What's New for 2004
For 2004, Chrysler introduces an all-new sport coupe called the Crossfire. The first true product of the Mercedes-Chrysler collaborative effort, the Crossfire is designed to lure traditional luxury import buyers away from the likes of Acura, Infiniti and Audi and into a Chrysler showroom instead.
Chrysler sales have increased nearly four times since 1991. With momentum building, DaimlerChrysler has set an aggressive sales goal for its Chrysler brand. It believes it can boost sales another 40 percent by the end of 2004 by introducing several exciting new models that capture the public's attention in segments and price ranges that Chrysler has never attempted in the past. The Crossfire sport coupe is just such a car. With its dashing good looks and healthy dose of German engineering courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, the Crossfire certainly isn't your mother's aging Chrysler sedan. Instead, the Crossfire is poised to remake Chrysler's image in a bold, new way. Two years ago, Chrysler proudly unveiled the Crossfire concept car at the 2001 North American International Auto Show. After receiving favorable reaction from the automotive press and consumers, the new sport coupe was put on the fast track -- scheduled to start production for the 2004 model year. Chrysler's engineering team got busy immediately, and the production version was unveiled at the 2002 Los Angeles Auto Show. Chrysler believes the Crossfire coupe will attract new buyers -- consumers who have traditionally purchased luxury import models. Reaping the benefits of its Mercedes-Benz corporate ties, the Crossfire is the first true Mercedes-Chrysler collaborative effort, featuring 39 percent Mercedes-Benz technology. That figure alone should catch established import buyers' attention, along with the fact that the Crossfire is based on its corporate cousin-- the SLK roadster. The Crossfire name is derived from one of its many distinctive design cues: the character line that runs along the Crossfire's sides from front to rear. The "X" that is created when the line crosses to a negative formation as it moves through the car's rear fender is the "cross." Other interesting design elements that enhances the car's windswept look are the six "speed" lines that run the length of the car's hood, and the center spine line that moves over the length of not only the exterior, but through the interior as well. Interior lines were set to focus attention down the road, and the distinctive center line even cuts through the center console. After driving the Crossfire, we can say that we wish it had more low-end torque, slightly better steering feel and less plastic and better ergonomics in the cabin, but we can't deny how much fun the car is on twisty roads, or how upscale it feels when cruising along coastal highways. We also can't deny the surprised expressions from mesmerized onlookers when we told them how much the car cost. So despite all the infighting, quarterly red ink and lingering lawsuits from angry stockholders, this whole "merger of equals" thing between Chrysler and German automaker Daimler just might pan out. And even if it doesn't, the Crossfire is proof that we'll see some interesting product in the meantime. Need something pretty to look at and fun to drive? Perhaps it's time for a visit to the Chrysler dealer.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
Chrysler is so confident in the Crossfire's overall package that only one trim level is available and the options list is short. Standard features include leather upholstery; heated, power seats; manual dual-zone climate controls; one-touch power windows; and a 240-watt stereo with a CD player. The standard wheel/tire arrangement calls for 18s in front (with 225/40ZR18 Michelin Pilots) and 19s in back (with 255/35 rubber); buyers can get all-season tires as a low-cost option.
Powertrains and Performance
The sole engine choice is the Mercedes-engineered 3.2-liter, SOHC V6 -- it produces 215 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. Buyers have their choice of a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic.
Standard safety equipment includes four-wheel antilock brakes with BrakeAssist, side airbags, traction control and stability control. Crash test scores for the Crossfire are not yet available.
Interior Design and Special Features
If you're considering a Crossfire for reasons beyond pure performance, you'll be pleasantly surprised by its comfortable and quiet cabin. Entry and exit take some getting used to because of the low roof that curves down to meet the side windows, but once inside, headroom is plentiful due to the car's domed shape. And the standard high-backed, leather bucket seats emblazoned with the Chrysler logo are easy to slide into. Because of the car's swooping shape, rearward visibility is severely hampered. The handsome two-tone cockpit is accented with metallic trim and certainly personifies the Mercedes-Benz heritage. Peer closer and you'll see that most of the trim is merely silver plastic; the brushed metal shift knob for the six-speed is a notable exception. Moreover, some of the controls, such as the radio's numerous unlabeled buttons, are difficult to use. The 7.6 cubic feet of cargo space won't hold more than a couple of suitcases, but then, such is the reality when choosing to drive a two-seater coupe.
