Ever since Mercedes-Benz merged with Chrysler to become Daimler-Chrysler, serious car fans have been waiting for a merging of innovative American style and precision European engineering. Well, say hello to the Chrysler Crossfire! It’s built in Germany, but the look is distinctly our own. Could this be the real beginning of a whole new Chrysler?
The 2004 Chrysler Crossfire is certainly like no Chrysler before it. It may be German built, with mostly European components, but just about everything you see outside proudly says ‘‘I’m an American.’‘ The immigrant Crossfire wears a rakish body that sprang almost intact from a show- stopping concept car, part slick two-seat sports coupe and part vintage American hot-rod. The wide grille with its winged Chrysler badge is flanked by four tubular projector headlights, while the long hood, with its raised center spine and six character grooves, spreads out into tall, sharp fenders. The fenders nip at the top of the tall tires, and sweep along the tops of tall doors, which feature an additional character line that merges into the rear fender. The short, smooth fastback tail produces minimal rear overhang and features a retractable wing that you hear deploy at 60 miles-per-hour. The show car look is finished off by 7-spoke alloy wheels with tall 18-inch tires at the front, and taller 19’s at the rear.
But hold on to that red, white and blue. This striking design sits atop the same rear-drive chassis used by the Mercedes-Benz SLK320 roadster. With a short 94.5-inch wheelbase, 159.8- inch length, and 58.3-inch track, the Crossfire is almost as compact, and the roof is fixed.
But it’s got big car power! The Crossfire is propelled by the same 3.2-liter single-cam V6 used in the E-Class, as well as the SLK. Output here is 215 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. Available transmissions are our test car’s 5-speed automatic with Chrysler’s AutoStick manual shift mode, or a 6-speed manual. Hit the gas, and the Crossfire sprints to 60 in only 6.3 seconds. The 1/4 mile passes in a quickened 14.8 seconds, at 97 miles-per-hour. Those times are comparable to the last SLK320 we tested.
The performance of this familiar Mercedes powerplant offers no surprises, with superb throttle response, strong bottom end power, and a wide, flat power band. The gearbox and clutch are equally refined, engaging all gears in a tight, precise manner. Words which also describe the double-wishbone front and 5-link rear suspension, despite having to be totally re-tuned for the Crossfire’s bigger, heavier wheels and tires. All is assisted by an electronic stability program and all-speed traction control.
Taken as a whole, the Crossfire is sure-footed, and felt superior to the SLK in grip and stability. The Crossfire’s hardtop body is certainly stiffer, and you feel it in every turn. Our only handling complaint is steering response. The power ball-type unit feels sluggish and disconnected, traits we recall from the SLK but are harder to forgive here.
Braking is by powerful 4-wheel-discs with ABS and Brake Assist. From 60, they delivered a short average stopping distance of 118 feet. But the pedal is soft at first stab, followed by strong ABS pulsing, also SLK traits. The front tires also had a tendency to follow grooves in our track, so a firm hand on the wheel was required.
The driving experience off-track is first rate. The Crossfire feels German-solid, and like a Mercedes, won’t ever beat you up. And, despite never really seeing anyone out the small rear window, this handsome two-seater will protect you with tire-pressure monitoring, and front-and- side-impact airbags. It is one very refined Chrysler.
That refinement easily carries over to the cockpit. Designers have done an admirable job of giving the interior the same American tastes as the exterior. But even the big Chrysler steering wheel can’t hide the total use of Mercedes switchgear. Still, that’s nothing to complain about. Entry is a bit tight thanks to the low roof line, and headroom is minimal for those over 6- feet tall. But the leather wrapped bucket seats are very supportive, boasting 8-way power adjustments for the driver, and heat.
The SLK-derived gauge cluster, with its metallic trim rings, is handsome, but the smallish numbers are hard to read at a glance. No complaints about controls for the dual-zone automatic climate controls, or the 240-watt Infinity Modulus audio system, however. They’re straightforward and easy to reach from either seat. Behind those seats, and inside a well disguised rear hatch, is a larger-than-expected cargo space of 7.6 cubic feet. Good for a weekend and maybe more.
Price numbers, however, are smaller than expected. A Crossfire with the 6-speed manual carries a base price of $34,495. Choose the 5-speed automatic gearbox, and $35,570 is the starting price. That’s $10,000 less than a Mercedes SLK320. Granted, you don’t get the SLK’s folding hardtop, but it’s an excellent price for all this proven Mercedes-Benz hardware inside a fresh American skin.
While to some it may be heresy, the Crossfire is proof to us that the DaimlerChrysler marriage is working. Moreover, it’s starting to produce vehicles that are unlike any others sold by domestic brands. Add in all that striking American style, and the 2004 Chrysler Crossfire isn’t just a great new Chrysler. It’s the beginning of a great new era for the whole Chrysler brand!
Engine: 3.2-Liter Single-cam V6
Torque: 229 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.3 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds @ 97 MPH
60-0 MPH: 118 Feet