The Crossfire, introduced in 2004 (with a roadster and SRT-6 version appearing in 2005), is a rear-wheel-drive two-seat sports coupe with a modern 18-valve, 3.2-liter V-6 (SOHC) engine with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The engine produces a moderate 215 hp, 229 lb-ft of torque - between the Chrysler 2.7 and 3.5 V6 outputs (200 and 250 respectively). With the supercharged V6, the engine goes up to a sportier 330 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque.
In our experience, the Crossfire and SRT6, while they look almost identical and have similar components, feel very different. While the SRT6 obviously has more power, it also feels better in general; perhaps it was just our sample car, but the cornering felt far more confident, the ride a little better, and the seats more comfortable. Though the SRT6 package raises the price quite a bit, if you have the money, it's certainly worth it - even if you're not into quick acceleration.
The Crossfire was marketed as bringing the best of both DaimlerChrysler worlds, but its ad campaign may have turned off both domestic and foreign buyers; it promoted the superiority of German craftsmanship (ignoring Mercedes’ sinking quality ratings, Chrysler’s quality gains, the fact that it was the only Chrysler made in Germany, and other details) and American styling. To many at Chrysler, the Crossfire represents the worst times of the “merger,” as Mercedes insisted on having it made in Germany, with a Mercedes engine; and magazines generally said it was merely a restyled previous-generation Mercedes SLK.
In reality, it was not that bad — Chrysler engineers did a substantial amount of retuning, so that even some German magazines consider the “American” version to be superior to the original. Given the changes that were made, it is not a previous-generation design. Still, sales seem to be lagging, as foreign-car buyers are turned off by the Chrysler label and domestic buyers are turned off by the German chassis. The car itself hardly seems to get a chance, and particularly in the case of the SRT-6, that's a shame.
The Crossfire was developed in 24 months. In early 2003, Karmann began building Crossfire in Germany; Karmann has worked with Chrysler before but, more to the point, built the Mercedes SLK.
The design uses a front independent double wishbone front suspension and an independent five-link rear suspension with coil springs and gas-charged shock absorbers in front and back. A speed-sensitive rear spoiler (not available on the SRT-6) appears at approximately 60 mph but can be manually raised; on the SRT-6, a stationery, large spoiler is used. Dual center-mounted exhaust outlets give the car the appearance of a tail along with free-flowing exhaust. High performance Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires and wheels are used for summer driving; in front, they are on 18-inch wheels (P225/40), while in back, they are on 19-inch wheels (P255/35). Despite the extremely low profiles (most cars are in the 55-60 range) and large wheels (again, most cars have 16-17 inch wheels, and 14-15 inches were standard just a few years ago), the ride is well cushioned.
The SRT-6 package includes stiffer spring rates (50% in the front, 42% in the rear, with higher jounce and rebound rates) and larger brake rotors, with vented rear discs. Oddly, there is no manual transmission available - a reversal from, say, the Spirit R/T, where the high-po version only came with a stick.
See the end of this page for SRT-6 photos; other photos are of the base Crossfire.
The Crossfire draws admiring looks, and we found the styling to be unusually attractive - sporty without being ugly, assertive but not aggressive. The interior is generally well executed; though the usual textured plastic dominates the upper dash, the most noticeable area is the silver-matte center stack, with silver knobs and buttons relieved only by the vents and the thin indicator dials on the climate control knobs. The gauges use the new Chrysler style with precise marketings and an elegant typeface, in matte silver rings (the 300M's shiny chrome rings and elegantly tapered pointers would increase the effect). The doors have chrome bars for grips, and door speakers and interior handles have chrome surrounds. In short, the interior looks good from the driver's seat, without venturing into the gaudy excess of the Audi TT. Passengers get the short end of the stick, with a plain plastic glove compartment under a plain dark plastic dashboard top.
The SRT-6 interior differs from the standard Crossfire in several ways, the most noticeable of which is the soft Alcantara suede for the seats, which has more cloth-like properties. Benefits of this include more friction (less sliding) and less temparature shock - it doesn't have the heat/cold problems of standard shiny leather, and if you're not wearing a shirt (sacrilege!), allows your skin to breathe. The other difference is in the gauge numbering: the speedometer is marked in 20 mph increments instead of 10 mph increments, perversely making it just a tad easier to read. The speedometer also goes up to 200 mph (which may explain the lack of odd-tens), perhaps an affectation - we haven't done a top-speed test, but 200 is pushing it; indeed, 160 is pushing it, even for the higher-power supercharged SRT-6.
At night, all switches are lit, and the gauges are very nicely backlit by strong green lighting. The result is that the Crossfire is equally attractive in day and night, and gauges are highly readable in all types of light.
