The Chrysler Crossfire is a two-seat sports car that brings exciting styling to the class. For 2005, Chrysler is adding a roadster for top-down motoring. Plus, a powerful new SRT-6 model is available, both coupe and roadster body styles.
The Crossfire combines American design with German engineering. Look underneath and you'll find a lot of Mercedes parts, including the V6 engine, multilink suspension, and steering. It's based heavily on the Mercedes-Benz SLK.
Chrysler excels at design and we love the Crossfire's romantic shapes and sleek, athletic lines. The long hood and fastback make the coupe instantly recognizable.
Not surprisingly, the Crossfire runs like a Mercedes. It has a firm, but comfortable ride and precise steering that reminds us of the SLK. The 3.2-liter V6 feels and sounds like the engine from the previous-generation SLK. Though Chrysler points out that it has more torque than the BMW Z4 roadster, Porsche Boxster, and Audi TT Quattro, the three-valve Mercedes V6 simply does not offer the free-revving sportiness those other three deliver. Nor does it have the power of the Nissan 350Z or Infiniti G35 coupe. But that's okay. The Crossfire is relatively light at just 3060 pounds. It's performance is plenty thrilling enough for most drivers and its rear-wheel drive gives it that classic sporty feel. In short, it's fun to drive and delightful to ride around in.
To kick it up a notch, the new Crossfire SRT-6 features a supercharged version of the V6 rated at 330 horsepower, a huge jump from the standard 215-horsepower engine. Chrysler claims the SRT-6 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5 seconds, which is very quick indeed. The suspension and brakes are upgraded for spirited driving. The big rear wing that comes on the SRT-6 models detracts from the Crossfire's svelte styling, though. Also new for 2005 is an entry-level coupe dropping the price of entry below $30,000.
The Crossfire originally appeared as a concept at the 2001 Detroit auto show, while the roadster was revealed at the 2004 Detroit show. The Crossfire still looks like a concept car, particularly when ordered in one of the wilder colors like Classic Yellow.
The Chrysler Crossfire uses retro styling somewhat like the Mini Cooper, PT Cruiser, or Beetle. Unlike those other cars, however, Crossfire is patterned after parts of classic French Bugattis and Talbot Lagos from the elegant pre-war period of auto design. Collectors of classic cars recognize the shape of the rear hatch, the curve of the fenders, and the subtly bubbled roof from designs they covet, although the Crossfire is a blend of many lines, not a copy of any particular model from the golden age. Chrysler styling cues are here as well, particularly at the front of the car, where the quad headlamps and big grille with horizontal bars evokes the look of the new Chrysler 300C and Pacifica.
The Crossfire impressed us when we first saw it and we still love the looks and enjoy looking at its styling details and nuances. The strakes that dimple the hood and the non-functional vents behind the front wheels have drawn some criticism, but we like them. The hood strakes are best appreciated from directly overhead, where they work with the fenders and a ridge that runs from the center of the hood and is carried back through the center of the roof. Big-shouldered rear fenders and a stunted rear end look sporty and classic at the same time. The chopped roof with slits for side windows remind us of something from a 1930s gangster movie or cartoon. This car looks distinctive and has lots of character.
The roadster has a more traditional profile than the distinctive fastback rear of the coupe, but we like both designs. It looks good with the top up, with its short rear deck. And it looks even better with the top down, the body colored panel behind the rear seats looking like a classic sports car with raised humps behind each seat. Even after a year on the road, the coupe attracts attention, and the new roadster gets a lot of looks.
The Crossfire is built at the Karmann factory in Germany, which is the same place the Mercedes SLK and CLK are built, at a rate of nearly 20,000 per year, and it's sold in many other countries. Chrysler says the name Crossfire is derived from the crossed lines of the front and rear body sections.
The first thing you notice when you get in the Crossfire is its contemporary interior styling, a clean and elegant design with an interesting mix of materials and colors. Interior colors are keyed to the exterior and range from a subdued gray to a pale yellow to a rich red, depending on the model, offset with a black dash. A silver center stack brightens the interior and feels good to the touch. The top of the dash is textured and reminded us of a sprayed-on bed liner, but we like it and it looks like it will hold up well.
Inside the Chrysler Crossfire is the familiar Mercedes adjustable wheel and pedal arrangement with a low seating position similar to the SLK roadster's. It's tight inside for a six-footer, yet the driver's seat slides back far enough for an NBA hopeful. We found the seats outstanding, firm, comfortable and supportive. The instruments look classic and are easy to read. Just as in a Mercedes, we were constantly hitting the cruise control lever when we wanted to signal a turn; Mercedes owners adapt to this. Switches for the power windows are on the center console, less convenient than having them on the doors; they feature auto-down but not auto-up.
