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Story and photos by Paul Williams
Los Angeles, California – With Art Deco design cues from the iconic Chrysler Building in New York City, engine technology from Mercedes-Benz and serious performance numbers, the Chrysler Crossfire coupe “is a statement about what Chrysler can do; what kind of vehicle you’re buying when you select this brand,” according to DaimlerChrysler Canada president Mark Norman.
And when you see a new coupe, you can bet a convertible version is sure to follow. So only one year after launching the Crossfire coupe (named for the “character” lines that extend from the front to the rear of the car, and cross each other in the middle), the 2005 Crossfire Roadster will arrive in dealerships this summer. Like its hardtop sibling, the Roadster is a genuine head-turner.
On the road, there’s no mistaking a Crossfire coupe, and its signature “boat-tail” appearance at the rear, “speed” lines on the hood, and centre spine extending the length of the car. These features are retained in the Roadster, with the boat-tail continuing to emphasize the car’s huge 19-inch rear wheels (front wheels are 18-inch) that give it such a rakish stance.
Senior Program Manager, Scott Wilkins, points out that in order to retain the look of the Crossfire, the coupe and roadster were designed concurrently. From the back of the door, forward to the grille, the two body types are identical. It’s behind the door: the decklid, rear lights and spoiler, where subtle differences occur. And the roof, of course.
Fortunately for owners, convertible top technology has entered the space-age compared with the vinyl contraptions found on roadsters of the past. The Crossfire Roadster’s top drops in 22-seconds with the simple act of releasing a handle on the windshield header and pressing a button on the centre console. A hard tonneau opens up, the soft top folds in, and the hard tonneau closes, giving the impression that the top has been completely removed.
The clever tonneau is a sculpted affair, reminiscent of the “aero” look found on early race cars, and sits neatly behind two satin-silver “sport” bars that highlight the leather seats.
With the single-layered top up, the car was designed to operate at 240 km/h and remain “tight, solid and quiet,” according to Mr. Wilkins.
The Crossfire convertible is built in Germany by Karmann, which is also the company that designed the convertible top for the recently introduced PT Cruiser convertible. The car’s platform is based on the Mercedes-Benz SLK, as is its drivetrain. Under the hood, a 3.2-litre, V-6 engine makes 215-horsepower and 229 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.
The car offers torsional stiffness of 29.2 Hz and is built to provide excellent handling but still permit a comfortable ride, according to Mr. Wilkins. The high-performance W-rated Continental SportContact 2 255/35-19 and 225/40-18 tires feature softer sidewall compared to earlier versions, and the independent double-wishbone front suspension, and independent five-link rear suspension are tuned to compensate for the rigid chassis. The intention is to get the best of both worlds: meaning sharp handling and a supple ride. Contributing to the vehicle’s driving dynamics, electronic stability control (ESP) and all-speed traction control are standard on the Crossfire Roadster.
The car’s interior is almost as dramatically designed as the exterior. A metal-look centre stack contains controls for the 240-watt premium sound system and dual-zone climate controls. The instrument cluster uses a heritage-themed design that recalls graphics found on dashboards of luxury Chryslers from the 1930’s. The steering wheel is trimmed with chrome and the metal-look accents extend through to the door handles and minor switchgear.
The seats, door panels and dashboard are made from leather and soft vinyl in a two-tone theme.
Trunk-space is limited, especially when the top is down, but the trunk will contain a three-piece set of custom Crossfire luggage that comes standard with the Crossfire Roadster (the suitcase has wheels that look like the Crossfire’s, among other clever design touches, and for cigar lovers, there’s a Crossfire humidor that fits neatly into the centre console storage compartment).
Standard equipment for the Crossfire Roadster includes the power top, powered hard tonneau, power windows, speed control, premium sound system with subwoofers, heated leather power seats, speed-activated rear spoiler, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, tire pressure monitoring system, heated mirrors, fog lamps and universal garage door opener.
On the road the Crossfire Roadster accelerates strongly, corners flat, and produces and sweet exhaust note from its dual exhaust tips, which are faired into the centre of the rear bumper. On a slalom course set up by Chrysler, the Roadster is a bit slower than the coupe, which is not unexpected. The stability control was very effective on this course. The ride is firm.
Behind the wheel, drivers (me included) continue to mistake the cruise control for the turn signal, and the single cup holder (as in many German cars) seems an afterthought and is poorly located. The top, while clever, is rather slow to operate and makes alarming sounds as it contorts itself up and down. Unlike other vehicles, it doesn’t fully close automatically. The header rail ends up hovering about 15cm over the top of the windshield and you have to sharply pull it down and latch it. This action is accompanied with a harsh sound, like you’ve broken it (we hadn’t).
While I’m griping, the displays for minor instruments, like odometer, temperature, clock and radio are liquid crystal and these are easily washed out in the light. The radio, especially, is hard to read.
Features and specifications aside, though, it’s the look of the Crossfire that will initially entice buyers to this car. The coupe is arguably the most striking design on the road today, and the Roadster loses nothing in translation. Obvious alternatives are the Nissan 350Z, the Audi TT and perhaps the Porsche Boxster, all of which have received very positive reviews from the automotive press. One stumbling block will be the high, but not unreasonable, price for a product with a Chrysler badge. The MSRP is $51,595 with the manual transmission and $53,095 with the automatic.
The Crossfire Roadster, while not being the most powerful car in its class, combines competitive performance, sophisticated technology and luxury features with a unique design language. In the near future, watch for a 330 horsepower SRT6 Roadster to further transform the Crossfire.