BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Following the in-crowd is a trait that seems to particularly afflict coupe owners. The 'must-have' cars are easy to plot. Back in the Seventies you were really something if you had a Capri, whereas in the Eighties a Porsche 944 was the coupe du jour. It's tough to believe now, but for a while in the early nineties the Vauxhall Calibra was prime material, although this was soon superseded by the Ford Puma and the Audi TT. These days, the hot tickets are the Nissan's 350Z and the Mazda RX-8. Chrysler's Crossfire doesn't get anywhere close. This means that while it's never going to be the trendiest vehicle of its ilk, it does guarantee a certain exclusivity. With a quirky, left field appeal, the Crossfire has more going for it than you may at first think.
Models Covered: (2 dr roadster, 3 dr coupe 3.2 petrol [Base, SRT-6])
It was so nearly very different. When the Crossfire was first announced, celebrity movers and shakers seemed to be falling over themselves to place their orders. Jonathan Ross famously crowed that he had the first import earmarked for him but the excitement soon died down when sniffy journalists derided the car as an old shape Mercedes SLK in drag. One commentator even likened its shape to a dog crouching down and doing what dogs do. Comments like that are tough to come back from, but despite its awkward birth, the Crossfire makes an interesting and enjoyable used proposition. The Crossfire was first exhibited at the 2001 Detroit Motor Show, most observers admiring designer Eric Stoddard's striking lines but dismissing the Chrysler as the sort of flight of fancy that would never make production. In July 2001 Chrysler's Advanced Vehicle Engineering team, headed up by Larry Achram received the go ahead. The Crossfire was being fast-tracked into production. In October the tie-up with Karmann was finalised and in January 2002 the production version was shown at Detroit. Eleven months later, production versions started rolling off the lines alongside the Mercedes CLK cabriolet and VW Beetle drop tops that Karmann also manufacture. The 3.2-litre coupe was launched in the UK in July 2003, with a Roadster version following it in July 2004. A hopped up performance model, the 330bhp Crossfire SRT-6, followed hot on its heels. A range of Startech body styling features was also launched, but many of these items are a little too American for the British motoring palate.
What You Get
Fully 39% of the componentry is shared with the Mercedes SLK320 including the chassis, suspension and the drivetrain. It's even screwed together - rather well as it happens - at the Karmann plant in Osnabruck. The Crossfire signature design feature is the ridge on its flank that starts at the front wheelarch as an overhang and then twists Mobius-like into a shoulder, finally constituting the rear wing. The car is unusually proportioned, with a long bonnet, a surprisingly upright windscreen and a turret of a glasshouse perched atop that muscular body. The front and rear could only be American, the bluff egg-crate grille and the bold tailgate design being a bit OTT for traditionally understated Euro tastes although some of the detailing is undeniably Germanic. Take, for example, the side strakes that are reminiscent of the Mercedes SL55 AMG or the centreline rib that runs down the roof - massively removed from the Viper's double bubble design. The constraints dictated by the compact SLK chassis mean the Crossfire isn't the most spacious coupe around. Smaller drivers may well find the high window line claustrophobic whilst taller drivers may bemoan the fact that the steering column doesn't adjust for height. Having said that, the front seats have a huge range of adjustment. The boot can most charitably be described as token, the meagre 215-litre capacity being accompanied by a stratospheric loading lip, a sliver of an opening aperture and the added problem of heat being transmitted via the exhaust system. The soft-top version offers a different spin on the Crossfire theme. Many roadsters look as if they're wearing an ill-fitting toupee with the top up but the Crossfire looks stubby and purposeful. Some will find it even better looking than the coupe original. With a conventional electric-folding fabric roof, top up to top down takes 22 seconds after the driver has pulled the ripcord shaped handle in the windscreen header and pressed the button on the centre console. The Crossfire then takes over, dropping the side windows, opening the hard tonneau cover, stowing the roof out of sight and returning the tonneau to its original position. With the roof down, the Crossfire Roadster looks for all the world as if it had been designed from the outset as a drop top, the muscular sweep of the hip line giving it a tension lacking from so many other convertibles. This is one car that can never stand accused of looking skip-like in any way, shape or form.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Underneath that radical body shape is a car that relies on tried and tested Mercedes mechanicals. The engine is a tough beast and the suspension is similarly rugged. There have been a few cases of electrical gremlins affecting the stability control system but all will have been fixed under warranty. The silver plastics in the cabin aren't the most hardwearing and soon betray scratch marks from jewellery, coins and keys. Ground clearance at the front of the car isn't stellar and urban Crossfires may well have damage to the front spoiler caused by enthusiastic assaults on sleeping policemen. Check for a fully stamped-up service book and ensure that the hood mechanism of the Roadster model is in fine fettle.
(approx based on a 2004 Crossfire 3.2 Coupe) A front exhaust assembly is about £675 with the centre/rear section about £215. A headlamp is about £195. An air filter is about £17 and front shock absorbers are around £115.
On the Road
Powered by a 217bhp 3.2-litre V6, the Crossfire has a fair turn of speed, making 60mph in 6.3 seconds and running straight and true at an indicated maximum of 150mph. Buyers get to choose between a six-speed manual transmission and a five-speed automatic with tiptronic style control. Of the two, the automatic is the preferable option, largely due to the fact that the manual is a disappointment. The long, vague throw of the gearchange coupled with a flabby clutch action takes much of the enjoyment out of winding the Crossfire up through the gears. Chrysler has worked at tuning the acoustic characteristics of the engine to generate more drama than the urbane SLK320 ever managed. With a combination of entertaining engine notes, cracks and bangs from the exhaust when you lift off, plenty of wind roar and tyre thrum, the Crossfire feels very alive. Chrysler made a deliberate decision to put the biggest rubberwear they could get away with on the Crossfire and the massive 19-inch 255/35 series rear tyres generate enormous grip. Couple that with fat anti-roll bars, a multilink rear suspension and a body with massive torsional rigidity and you have a recipe for a car that corners flat and true. And so it proves. Although the steering isn't class leading - the turning circle may well be visible from space - but the Crossfire just grips and goes through corners that would have many rivals raggedly probing the edges of the handling envelopes. Deactivate the stability control system and you'll need some determined buffoonery to relinquish grip. What's perhaps more surprising is that the Crossfire rides so well. Although it tends to follow lateral ridges in the road - so called 'tramlining' - the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres that Chrysler specified for the Crossfire were specially selected due to their relatively compliant sidewalls and as a result the ride quality is commendable. Throw another 115bhp at a Crossfire and you get the SRT-6, a car that will accelerate to 60mph in 5.1 seconds, with a hefty 310lb/ft of torque to boot. The supercharged power delivery means that there's no time wasted waiting for a turbocharger to spool up. The suspension has been thoroughly beefed up to cope with the additional velocities, the spring rates going up by around 50 per cent up front and 42 per cent astern. The front brake discs are bigger too, and the rears are vented.
As a fusion of Mercedes engineering and American design flair the Crossfire is an intriguing proposition. It's quite well screwed together and doesn't really attract the sort of driver who will corner the car on its door handles. In fact, the Crossfire is one of those cars that seem to make a whole lot more sense as a used purchase than a new one. Those looking for top value will probably be best served waiting another 12 months or so before buying but if the you like the shape and the whole star-spangled image, then the Crossfire is well worth a look. The first of the 3.2-litre Coupes looks to be the best buy.