2004 Chrysler Crossfire
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson

Chrysler’s German-American sports coupe challenges the import brands


It’s built in Osnabruck, Germany, has a Mercedes-Benz 3.2 litre V6 engine, a modified Mercedes-Benz SLK platform and suspension, and is sold in left and right-hand drive versions around the world – but it’s not a Mercedes. It’s the new Chrysler Crossfire two seater sports coupe, the first major joint effort between Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and their German partner Karmann.

DaimlerChrysler describes the Crossfire as a sports coupe “that combines German engineering with American design”, or “where Route 66 meets the Autobahn”. This Yankee-Teutonic chemistry is aimed at luring luxury import intenders to the Chrysler brand – a tall order when the competition includes the likes of the Audi TT, Nissan 350Z, BMW Z4, and Mercedes-Benz SLK. Only an exceptional vehicle could help Chrysler break into this image-conscious market, and I seriously doubt whether the Crossfire will be able to do this, despite its stand-out styling and superb performance.

2004 Chrysler Crossfire

2004 Chrysler Crossfire

2004 Chrysler Crossfire
Click image to enlarge

The Crossfire is certainly an exceptional looker. From the front, side or rear, it’s a real eye-catcher and evokes open-mouthed stares from passers-by. Though the Crossfire is only about the size of an Audi TT, it has a bold, aggressive appearance accented by a large grille, four HID headlamps under clear covers, and six slats in the hood. A central “spine” runs along the hood, across the roof and down the rear hatch. The tapered rear hatch is flanked by large taillamps, and its twin centrally-located exhaust pipes exit upwards. A hidden spoiler, integrated into the hatch, raises automatically at speeds over 100 km/h. Enormous tires, 19 inch at the rear and 18 inch in front, look oversized on this small sports car, but provide great grip. Despite its small size and fastback styling, the Crossfire’s coefficient of drag is a rather high 0.37.

The Crossfire has a traditional longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive layout for a more even front to rear weight balance. Still, its 54%/46% front/rear weight distribution seems a tad front-heavy for a rear-drive car. A six-speed manual transmission is standard while a five-speed automatic with Autostick manual shift mode is optional. Its fully independent suspension includes front upper and lower “A” arms with coil springs and a rear five-link setup with coil springs. Tires are low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 2 all-season performance tires, 225/40ZR-18 inch in front and 255/35ZR-19 at the rear.

2004 Chrysler Crossfire
Click image to enlarge

Braking is handled by four disc brakes with ABS and Brake Assist, and all-speed traction control and stability control are both standard.

The interior is well-equipped with two leather upholstered, power heated high-back bucket seats; an Infinity AM/FM/CD sound system with 240 watt amplifier and six speakers including dual subwoofers; driver/passenger automatic climate control; power windows with one-touch auto down; telescoping steering wheel; security alarm; remote keyless entry, and dual front and side airbags. An obvious omission is a CD changer which is not offered, even as an option.

The Crossfire’s MSRP is $47,745, and comes in under $50,000 after Freight and A/C tax are included. Continental all-season performance tires are a no-cost alternative to the Michelins, and the optional 5-speed automatic transmission is an extra $1,500.

2004 Chrysler Crossfire

2004 Chrysler Crossfire

2004 Chrysler Crossfire

2004 Chrysler Crossfire
Click image to enlarge


Interior impressions

As the roofline is so low, you have to be careful not to bump your head when getting in. The driver sits low, and has good visibility ahead, behind and to the sides even though the windowsills are rather high. However, the right rear three-quarter view is a disaster, obscured by a very thick C-pillar and the high-back right passenger seat. I found myself using other methods to determine if another car was in my blind spot, such as speeding up or slowing down before changing lanes to determine if another car was next to me.

A mixture of old and new interior design cues greets the driver – ahead are metal-trimmed gauges with retro-style instrumentation lettering as well as integral digital clock and outside temperature readout. The dash is made of a dark, coarse plastic while the centre console has a bright silver-metallic plastic finish. From a distance, the centre console looks great, but upon closer inspection, its obvious “plastic-ness” looks rather cheap in a car of this price range.

The centre controls are simple and easy to use. Though unusual, the heater’s vertical temperature dials for the driver and passenger are easy to operate. The Infinity Modulus AM/FM/CD stereo is powerful and clear, and the row of buttons at the bottom of the centre console includes seat heaters, door locks, traction control off button, anti-towing control, and a button that manually raises and lowers the rear spoiler.

The front seats (8-way power driver’s seat/4-way power passenger seat) have substantial side bolstering and offer great support when cornering, however I found that the knee bolsters under the dashboard were constricting.

2004 Chrysler Crossfire
Click image to enlarge

Multi-stage driver and passenger front air bags, and door-mounted side air bags are standard. The passenger side front airbag can be turned off when an infant seat or a small child is in the passenger seat.