The Crossfire cockpit is tight and coddling like a sports car's. It's reminiscent of the SLK, yet has curiously tiny sun visors. Bins and cubbies are more prolific than you'll find in the Mercedes SLK or even the top-dollar SL two-seaters.
The Roadster has a high-quality top with a glass back light (rear windscreen) with a defroster. The top goes down in 22 seconds. To drop the top, simply pull down the handle on the windshield header, turn the handle, which releases the convertible fabric top and lowers the power windows, and lift the front of the top about eight inches. Then press the button on the center console and the hard tonneau opens up, the soft fabric top folds in, and the hard tonneau closes again.
Rearward visibility from both the coupe and Roadster is limited to a narrow slit in the rearview mirror, but the outside mirrors are generously sized.
The coupe offers 7.6 cubic feet of cargo space; it's deep and can swallow a fair amount of stuff, but the opening is relatively small and precludes big boxes. The roadster offers 6.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the top up, less with the top down; accessing the roadster's trunk is very easy, however, compared with some of the more awkward convertibles such as the PT Cruiser or Beetle. No key is needed to open the trunk when the Crossfire is unlocked, which is convenient.
We found the Crossfire accelerates with strength and force even though the output of 215 horsepower is ordinary these days. The three-valve engine sounds mildly sporty. It sounds louder and more purposeful than the same engine in various Mercedes models, but not as sweet as a free-revving sports car engine should be. We particularly like the quick throttle response, which gives the impression that the engine is stronger than its 215 horsepower would suggest. Chrysler claims the Crossfire will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, and our test car felt like that would not be a problem. But that's significantly slower than sports cars such as the similarly affordable Nissan 350Z and pricier Boxster S.
We love the sporty handling. The Crossfire does not overpower its chassis, in fact it feels just the opposite. The A-arm front and multilink rear suspension and the monster tires feel like they can cope with more speed than the engine is capable of providing.
We drove the Crossfire over winding mountain roads east of San Diego, smoothly paved with lots of combinations of tight bends and fast sweeping curves. The chassis of our Crossfire felt stiffer than the Mercedes SLK roadsters, likely because the coupe body of the Chrysler has a structural advantage. The Crossfire shares its floorpan with the SLK, but in the Chrysler it's modified with extra tie bars and frame gussets that prompt Chrysler to proclaim class-leading chassis stiffness. The Crossfire corners as flat as a sports car. Though not harsh, the suspension is firm, so sipping a hot cappuccino on the way to work might be risky.
At the limits of its cornering ability, the Crossfire will begin plowing sooner than a 350Z or BMW Z4. Chrysler says this is a function of the car being tuned for more relaxed cruising than all-out sport driving. The Crossfire sports huge 225/40 by 18-inch front and 255/35 by 19-inch rear tires. Two tire designs are available, a Michelin Pilot Sport 2 and a new Continental Z-rated (high-speed) all-season. The tires are relatively large for a car that is not intended to be an uncompromised sports car, such as Nissan's 350Z, and we suspect the Crossfire's large tires were specified for styling appeal.
The six-speed manual gearbox, a Mercedes unit, somehow didn't seem to feel as direct and quick shifting as we remember from previous Mercedes roadsters. We actually preferred the Crossfire with the five-speed automatic, which worked flawlessly and felt perfectly matched to the 3.2-liter engine. This automatic has an adaptive function, which learns how you drive by measuring how quickly you apply the accelerator in each gear. It has a manual-shifting gate, which Chrysler calls AutoStick on its cars.
The brakes are sensitive and responsive. The Crossfire can stop like a sports car, a result of its large 11.8-inch vented front and 10.9-inch solid rear rotors matched with massive tires. Our drives took us up and down 4,000-foot elevations, and the brakes gave us confidence charging downhill as quickly as we drove uphill. Like the SLK, the Crossfire makes use of a comprehensive stability and traction control system. It's the first time the Mercedes system has been used on a Chrysler. When engaged, this system makes the Crossfire nearly impossible to upset in tricky conditions.
At 60 mph a rear spoiler pops up just under the rear window, and it cuts slightly into rear vision, but noise from the spoiler's motor was not intrusive. What we did notice was that the sporty exhaust note was still audible while we cruised on the highway. It sounded distant and came from the rear of the car, which tells us there's very little noise from the rest of the car on the highway. The roadster is surprisingly quiet when the top up.
We really like driving the Crossfire, and we like looking at it, and those are by far the two most important things you can say about any car.
Its manners and drivability are the best part about the Crossfire. It doesn't offer the performance and handling of a true sports car, such as the Nissan Z, but the Mercedes V6 offers quick throttle and the Crossfire accelerates with force. It corners flat, its Mercedes suspension always feels controlled and it has the latest in Mercedes anti-skid technology.
The SRT-6 models promise dramatically increased performance and are aimed at driving enthusiasts.
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