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Launched in 2004, with a roadster and SRT-6 following in 2005, the Chrysler Crossfire was an interesting “on the cheap” addition to the Chrysler collection. The German automotive press generally considered this retuned, reskinned, prior-generation Mercedes SL to be better than the original — surprising praise, indeed. The American press was not as accepting.
The car was a rear-wheel-drive two-seat sports coupe with a modern 18-valve, 3.2-liter V-6 single-cam engine; buyers could choose between a six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic transmission. The engine was good for 215 hp with 229 lb-ft of torque; Chrysler had argued for using its cheaper, 250-hp, 250 lb-ft 3.5 V6, but Daimler execs did not want to pay for the tooling changes, and may have been insulted by the idea as well.
On the lighter side, one year later, Chrysler launched the SRT6 version, with a supercharged V6 good for 330 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque.
We found that the ordinary Crossfire and the SRT6 looked almost identical, but felt very different. The SRT6 didn’t just have more power, but felt better in general, with more confident cornering, a nicer ride, and more comfortable seats.
The Crossfire was marketed as bringing the best of both DaimlerChrysler worlds, but its ad campaign mostly proclaimed the superiority of American styling and German craftsmanship (ignoring Mercedes’ sinking quality ratings, and Chrysler’s quality gains and engineering). While the ads ran, Volkswagen and Audi sales soared, and Chrysler’s plummeted.
To some, the Crossfire represented the worst of the “merger,” as Mercedes insisted on having it made in Germany, with a Mercedes engine — in an effort transparent to all auto reporters.
It was not that bad — Chrysler engineers did a substantial amount of retuning, so that some German magazines procaimed the Chrysler to be superior to the Mercedes. Given the changes that were made, it was based on, but was not, a previous-generation design. Still, sales were slow, as foreign-car buyers were turned off by the Chrysler label and domestic buyers by the German chassis.
It took two years to develop the Crossfire. In early 2003, Karmann, which had built the Mercedes SL, began making Crossfires in Germany.
The front suspension was a double wishbone; the rear, a five-link with coil springs. A speed-sensitive rear spoiler (not available on the SRT-6) rose up at around 60 mph, and could be manually raised; the SRT-6 used a normal spoiler. The car came with “summer” Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires and wheels, 18-inch (P225/40) up front and 19-inch (P255/35) in back. The ride was decently cushioned despite the low profiles.
The SRT-6 had 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 was no manual transmission available.
The Crossfire drew admiring looks; its low sales helped it to stay unique. The interior seemed well executed for the most part, the usual textured plastic dominated the upper dash, and the silver-matte center stack had silver knobs and buttons relieved only by the vents and the thin indicator dials on the climate control knobs.
The gauges had precise markings and an elegant typeface, but matte silver rings diminished the effect. Doors had chrome bars for grips, and door speakers and interior handles had chrome surrounds. Passengers had the short end of the stick, with a plain plastic glove compartment under a plain dark plastic dashboard top.
The SRT-6 interior used soft Alcantara suede for the seats, increasing friction (less sliding) and temperature shock. The SRT speedometer was marked in 20 mph increments instead of 10 mph increments, making it just a tad easier to read. The speedometer also went to 200 mph, an affectation if ever there was one.
At night, all switches were lit, and the gauges were backlit by strong green lighting, all highly readable.
Acceleration was fairly swift, taking a bit under 7 seconds to get to 60 mph, with the automatic, but it neither had brute-force instant-on power nor the need to stay near redline. We found the automatic to sometimes be jerky, and at low speeds it seemed to want to avoid upshifting.
With the supercharged SRT-6, the engine had considerably more power, again without the instant-on brute force, but it certainly moved 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 gave the impression of a decent-sized V8 rather than a boosted V6. Gas mileage was 17 city, 24 highway. 0-60 times are in the low-to-mid 5-second range, depending on the source.
Cornering was excellent, using the standard, summer tires. Even when under hard acceleration, the tail didn’t swing out (possibly due to the stability control); the Crossfire made it deceptively easy to swing round turns with surprising speed and ease. On the other hand, it had a moderately heavy feel. The SRT-6, while heavier, felt better; the increased spring rates seem to actually make the ride better, counter-intuitively, and adjustments to the stability control parameters probably helped as well.
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.
The ride is sporty-firm, but 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. 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 was not bad; while the engine was a bit gruff and noisy it usually wasn’t too loud. The Chrysler 3.5 would not have been less well mannered (and would have provided more power than the base engine). 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.
Interior space was good for two people, though some may find entry and exit to be difficult due to the low height and low door openings. Netting by the center console holds the bulky owner’s manual, leaving the glove box free. A single cupholder in the middle put drinks right where they can be knocked over by a stray elbow. The hatchback design made cargo access easy, and the hatch/trunk is surprisingly large and conveniently shaped. (The convertible has 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. Backing up can be an adventure.
The cruise control is oddly designed and placed just above where the turn signals normally are, while the turn signals 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).
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, a stereo/navigation unit. This provides a navigation system without a full sized LCD screen. (You’d think this would bring the price down, but you’d be wrong.) It doesn’t have a map but does show the next turn and the compass. It 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; but 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. (It remembers directions without the CD in place).
The stereo 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 Chrysler Infinity system.
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. The luxury sound-dimming feature is maddening.
The climate control was easier, with large dials and a quiet fan.
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 dash-mounted headlight control is traditional except for two spots which turned out to put on the parking lights for just one side of the car.
A number of things were conspicuous by their absence. Let’s start with the lack of a tilting steering column, a gift from Mercedes — even the lowest Dodges and Plymouths had tilt-wheel a decade ago. Just about every other car has sun visors that swivel to cover side windows; these don’t. Seats are missing lumbar supports, and the speedometers are insanely set up to top out at 160 mph (stock 210 hp engine) and 200 hp (supercharged). That makes finding your precise speed harder.
The car was also missing a child door lock, even though the passenger door latch automatically unlocked the door. There was 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.
The Crossfire had good looks, and that was its chief asset; you can have as much fun in a lower-performing sporty car, and you could get a higher-performing car in this price range. It was not as easy (or practical) to drive as a WRX or SRT-4, and slower than the SRT-4 as well. The real performance strength of the Crossfire was high-speed cornering without even the hint of a squeal; if you want thrilling straight-line performance, look elsewhere. But the Crossfire sure is nice to look at.
With regard to the SRT-6, you get the looks with 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.
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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