The unique, spine-like design of the roof means that a sunroof is not available on the Crossfire.

Storage areas in the cabin are limited but the cargo area is roomy for such a small car (215 litres/7.6 cu. ft.). A custom fit 3 piece luggage set is available to make the most of the cargo area. There’s no spare tire, but there is an emergency tire inflation kit.


Driving impressions

The Crossfire is a nimble, easy-to-drive sports car with plenty of power and a surprisingly comfortable ride. The smooth, flexible 3.2 litre V6 engine develops 215 horsepower @ 5700 rpm and 229 lb.-ft. of torque at a relatively low 3000 rpm. Around town, the engine is responsive even in higher gears, and the 6-speed tranny is easy to shift from gear to gear. However, when starting the car on a cold morning however, I found the transmission reluctant to engage first gear. And I didn’t like the plastic metal-look gearshift knob – its just too slippery to get a good grip. Oh, and the single hide-a-way cupholder is positioned directly behind the gear lever where a full cup of liquid could easily be bumped by the right elbow when changing gears.

2004 Chrysler Crossfire
Photo: DaimlerChrysler

2004 Chrysler Crossfire

2004 Chrysler Crossfire

2004 Chrysler Crossfire
Click image to enlarge

Independent acceleration tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada show the Crossfire equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission doing 0 to 100 km/h in an average time of 7.4 seconds – the six speed manual model’s time should be closer to seven seconds. For comparison, the 2004 Audi TT 3.2 has a 0 to 100 km/h time of 6.7 seconds.

Fuel consumption is rated at 14.1 l/100 km (20 mpg) in the city, and 8.5 l/100 km (33 mpg) on the highway.

On the freeway, the engine revs at a relaxed 2,300 rpm at 100 km/h and 2,700 rpm at 120 km/h, and is very quiet. Only a little wind noise can be heard in the cabin. The Crossfire’s highway ride is surprisingly comfortable considering its short wheelbase and its low profile 18 inch front/19 inch rear tires – however you’ll find the ride a bit choppy over uneven pavement.

A short wheelbase and tight turning circle (10.3 metres/32.9 feet) make the Crossfire very maneuverable in traffic, and lots of fun to drive – if only that rear 3/4 vision was better.. Handling limits are very high – its rear-wheel-drive layout, 54/46 front/rear weight distribution, a fully independent suspension and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires (225/40ZR-18 in front and 255/35ZR-19 at the rear), all contribute to excellent handling. Even in the rain, I found oversteer was minimal and easily controlled by the standard electronic stability control.

Braking from 100 km/h to 0 km/h takes about 120 feet in the dry, according to independent AJAC tests – and that’s a very short stopping distance.

Overall, the Crossfire is a blast to drive quickly on a challenging road while being quite civilized in city traffic and small enough to fit into most parking spaces. A good all-around sports coupe. I’m looking foward to driving the convertible.


Competitors

The Crossfire’s closest competitor is probably the Nissan 350Z Coupe ($45,400) which has a 287 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 and a fairly high level of standard equipment. Other competitors include the Audi TT 1.8 AWD ($55,475) which has a 225 horsepower turbocharged four cylinder engine, all-wheel-drive, and two small rear seats; the Mercedes-Benz SLK230 ($55,950) which has a supercharged four cylinder engine and a convertible hardtop; the BMW Z4 2.5 ($51,800) a two-seater convertible with a 184 horsepower 2.5 litre inline six cylinder engine; and the Honda S2000 convertible ($49,000) which offers a 240 horsepower 2.2 litre four cylinder engine.

It’s worth noting that the Mercedes-Benz SLK320, which has the same engine, transmission and chassis – but has a convertible hardtop – is priced over $14,000 more than the Crossfire.


Verdict

Eye-catching styling, a powerful flexible V6 engine, nimble handling, and a comfortable ride were the high points of my drive in the Chrysler Crossfire. Poor rear-side visibility, cheap-looking metal-look interior trim, and a slippery gearshift knob were the low points.


Technical Data: 2004 Chrysler Crossfire

Base price $47,745
Freight $1,400
A/C tax $100
Options none
Price as tested $49,245
Type 2-door, 2-passenger coupe
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 3.2 litre V6, SOHC, 18 valves
Horsepower 215 @ 5700 rpm
Torque 229 lb.-ft. @ 3000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual (optional 5-speed automatic “AutoStick”)
Tires Michelin Pilot Sport 2; 225/40ZR-18 front; 255/35ZR-19 rear
Curb weight 1388 kg (3060 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2400 mm (94.5 in.)
Length 4058 mm (159.8 in.)
Width 1766 mm (69.5 in.)
Height 1305 mm (51.4 in.)
Cargo area 215 litres (7.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 14.1 l/100 km (20 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.5 l/100 km (33 mpg)
Fuel type: Unleaded premium, 91 octane
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 7 yrs/115,000 km

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