Acceleration with the stock engine is fairly swift, belying the relatively low horsepower ratings of the 3.2 liter engine (figure a bit below 7 seconds to get to 60 mph, with the automatic), though the brute-force instant-on power of cars like the Corvette isn't there. (To be fair, it also is not an "rpm queen" that needs to be revving high to move.) Most drivers will probably appreciate the balance between speed and gas mileage, at least on the relatively thrifty automatic (yes, you read that right - the six-speed manual appears to have been designed with performance in mind, not economy). We found the automatic to sometimes be jerky, and at low speeds it seemed to want to avoid upshifting. In winter mode, not surprisingly, it felt spongy, but that goes with the territory.
With the supercharged SRT-6 version, the engine has considerably more power, again without the instant-on brute force, but it certainly moves effectively and quickly. Hit the gas, wait for the downshift, and you get rapid thrust; lift your foot off, and the engine will stay in low gear for a while before downshifting and letting the rpms fall. The supercharger acts subtly, giving the impression of a decent-sized V8 rather than a boosted V6. Even so, gas mileage is a very reasonable 17 city, 24 highway. 0-60 times are in the low-to-mid 5-second range, depending on the source; but if you want the sudden instant-on push-you-back-in-your-seat torque of the Corvette, you may be happier with a Corvette, which is about the same price. Still, the SRT-6 will indeed beat a 2006 Charger R/T, though not the Charger SRT-8.
Cornering is excellent, using the standard, summer tires, with their very narrow profile and big width. Part of the credit should be given to the standard active suspension. Even when under hard acceleration, the tail doesn't swing out; the Crossfire makes it deceptively easy to swing round turns with surprising speed and ease. On the other hand, it has a moderately heavy feel. The SRT-6, while heavier, feels better; the increased spring rates seem to actually make the ride better, counter-intuitively, and reported adjustments to the stability control parameters make it feel considerably sportier.
We were unable to get the SRT-6 tires to squeal; the traction control and active suspension won't allow that. We even tried boneheaded tricks like slamming the gas full on during a sharp turn, but all that happens is the engine revs, the traction control cuts in, the engine cuts back suddenly, and then comes on as quickly as it can without losing traction. It's a great stability program though a bit jarring when you try to do dumb things. It certainly does help confidence, though, to know that no matter how stupid you drive, you are likely to be rescued by the car computer. Just don't rely on it - unless you'd trust your life to a computer that spends its life boucing up and down.
The ride is not exactly smooth, but more sporty-firm; it also is not painful, and can absorb bumps and rough surfaces. While some sports cars have a busy ride, letting you feel every rock embedded in concrete, and making a loud noise over rough surfaces, the Crossfire cushions out most of the small stuff, while remaining generally firm and hugging the road. Overall, the compromise is favorable if tilted toward the sporty side. Oddly, the SRT-6 seemed to have a better ride, providing a greater sense of control without a cost in comfort.
Interior noise is not bad; the exhaust has an interesting note, and while the engine is a bit gruff and noisy it usually isn't too loud. The Chrysler 3.5 would not have been less well mannered (and would have provided a bit more power). Sound insulation could be better; on the highway, there was more wind noise than one would expect from this range. Or perhaps it was a compromise reached to allow for better performance (lighter weight) and lower pricing, with money poured into the suspension.
Interior space is good for two people, though some may find entry and exit to be difficult due to the low height and low door openings. A large glove compartment and center console provide some amenities, and netting by the center console holds the bulky owner's manual (and keeps it handy so you can operate the radio). A single cupholder in the middle holds beverages very well, despite its clunky feel going up and down, but also puts drinks right where they can be knocked over by a stray elbow. The hatchback design makes cargo access easy, and the hatch/trunk is surprisingly large and conveniently shaped. (We tested the coupes; the convertible has a bit less space.)
Despite low windows, visibility is surprisingly good to the sides and ahead; rear visibility is not bad through the rear view mirror, but forget about the rear corners, which are thoroughly blocked by thick pillars. Likewise, backing up can be an adventure, especially if the spoiler is up. On the lighter side, the headlights are strong and well focused.
Controls are sometimes a bit awkward; the cruise control is oddly designed and placed just above where the turn signals normally are, while the turn signals themselves are lower and can be hard to reach. Also, in a page from GM, Mercedes has overloaded the turn signal stalk, so it includes headlight dimming as well as wiper-washers; and if there are intermittent wipers, we haven't found them (on the SRT6, there is a single intermittent-wiper setting, bringing back shades of the 1970s). In case you were wondering, you press in to get washers, turn the end of the stalk for wipers, pull to flash bright lights, push to turn bright lights on, and move up and down for turn signals. Yes, one can get used to it.
