Chrysler will pitch its redesigned Sebring sedan into the hotly-contested European D-segment next year with a choice of four engines and two trim levels.

The automaker hopes to build on the success of the big 300C - which it assembles in Austria - in the E-segment but will probably find the D-segment a tougher nut to crack.

In recent years, consumers - many so-called fleet 'user-choosers' spending the company's money - have tended to migrate upwards to the likes of the BMW 3-series and Audi A4, choosing a relatively low-specification 'premium' model in preference to a high-spec Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall/Opel Vectra with less perceived snob value.

Into this segment, often the scene of deep discounting to secure high-volume fleet contracts, Chrysler is pitching the Sebring with standard two-litre petrol World Engine (developed and built jointly with Hyundai and Mitsubishi) with dual variable valve timing (VVT), and offering an optional 2.4-litre petrol version, again with dual VVT, and a 140hp two-litre turbodiesel engine sourced from Volkswagen.

VW is also supplying turbodiesels for Chrysler's Dodge Caliber hatchback, on sale soon in Europe, and, in turn, Chrysler will eventually build minivans in the US for VW to sell there.

Chrysler will later offer European Sebring buyers a US-made 2.7-litre V6 petrol engine.

Highlighting the new car's importance to its European expansion plans, Chrysler flew in two Detroit-based heavy-hitters to unveil the Sebring at the London motor show - president and CEO Tom LaSorda and Joe Eberhardt, the division's head of global sales, marketing and service.

La Sorda said that diesel engines are available for current and planned models sold in Europe with the engines sourced from VM, Mercedes and Volkswagen.

In the Sebring, the VW turbodiesel will be coupled to a six-speed manual transmission but there are no plans to offer an automatic (VW Group cars with this engine have BorgWarner's dual-clutch pre-select automated manual transmission marketed as the Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG).

A spokesman later told just-auto: "It's just a six-speed [manual] for the time being. With the volume, we need to economise our resources and every time we do a transmission/engine recalibration, it needs a lot of resources on the engineering side."

The decision may turn off a few buyers, as Toyota has found with its new manual-only Lexus IS220d, and D-segment rivals, including the Vectra, Mondeo, Hyundai Sonata and the 'premium' 3-series and A4, all offer automatics hooked to at least one diesel engine version. VW's similar-sized Jetta has the same 140hp engine and the DSG 'box.

Sebring features for Europe will include a 'cutting-edge' information, entertainment and communication navigation audio system and, this being an American car, a heated/cooled front cup holder highlighted during the London launch.

Safety systems include ESP, side-curtain airbags and optional front-seat-mounted side airbags.

"The all-new Chrysler Sebring sustains our momentum by bringing to market a compelling vehicle that addresses the needs and wants of many European D-segment buyers," said Chrysler international sales chief Thomas Hausch in a statement. "The Sebring is the first Chrysler Group D-segment vehicle not only to offer a diesel powertrain, but also right-hand drive availability, which allows us to expand our customer reach around the globe."

Touring and Limited trim levels will be offered and European sales start in the first half of 2007.

No one from Chrysler would confirm, but it is likely the right-hand drive Sebring will follow the 300C (and the Neon before it) to other markets in Asia plus Australia and New Zealand.

Graeme Roberts