Five years after the DaimlerChrysler merger – termed the “merger of equals,” – former Mercedes Benz officials are finally unveiling the new Chryslers. And the results are unlike anything Chrysler has produced.
Among the most anticipated is the Chrysler Crossfire, a stunningly carved, limited edition Art Deco coupe.
The first time you lay eyes upon it, you must walk around it to drink in its details. The large egg-crate grille is topped by Chrysler’s winged medallion. High-intensity discharge headlamps sparkle like jewels. The hood ridges give the appearance of speed. A center ridge incorporated into the roof arcs backward to a boat-tail rear.
The hatch’s rear door incorporates a spoiler, which deploys at speeds over 50 mph. Even the front quarter panels are interesting to look at; they’re accented with horizontal grilles.
Set this speedy little coupe on top of truly mammoth tires (18 inches up front, 19 inches in the rear) and you have a uniquely styled speed buggy.
That stylish look continues inside, with metallic trim and high-quality plastic surfaces. The roof shape is echoed inside, including its unique ridge. DaimlerChrysler stylists also put a ridge atop the dashboard.
But all the speed styling cues merely accent what lies underneath.
The Crossfire uses the platform, suspension and drivetrain of the current Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster, a car that is about to be redesigned.
Of course, that means the Crossfire is built in Germany by Karmann, the same coachbuilder responsible for the VW Beetle Cabriolet, Audi Cabriolet, Mercedes-Benz CLK convertible.
Powered by Mercedes-Benz’s 3.2-liter single-overhead-cam V-6, the Crossfire is mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission with manual sequential shifting capability.
Power off the line will raise doubts about its sports car credibility, as there’s not much. But the doubt vanishes as speed increases, with a strong surge of torque coming on above 20 mph. Power always seems to be there when you need it, even at autobahn speeds.
Shifts from the Mercedes-sourced automatic gearbox are seamless. The automatic can be shifted manually. If you do shift manually, you’ll find that the shifts are activated quicker than with Chrysler’s Autostick gearbox. The transmission stays in gear without shifting automatically.
While the wide tires drum up a good bit of noise, they do wonders for grip. So too do the electronic nannies. With electronic stability control and brake assist, the Crossfire adheres in corners with a tenacity expected of German cars. Body lean isn’t a part of this vehicle’s vocabulary. As a result, the downside is a very firm ride which translates every road imperfection.
The recirculating ball steering is slower than some rack and pinion units, but it seems more than quick enough here. The brakes were very impressive, with short straight stops handled with uncommon quickness.
Certainly there’s little that can be faulted from a performance standpoint.
Inside, the Crossfire is a testimony to true luxury, as its simple dashboard is easy to operate and doesn’t suffer from the harsh glare of a video screen that incorporates a million different functions. While many new cars suffer from this glaring amenity, the Crossfire does not. Chrysler offers simple twist knobs for the climate control and a two-knob radio with an amazing 10 radio station presets. A CD player is incorporated into the audio system. While the audio system has decent sound, all of the speakers are set in the front of the cabin. Without the surround sound that most people are now accustomed to, the audio system seems out-of-balance, when in fact it isn’t.
Other details in the cabin annoy.
The cruise control stalk is mounted on the steering column just above the turn signal and is too easy to hit accidentally, just as in comparable Mercedes’ models. The bucket seats are too firm and flat. The stunning styling eliminates almost all rear visibility. Interior room is tight, with little headroom for those over six feet tall.
The steering wheel telescopes, but doesn’t tilt. There is only one set of power window switches, mounted in the center console. The rear of the center console is the location of the one small cupholder, which won’t stay shut because it is too easy to open with your elbow. The paint had more swirl marks than a Dairy Queen soft serve cone. Both windows suffered from excessive wind noise when rolled up. A sunroof is unavailable, a painful omission in a coupe.
You might just chalk all this up to character, the sort of thing that makes this coupe unique.
But the one thing that was hard to ignore was the electrical problems.
Electrical gremlins have plagued Mercedes-Benz vehicles with enough intensity to drag its reliability ratings down. In J.D. Power’s consumer survey of quality, consumers, after three months of ownership, rated Mercedes 15th among brands, and below that of Buick, Chevrolet and Toyota. In addition, the ADAC, Germany’s largest automotive club, ranked Mercedes-Benz 32nd out of 33 brands in overall customer satisfaction.
While Chrysler ranks lower, it is still surprising to have problems on a car with just 6,500 miles on it.
During a test drive on a rare vacation day, the dashboard lights indicated a problem with the Electronic Stability Control and Brake Assist features. Pulling over and restarting the car didn’t reset the lights. They still came on. Instead, the radio ceased functioning.
Time to take the Crossfire to a dealer.
Straub Chrysler in Bethlehem took the car in immediately. With great expediency, they found one of the two brake relays had malfunctioned. The relay was fixed and I was on my way. While annoyed at having the problem, I was very pleased with Straub’s excellent service.
Thankfully, this car comes with Chrysler’s 7-year, 70,000-mile warranty.
On a more positive note, the car averaged almost 22 mpg, good performance for a sporting automobile.
The Chrysler style and mechanical heritage might lead you to believe this to be a very expensive car. But that’s not the case. The Crossfire has a base price of $33,620.
With the only option being the automatic transmission, the test car provided by DaimlerChrysler bottom-lined at $35,570. That is comparative to coupes such as the Audi TT and Nissan 350Z, but less than a Porsche Boxster.
All things considered, the Crossfire’s performance and stunning style is entrancing, even as its details can be maddening. In that regard, this Chrysler is like many that have come be fore it, even if it’s like nothing that has come before it.