Speaking of awkward controls, two barely accessible buttons protrude from the instrument panel; one adjusts the interior light dimming and shows distance to service, while the other can be pulled to set the clock. The other controls generally make sense until you get to the radio, in our case a combined stereo/navigation unit. In some ways, this is a terribly clever device, because it provides a navigation system without any need for a full sized LCD screen. (You'd think this would bring the price down, but you'd be wrong.) It provides most of the features of a standard navigation system, apart from showing a map; it does show the next turn and the compass. The navigation system is surprisingly easy to set up, with the usual point of interest or address options for destination, and a woman telling you where to go; the only down-side is that it shares the CD player with the audio system, so if you miss a turn, you have to put the navigation CD back in until the buffer fills back up again. (The clever part is that it can remember some of the directions without the CD in place, so you can listen to music while dealing with the nav system). Unfortunately, we never did figure out if there was a way to listen to the navigation instructions without having the radio on, since they seem to share the same volume control. (John Krukoff advised us: “The method for doing so is to switch to the radio, press the OPT button, then the TP soft button. This switches the radio to only giving traffic report and navigation information, and mutes the radio otherwise.”
The less clever aspect of the stereo is the stereo part itself; its controls are awkward enough without the "luxury feature" of dimming the sound and bringing it back again every time you change the station or band. This is not a stereo you want to fiddle with much while driving. Nor is the sound quality up to the standards of, say, the PT Cruiser's Infinity system, though it isn't bad.
The SRT-6's base stereo sounds better. The audio range allows for both comfortable talk radio and thumping-bass music, and the stereo separation is excellent. Again, though, this stereo has almost absurdly poor controls, making simple operations difficult and frustrating. The luxury sound-dimming feature is maddening. On the lighter side, if there's just one station on FM and one on AM you like, and you spend most of your time listening to CDs, it is far more likeable and easy to use.
Other controls are generally sensible and obvious; the dual-zone climate control provides a simple up/down heat control, with pushbuttons for the rear defroster, a/c compressor, and recirculation. Large dials control fan speed and mode, with mixed modes possible and many fan positions. The fan is relatively quiet even at full speed. The door lock/unlock is a bit hard to find, but one gets used to it.
The automatic transmission includes a winter mode that starts from second gear, and an override feature so you can bump up or down a gear; it goes back to automatic after a while, or can be made to return by hitting it up to fifth gear.
The headlight control, mounted right where we expected it on the dash, is traditional except for two spots which turned out to put on the parking lights for just one side of the car. It's a bit of an affectation given that these lights use almost no power, but it can be fun to confuse people with.
A number of things become conspicuous by their absence. Let's start with the lack of a tilting steering column - it telescopes in and out nicely, but doesn't go up and down, so if you sit too high you miss the 50-110 mph parts of the speedometer (which goes up to 160 mph on the regular Crossfire and up to 200 on the SRT6 - an optimistic touch). That's a gift from Mercedes — even the lowest Dodges and Plymouths had tilt-wheel a decade ago. Another missing feature available on just about every other car is sun visors that swivel to cover side windows; these don't, though most of the time they don't to, thanks to the small window openings. Seats are missing lumbar supports, too.
Those who want to take a kid on a ride now and then may be interested in some other missing items - like a child door lock, even though the passenger door latch automatically unlocks the door. That's a little surprising given that the car has LATCH child-seat anchors. The passenger-side front airbag can be shut off using a key when the car is stopped and the door is open; the torso-protecting side airbag cannot be deactivated. There is no option for side curtain airbags.
Crossfire prices range from about $30,000 to over $40,000. Ours ran $34,000, with the automatic transmission and navigation system. Our base SRT6, on the other hand, ran $45,695 with no options at all.
Overall, the Crossfire's biggest asset (excluding the SRT-6 model) is its looks; you can honestly have as much fun in a lower-performing sporty car, and you can also get a higher-performing car in this price range. It's easier to drive than the old C5 Corvette, but not as easy (or practical) as a WRX or SRT-4 (it's also not as fast as an SRT-4, but then, some people want two-door coupes.) The real performance strength of the Crossfire, due at least in part to the huge wheels and high-performance tires coupled with active suspension tricks, is high-speed cornering without even the hint of a squeal; if you want thrilling straight-line performance, you may be more interested in an SRT-6, SRT-4, 300C, WRX, Evo, Mustang, or Corvette. But the Crossfire sure is nice to look at.
With regard to the SRT-6, you get the looks (albeit with aggressive spoiler), but you also get a much more fun car. The cornering is light-years away from the base Crossfire, and the acceleration is far better as well. Though we weren't really all that keen on the standard Crossfire, we really liked the Crossfire SRT6, and think you'll like it too.
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