only do the plastics disappoint, Pontiac also completely screwed up the ergonomics. Want to change tracks on the CD player? You reach for the skip button only to accidentally increase the volume, and then cut your finger on the sharp-edged chrome trim around the knob. Tiny buttons abound, from the stereo to the cruise control to the convertible top switch. All are cheap and insubstantial feeling. The only relief from the oppressive blackness of the instrument panel: the chrome rings tossed around the cabin in sufficient quantity to leave you with suspicions of Ringling Brothers Circus sponsorship.
Chrysler barely edges out the Pontiac in the better-looking cheap plastics contest. Avoiding Pontiac’s “black hole of despair” theme, Chrysler offers a pleasant palette for a light airy feel. Yes, but– the polymers are harder to the touch than Barack Obama’s rhetoric; shiny in some places, dull in others. The Sebring’s tortoiseshell veneers are a laudable attempt to do something different, but the execution makes it look as if sunglasses melted on the dashboard.
At least Chrysler spent more than ten minutes working out the ergonomic details. The LCD stereo display is aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically sound, especially when accessing the MyGig system. The upmarket-looking climate control dials click reassuringly; another bright spot on a barely passing grade. The seats on the Chrysler are as springy as Grandma’s couch, a completely opposite feel to the Pontiac’s grippy and more comfortable Recaro-esque buckets.
Both manufacturers claim to provide luxury for four, but first class on a Greyhound bus is still first class on a Greyhound bus. Both cars claim top operation only takes 30 seconds. Pontiac guessed right, Chrysler got it wrong by a lot.
The Pontiac’s top lurches into the trunk (and takes up ALL the space) with a bit of hesitation while providing a “will this work in three years?” origami display of engineering. The Chrysler takes nearly 45 seconds of whining. When the trunk lid pops to swallow the top, the entire car shakes like a pole dancer, wobbles a bit and then clunks alarmingly when sealing shut. I wouldn’t keep the Sebring past the standard warranty period based solely on the scary top operation.
At least you still get some accessible storage when the Chrysler goes topless (enough for two golf bags). You might be able to store a pizza in the Pontiac’s 2.2 cubic feet, but you have to raise the top to get to it.
Once the finicky tops are lowered, you’re all set to blast down Highway 190 into the sunset-drenched Sierra Nevadas and let your cares blow away in the wind… or
The Pontiac G6 GT Convertible wouldn’t know the word “blast” if it was shot in the face by a Howitzer. With either the standard 3.5-liter VVT pushrod V6 (217bhp), or the 3.9-liter 222bhp V6 (again with ancient pushrods), forward progress requires that you squeeze the throttle about three inches until you meet some resistance. At which point the engine pops a Valium, gives you a dirty look and groans up the rpm band.
The older-than-Bob-Lutz engine designs might actually have shown some pep were they not coupled to an incredibly lousy four-speed automatic transmission. The tranny either bogs the engine down or kicks down into noise-making gear. Neither situation is conducive to either sporty or relaxing driving. You are always trying to out guess the slushbox.
Slip the lever into “manual” mode and it gets even worse. The experience proves irritating to the point where you want to rip the gear lever out of its cheap plastic housing and proceed to beat the rest of the car with it (which I wouldn’t advise, considering the poor build quality). GM offers a good six-speed automatic on other G6’s, so why not here?
After the G6, the drive train in the Chrysler Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible seems like a breath of fresh air. The Sebring’s 3.5-liter SOHC V6 (with a G6-bettering 235bhp) is equipped with a six-speed automatic as standard. The engine and transmission work together smoothly to launch the Sebring quickly and semi-serenely. The tranny always keeps the power band on the boil while never letting it get raucous. It’s perfect for a cruiser convertible.
The downside: a non-existent exhaust note. In place of a V6 growl, you get to hear a bit of cooling fan roar and the fuel pump. As interesting as I find it to listen to an electric motor whir its little heart out, it’s not nearly as blissful as the mechanical symphony found on most drop-tops.
After putting in your earplugs to silence both the G6’s heavy metal and the Sebring’s electronic disco, you find both cars want to sit on the side of the dance floor and pretend they know the proper steps. The Sebring offends the least with a stable and smooth-riding platform that provides rental-car-friendly safe handling. Understeer only becomes annoying should you want to go faster than the legal speed limit. The standard stabilizer bars front and rear keep the body roll to less-than-yacht-like conditions and the standard suspension dampers keep the vertical bouncy motions to a minimum.
Drive it like you retired in it, and the Sebring manages to create a sedate and somewhat relaxing experience; it demands nothing from the driver who has all the time in the world. Top down or up, body quiver is never an issue, although small wiggles find their way through the rack-and-pinion steering. One weird gripe: at cruising speed, the wind buffets the sun visors, creating a boring gray flutter in your line of vision. Epileptics should not purchase this vehicle.
At the first turn of the G6’s wheel, you might as well stop turning. Typical of all G6’s, understeer reigns with a tyrannical vengeance. Vague steering and precious little feedback degrade the experience to the point where the G6 GT becomes almost dangerous to drive in any conditions other than a straight line. The harder you press the car (provided you could stand the transmission), the less fun it provides. When the 18-inch tires finally start to grip, the chassis slides slightly in its bushings, creating a strange plywood-on-springs sensation.
Keeping the G6 on the straight and level reveals the Pontiac engineers were listening to Chubby Checker belt out “The Twist.” A 1986 SAAB 900 convertible has less cowl shake. On the rough Oklahoma interstates, the Pontiac shook so badly I started to get motion sickness– and I fly for a living! I could only listen to the top secured in the trunk crack in protest. I give the standard glass rear window about two-and-a-half years before it needs replacing.
Driving both cars back-to-back reveals one clear “winner:” the Chrysler Sebring Limited. It may have awkward aesthetics, but its decent drivetrain and nicer interior make the Pontiac G6 GT look like the classic dumb blond: all looks with absolutely no substance to back it up. If offered a Sebring drop top as a rental car, I wouldn’t turn it down.
I know: that’s not exactly what you’d call high praise. Compared to the competition– ANY competition– both cars are losers. If it was my hard-earned $30Kish, I’d spend it on a Mustang GT Convertible, VW EOS, SAAB 9-3, Mazda MX-5 or ANYTHING else. Hell, I might even spend it on nothing. And the fact that the G6 and Sebring’s manufacturers have put these underdeveloped cars on the market brings glory to neither.