Caught in the Crossfire

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2004

I like to attract attention. The right kind of attention, you understand. The kind that causes someone to remark, "You look nice tonight" or "That haircut makes you look younger."

And that's the kind of favorable attention the driver of a 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster will get.

Thumbs-up signals from other drivers attest to the fact that this two-seat sports car is among the most attractive on the road today. It's the roadster that's new for 2005. Lots of folks have seen and admired the Crossfire coupe that debuted last year. It's great looking, with a sharply raked rear that harks back to the automotive styling of the late '20s. But taking the top off this beauty, as has been done for 2005, makes it even more attractive.

The Crossfire is the first fully merged product from the union of DaimlerBenz and Chrysler. And it may be the last, if father Daimler has his way. The Crossfire rides on the fine 2004 chassis from a Mercedes-Benz SLK. And its 215-horsepower V6 is from the SLK.

That power figure, which has to pull the rather hefty 3,140-pound two-seater, makes the Crossfire more cruiser than racer. The car competes with the likes of the Ford Thunderbird and base Audi TT for King of Boulevard cruising honors. It can't stay with faster sports cars in sprints from stoplights. Who cares? Those faster cars are yesterday's styles. This Crossfire today is the looker of the class.

Base price is $38,045. Our tester topped out at $39,995, having only a $1,075 five-speed automatic transmission substituted for the standard manual one.

The Crossfire has some attractive styling touches outside, such as the bear-claw rips on each front fender, and one nuisance-a retractable wing that rises from the rear deck at 62 miles an hour. In testing, that wing caught the overhead sun and kicked it into the inside rear view mirror and then into my eyes. I soon discovered a button on the dash to disable it.

The wing is only needed at the high speeds this car is capable of reaching. DaimlerChrysler, in a Web video that borders on irresponsible, shows a Crossfire on a public road as the driver exults that he's speeding along at 140 miles an hour. At that insane speed, the wing adds stability, keeping the car from escaping earth's gravity. At any legal speed in this state and most others, the wing is no more than a useless toy. It should be dumped from future models.

The only other fault with the Crossfire Roadster is the degree of turbulence generated inside the car when the top is down. The windshield on the Roadster is an inch lower than the one on the coupe, and both windshield ends angle inward. The result is an air flow that hits a driver squarely in the ears. It's so serious a problem that I was forced to wear ear plugs on the highway to avoid duplicating a serious earache I first encountered in the departed Cadillac Allante.

In all ways that matter around town, however, the Crossfire Roadster is a standout choice. It's easy to enter and exit, easy to drive, doesn't beat up a driver with an overly stiff suspension, has extensive safety features and is attractive.

When you pop open a door, you'll note CROSSFIRE embossed on the door sill plate. The two-tone interior is divided into two pods, with deep, embracing bucket seats for the driver and a single passenger. There's a storage net behind the seats, a glovebox and a pop-up drink holder. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is the desirable four-spoke design and extremely comfortable to grip for long trips.

Alas, the windowsill is high and it's difficult to rest a left elbow comfortably there. Raise the seat to a more comfortable level and the top of the windshield blocks overhead stoplights. There's no compromising this problem.

You'll definitely want the top down on the Crossfire Roadster. With the top up, visibility is impaired and the feeling is one of being cramped, much like that in the late, great Prowler.

The 3.2-liter V6 powering the Crossfire races it from zero to 60 miles an hour in 6.5 seconds. That's plenty fast for today's congested roads. And fuel mileage of 21 in the city and 28 on the highway looks good with gas prices threatening to remain high.

Attractive as it is, the 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster must play on a crowded field. To some eyes, it's better looking than any competitor. But it doesn't outperform them all and isn't the cheapest either.

DaimlerChrysler has plans to at least remedy that. Look for an SRT Crossfire before long. SRT is Chrysler-speak for racing team. The Dodge Ram SRT-10 is the fastest truck ever made; the Dodge Neon SRT-4 is the most bang for the buck available; and an SRT Crossfire promises to be a fire-breather.

But it will top $50,000, DaimlerChrysler says. That puts it squarely against some fine sports cars, such as the Porsche Boxster S, BMW Z4, Audi TT Turbo, Nissan 350Z roadster and the new Mercedes-Benz SLK.

At the time this review was written, the 2005 Crossfire Roadster will turn more heads than any competitor. Admiration for its design was across-the-board-men and women, young and old. Only the New Beetle and PT Cruiser got this kind of welcome. 

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