02/10/04 — Chrysler Crossfire has heads turning

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Chrysler Crossfire has heads turning

Head-turning two-seat sports cars for under 35 grand have made a comeback over the last few years.

One of the newest of this desirable breed of exciting transportation is the Chrysler Crossfire, a rear wheel-drive car so exotically styled that it will literally grab your attention the first few times you see it on the street.

Chrysler Crossfire, 2004

Not many cars have this kind of alluring quality. This one does.

There are other new sports cars that demand a second look — the Audi TT, the Nissan 350Z and the Mazda RX8, to name three.

But the Crossfire, with its long hood, sweeping roofline and short tucked-in rear, offers the classic sports car look in modern dress. You just can’t help yourself. Take a peak. See one in a parking lot, walk around it. It’s a testament as to what modern car designers can do if given a free hand.

The new Crossfire is the first wholehearted joint venture of Daimler Benz and Chrysler since the companies merged into DaimlerChrysler several years ago.

Manufacturing for the most part, with the exception of the Crossfire, has continued to be Mercedes on one side of the Atlantic and Chrysler on the other.

The gorgeously shaped sheetmetal came from the Chrysler arm in Auburn Hills, Mich. Much of the hardware was derived from Stuttgart, Germany, and the wonderful build quality comes courtesy of limited-production specialist Karmann in Osnabruck, Germany.

The Crossfire is built on the Mercedes SLK roadster platform. Dimensions of the two sports cars — both with a sports car-like wheelbase of 94.5 inches — are nearly identical.

The Crossfire has two seats and enough storage under a hatchback to satisfy most free spirits who decide that this Chrysler must grace their driveway.

Outfitted with a 3.2-liter V-6 generating 215 horsepower, the Crossfire has slingshot power in second and third gears and the ability to hug the road like a slot car in the twists and turns of rural America. The Crossfire, which comes outfitted with 18-inch rubber front and 19-inch in back, is not only fun to look at, but fun to drive as well.

In fact it was on some of my favorite back roads of Greene and Lenoir counties — the kind that dip down and then rise up in a different direction — that we worshiped the Crossfire for more than just its looks.

For a couple of delightful hours this was the devil with a blue dress on.

The Crossfire scores big time in styling, but it also falls short in styling, both outside and inside, and in interior space because of the styling.

With a high beltline creating small windows and a large B-pillar, sightlines to the rear are severely hampered. The tiny window in the hatchback creates another visibility problem. And to make matters worse, when speed reaches 57 miles per hour a retractable rear spoiler deploys covering the bottom third of the window.

Inside, the sloping roofline makes for tight head room for taller drivers. And some drivers have complained about the lack of legroom.

If you are shorter than 6-feet, it’s not a concern.

The dashboard is handsome with a satin finish center stack and quality-looking material in other places. The leather-clad seats remind us of those in a Mercedes vehicle, pleasing to the touch.

But, some of the switchgear is needlessly hard to use. Colored and lighted dots — blue for cool and red for hot — are used in the two temperature wheels, but are hard to read in the sunlight.

Likewise, the stereo readout nearly washes out under strong sun. It’s simply impossible to read.

Oh yeah, don’t forget the lone cupholder. Cupholders are normally a Chrysler strong suit, but it looks like an afterthought in this Mercedes-engineered car.

But all these niggling nitpicks can be forgiven the instant the key is turned in the ignition. Redemption is in the driving. And in the gorgeous looks.

We do wish for some more horsepower. The 215 ponies under hood do a very creditable job taking the Crossfire from 0 to 60 in about 6.5 seconds with expert rowing. We figure the 5-speed automatic will be close to that figure, too.

But some of the competition is way ahead, including the Nissan 350Z.

If its exquisite looks, impeccable handling, and satisfying performance don’t do the trick, price may keep the Crossfire competitive for years to come.

Our test car with the 6-speed manual carried a base price of $34,495 including destination charge. And that’s exactly the price on its window sticker.

Options, which are few, are not needed on the Crossfire. Standard equipment includes four-wheel antilock brakes, side impact airbags, brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control, tire pressure monitor, leather heated power seats, dual-zone climate control, 240-watt Infinity stereo with compact disc player and power windows and doorlocks .

Add on a three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a seven-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty and the deal even looks better.

So what that the Crossfire has a few minor design glitches. Who cares with this kind of balanced performance and head-turning beauty.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on February 10, 2004 9:03 AM