U.S.-German car a kick to drive
A drop-top version of Chrysler Crossfire is available for 2005, adding open-air cruising to the distinctive styling.
After the massive, lopsided merger that created DaimlerChrysler, many car enthusiasts anticipated vehicles that might result from the combination of Mercedes-Benz engineering and Chrysler styling.
Chrysler Crossfire is the first child of that marriage, essentially a sharply aggressive two-seater Chrysler body melded with the Mercedes SLK roadster. American style, German substance.
Arriving as a coupe for 2004, Crossfire drops the top and adds a convertible for 2005. Although the coupe has a dramatically sloping roofline, the Crossfire Roadster sports a short, rounded rear deck punctuated by a wing that rises when the speed hits 60 mph.
Typical with coupes turned convertibles, the roadster is less impressive, similar to Audi TT and Nissan 350Z. But it’s hard to beat the obvious advantage of a convertible: The roof comes off. And as a ragtop, the Crossfire is still a strikingly distinctive automobile.
Crossfire, like SLK, is a small roadster, which equates mainly to two things: It’s a kick to drive. It’s cramped.
OK, so I’m really tall, but combining the scant legroom and low roofline (when it’s up) means nobody over about 6 feet 2 is going to be comfortable in this thing. Headroom may be improved with the top down, but the stowed roof makes trunk space pathetically small.
As for the kick-to-drive part, Crossfire shows the same tight performance and impressive road holding of SLK. Though not a powerhouse in a straight line, Crossfire does have the pull for spirited driving and high-speed cruising.
Crossfire shows once again that Chrysler designers are on top of their game. Watch for a number of interesting new products.
What it is
A fun good-looking little roadster with all the style of a Chrysler and the finesse of a Mercedes-Benz.
Like the SLK, a 3.2-liter V-6 is found under the wide hood, providing 215 horsepower, which has plenty of guts and a sonorous exhaust note. Acceleration is good, though stop-light sprinters might find it sedate, especially compared with such competitors as Porsche Boxster S, Nissan 350Z or Honda S2000.
This is the same V-6 found in Mercedes sedans, and it’s a smooth-running engine. On the highway, Crossfire feels notably relaxed and refined.
The test car was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, the better to wring peak performance from the engine. The shifting is slightly notchy but precise. A five-speed automatic is also available.
Crossfire maintains the same poised, responsive cornering, steering and braking as SLK, with the typical solid feel of Mercedes. Ride and handling are first rate, the roadster feeling tough and maneuverable, with an appropr iately tight suspension.
The exceptional chassis stiffness can be felt in the quick cornering and the absence of rag-top shakiness over rough pavement. No rattles or groans, though there is some thumping tire noise.
The rear-drive roadster feels exceptionally well-balanced, and despite weighing better than 3,000 pounds, it will eagerly slice through corners and curves.
Part of the handling prowess comes from Mercedes’ storehouse of engineering goodies, such as a five-link independent rear suspension, Electronic Stability Control and all-speed traction control.
The wheels and tires are gigantic, 18 inches in front and 19 in back.
The classic sports-car profile of long hood and short rear deck works well here, helping Crossfire look ready to run. The highly detailed body includes plenty of complex creases and curves, plus a splash of speedy-looking gills on the sides. A spinelike ridge runs over the hood, through the interior and over the trunk.
The big, grinning grille, spanned by chrome Chrysler wings, makes Crossfire instantly recognizable.
The Crossfire look is highly distinctive, much more striking than the current SLK. A restyled SLK coming for 2005 could give it some competition.
One of the first Crossfire Roadsters on the street, the test car attracted plenty of notice.
Attractive but tight, too tight for this tall driver. After driving more-accommodating sports cars such as BMW Z4, I’m becoming increasingly critical of cars that don’t make allowances for the altitudinally gifted.
There a lot of Mercedes-Benz switchgear and detailing inside here, though Chrysler-enhanced with such things as vintage-looking gauges and aluminum trim. The interior offers few places to stow loose items.
All power and convenience features are present, and the upgraded audio system is excellent. There’s an odd GPS navigation system set up on a small screen that I never really got the hang of. I say skip it.
Unlike SLK, which has a folding hardtop, Crossfire has an unlined cloth roof. This allows a certain amount of outside noise, but the fit is snug and the top goes up and down very quickly.
Again like SLK, Crossfire Roadster is a pricey little number, starting off at $38,045. Add the audio and GPS system, $1,200; upgraded tires, $185; and shipping, $875, and you’re looking at a $40,000-plus automobile.
To be precise, $40,305.
Highly attractive and very sporty, Crossfire is part of yet another renaissance at Chrysler.