What's New for 2005
A hot roadster and a lower-priced base model join the Crossfire lineup.
Chrysler proudly unveiled the Crossfire concept car at the 2001 North American International Auto Show and after receiving favorable reaction from the automotive press and consumers the new sport coupe was put on the fast track to production. Chrysler's engineering team got busy immediately, and the production version was unveiled at the 2002 Los Angeles Auto Show. 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 enhance 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 came away wishing it had more low-end torque, slightly better steering feel, less interior 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. A common complaint among early buyers was the Crossfire's steep price. Chrysler has addressed this for 2005 by adding a reduced-content base model with a lower sticker price. Rather than make all the deleted features optional, the loaded-up "base" model of last year becomes the Crossfire Limited this year. If the coupe isn't quite stylish enough for you, be sure to take a look at the sexy new Crossfire Roadster. The roadster is available in base and Limited models, both featuring a standard power cloth top. So despite all the corporate 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? The Crossfire satisfies both requirements in a package that's considerably more affordable than its European competitors.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Crossfire is available in coupe and convertible body styles, both of which come in either base or Limited trim. Base models are available only with a manual transmission, and come with such features as stability control; dual-zone air conditioning; a four-speaker CD stereo; cloth upholstery; a height-adjustable driver seat; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; power windows, mirrors and locks; and on convertibles, a power top with defrostable rear glass. Limited models add an eight-speaker, 240-watt Infinity stereo system, power-adjustable leather seats with heaters, more sound insulation, a tire-pressure display and various upgraded trim pieces. The standard wheel/tire arrangement calls for 18s in front (225/40ZR Michelin Pilots) and 19s in back (sized 255/35); buyers can get all-season tires as a low-cost option. Also optional is a DVD-based navigation system on Limited models.
Powertrains and Performance
All models are powered by a Mercedes-engineered 3.2-liter V6 that produces 215 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. Base models are available only with a six-speed manual transmission. Limited buyers have their choice of the slick six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.
Standard safety equipment includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes with BrakeAssist, traction and stability control and side airbags that protect passengers' heads and torsos. No official crash test data is 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. Because of the car's swooping shape, rearward visibility is seriously limited, especially in the coupe. The handsome two-tone cockpit is accented with metallic trim and certainly calls to mind its Mercedes-Benz heritage. Peer closer, however, 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 coupe's rear hatch won't hold more than a couple of suitcases, but then, such is the reality when choosing to drive a sporty two-seater.
The Crossfire coupe and convertible are both quick but certainly not fast. Low-end torque is somewhat lacking, with most of the usable power 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 on the boil. 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, the Crossfire 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.