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from a report in the Scripps Howard News Service

After redefining full-size cars with the visually stunning 300C, Chrysler is aiming for an encore with the midsize Sebring sedan.

Modeled on the 2003 Chrysler Airflite concept introduced at the Geneva motor show, Sebring is designed to look more expensive than its $18,995 base price would suggest.

Showing up in showrooms in the fourth quarter of this year, Sebring will compete with the most successful names in midsize cars, particularly the redesigned Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and updated Nissan Altima.

Sebring's segment represents roughly 12 percent of overall car and truck sales and 28 percent of the passenger-car market. With gas spikes still fresh in their memories, buyers are expected to take note of the base Sebring's fuel economy of 24 city and 32 highway miles per gallon.

Prospects for the Sebring are 35 to 55 years old and married, with a median income of about $65,000, Chrysler says. More than half the buyers are likely to be female, and 60 percent are college-educated. Many have small families.

Marketing messages for the Sebring will appeal to buyers' identities as down-to-earth, open-minded, style-conscious members of the middle class. The pool of intenders will grow with the intro of the coupe and convertible versions.

In addition to the base Sebring at $18,995, the sedan will be sold in Touring trim at $20,195 and as a Limited edition at $23,995.

Built in Chrysler's refurbished Sterling Heights assembly plant, the Sebring will offer a 2.4-liter World Engine in the base model with options for two levels of V6 power plants and a turbo-diesel outside North America.

The 173-horsepower base engine, harnessed to a four-speed automatic transmission, represents a 15 percent increase in power and an 8 percent improvement in fuel economy over the previous-generation engine.

A flexible fuel 2.7-liter V6 engine offered as an option produces 189 horsepower and 191 foot-pounds of torque. The engine can run on blended gasoline and ethanol, covering 22 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway.

The Limited engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that cranks 235 horses and 232 foot-pounds of torque. The transmission improves to a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy steps down a bit to 19 mpg city and 28 highway, which is typical for V6 engines in the class.

In addition to the styling, Chrysler expects to dazzle shoppers with options such as MyGIG, an information, entertainment and navigation audio system. The system has a 6.5-inch Thin Film Transistor Display with a touch-screen panel that can follow voice commands. A 20-gigabyte hard disc drive includes a Music Juke Box for organizing music and pictures on the hard drive. The system connects to MP3 and has a database to identify composer, artist and title. Voice memo lets you record a message up to three minutes long via the microphone on the rearview mirror.

Other notable options include cup holders that heat or cool beverages for front-seat passengers, representing the next stage in the rapid evolution of coffee-car interface. The System heats to 140 degrees Fahrenheit or cools to 35 degrees.

Standard equipment on the base model includes front and side air bags, tire-pressure monitoring system, outside temperature display, telescoping steering wheel, adjusters for lumbar support and seat height, AM/FM/CD radio with MP3 connectivity, sliding front center armrest and 60/40 split folding rear seat.

The Sebring Touring model comes with everything offered on the base model and premium seat fabric, a fold-flat passenger seat, brushed aluminum instrument panel, cluster bezels and door trim, chrome interior door handles, express-up/down windows for both the driver and passenger and express-down windows on the key fob, LED map lights, lighted visor mirrors, rear passenger assist grab handles and six speakers.

The Limited adds two-tone leather seats and leather shift knob, premium front console armrest, premium Boston Acoustics Sound System, an eight-way power driver seat, Travel Computer, Electronic Vehicle Information Center, single zone automatic temperature control, theft alarm, tortoise-shell accents on the steering wheel, instrument panel and doors, Universal Garage Door Opener, electrochromic rearview mirror, fog lamps, chrome exterior door handles, Satin Silver door handles, Limited badging, steering wheel audio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-way power seat, 17-inch aluminum wheels and tires, and Sirius Satellite Radio.

"Chrysler Sebring features a slew of new technological features not typically found or expected in a midsize car," said David Rooney, director of Chrysler marketing and global communications. "These features make life easier and safer for the driver and passengers, while making the overall driving experience much more enjoyable for all."
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