Like the Mercedes' SLK roadster, with which it shares its engine, the Crossfire is quick but certainly not fast. Low-end torque is not plentiful, and most of the usable power is available between 3,000 and 5,000 rpm. The delivery is smooth throughout, however, and the slick shifting six-speed makes it fun to mix up the gears in order to keep the engine primed and ready. The Crossfire's stiff body structure and oversized tires give it crisp handling characteristics when exercised on back roads. We'd like a little more communication from the steering, but as it is, this sport coupe is a delight to drive. And on those occasions when you merely want to cruise down the highway, the Crossfire obliges with a smooth and quiet ride.
Often, concept vehicles amount to little more than an elaborate tease on the part of manufacturers. Dazzling vehicles are created that stoke our desires and then, nothing. For a variety of reasons, few of these automotive wonders ever make it to the assembly line.
Not so with Chrysler. The manufacturer has a history of delivering when it comes to translating its concept vehicle flights of fancy into purchasable sheetmetal. The Viper, Prowler and PT Cruiser all began as well-received concepts. Wisely (especially in the case of the ultra-hot-selling Cruiser), Chrysler wasted little time in hustling these gleaming visions of things to come into showrooms. Which of the marque's concepts is next in line to be recast as a production vehicle? That honor belongs to the Crossfire. The rear-wheel-drive coupe first debuted as a well-received concept at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit; at the 2002 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, a finalized production version was shown.
Chrysler Group President and CEO Dieter Zetsche breathlessly describes the Crossfire as "the sports coupe of the future" and says it's "an American dream machine come true." Dreams are, of course, subjective, but the Crossfire certainly has the looks to fit the bill of someone's futuristic fantasy. The vehicle's lines successfully wed classic European sport-coupe elegance with American performance-car spunk. The car is low-slung, with a sculpted countenance. Its distinctive profile is marked by a long hood, metallic-finished side air louvers, pumped-up fenders and a tapered rear. Wide shoulders top 18-inch front wheels; the rear wheels are slightly larger, measuring 19 inches. Chrysler boasts that the Crossfire has a unique new glass-to-body proportion, with tall body sides and diminished glass surfaces. To help make sure you never forget who this baby's daddy is, Chrysler has helpfully plastered its winged badge atop the Crossfire's hood; the logo spans the entire length of the car's chrome grille. Six grooves snaking rakishly across the length of the hood announce that yes, this is a car with performance aspirations. In back, the Crossfire boasts a retractable spoiler, which springs into action once the vehicle reaches 50 miles per hour.
Within its cabin, the Crossfire's design cues are sophisticated and decidedly upscale. Two-tone leather swathes the seats; Chrysler's badge is embossed into both headrests. Chrysler deviates from the norm by placing the car's ignition switch on its instrument panel, instead of its steering column. Gauges are clean and precise, with white-on-black numbering, and metallic and chrome accents.
The Crossfire is powered by a Mercedes-sourced 3.2-liter 18-valve SOHC V6 engine, which kicks out 215 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed electronically controlled automatic tranny puts the power to the road. Should the driver get over his head, a stability control system is offered to help prevent dangerous skids and spins. The Crossfire also features an independent double wishbone front suspension with coil springs; out back is an independent five-link suspension with coil springs.
Its stirring appearance should help win the Crossfire an audience. But it won't come cheap; pricing has yet to be announced, but the fact that the Crossfire will be built using a significant percentage of Mercedes-quality components means that it's likely to clock in as a big-ticket purchase. The Crossfire will be built in Germany and will go on sale in mid-2003; Chrysler expects to produce 20,000 units worldwide for the 2003 calendar year, with 85 percent of that number going to U.S. markets.