Full Test: 2004 Chrysler Crossfire

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jul 17, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    We Love It When a Good Product Comes Together

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    By Karl Brauer
    Date posted: 07-10-2003

    You might be asking yourself, "When was the last time Chrysler offered a model with a starting price above $34,000?"

    OK, maybe you've never asked yourself, or anyone else, that question. But that's the first query that sprang to mind upon learning what the all-new 2004 Crossfire would cost. Oh sure, you can make a Chrysler Town & Country (or even a Dodge Grand Caravan) cost over $35,000. And by the time we stopped checking options on our long-term Pacifica, its MSRP had ballooned to over $41,000.

    But the answer to that question is, of course, the Chrysler Prowler, which rang in at a pricey $45,400 for its final year of production (2002). However, since that car started out as a Plymouth model and was simply rebadged when the Plymouth brand retired, I would suggest even the Prowler shouldn't count as a true Chrysler vehicle.

    Regardless of the convoluted branding and the elimination and repositioning of various Mopar divisions in recent years, the fact remains that $34,995 is probably more than most people would expect to pay for a Chrysler product.

    After spending a week with the Crossfire we can assure you that, even if it's not a screaming bargain, it's definitely not a bad deal. For your $35,000, you get styling that is as arresting and unique as the aforementioned Prowler for $10,000 less. This car generated plenty of interest even in car-snobby Los Angeles. Better still (from Chrysler's point of view), several people were happily surprised by our answer when they asked "How much does it cost?"

    And if that was the reaction from people who had merely seen the Crossfire, there should be plenty of smiling shoppers as the vehicle makes its way into dealer showrooms and the test-drives begin. We fully expected the Crossfire to feel like its SLK cousin, and it did. But because of the larger wheels (18 inches in front, 19 inches out back) and increased body stiffness (remember, no folding top), the Chrysler version has a considerably crisper demeanor when driven with enthusiasm along a canyon road. In fact, dynamically the car is nearly as impressive as a BMW Z4 or Boxster, and it felt far more confident than any Audi TT.

    The "nearly" part of the above statement comes from the slightly numb steering. Everything needs to be kept in perspective, and the Crossfire's steering is certainly not as lifeless as a large truck or SUV. But when held up to the standards set by its likely competitors (Boxster, Z4, S2000) it doesn't quite deliver. Weighting is about right and there's no on-center dead spot, but it doesn't transmit the same subtle sensations that Porsche and BMW can deliver through the steering wheel rims. Considering its recirculating-ball design, (Porsche and BMW use rack-and-pinion) we can't say we're surprised, but it's unfortunate that this element keeps the Crossfire from being every bit as entertaining as its German competition.

    In addition to its steering response, there's one other aspect of the Crossfire's performance that holds it back from true greatness. Chrysler describes the car as "Where Route 66 Meets the Autobahn," but we're certain that when Buzz and Todd hit the go pedal on their V8-powered 1960 Corvette it responded with more low-rpm urgency than the Crossfire's 3.2-liter V6. As with the steering feel, low-end torque isn't atrocious, but BMW somehow manages to make the Z4 feel quicker with a 2.5-liter engine, and the 3.0-liter Z4 positively screams. Why does the 3.2-liter in the Crossfire have to feel anemic below 3,000 rpm? Put simply — we wish the car had a bit more Route 66 (or BMW's version of the autobahn) under the hood.

    Thankfully, the engine's midrange power is superb, and because of its refined and willing nature (undoubtedly far better than that old 'Vette), it can be great fun to find a twisty section of road, put the car in third gear and simply jump between the gas and brake pedal as the car rapidly slings itself from apex to apex. And speaking of gears, the six-speed manual is one of the best you'll encounter at this price point. Most of our staff thoroughly enjoyed working the shifter while keeping the engine in its midrange sweet zone (between 3,000 and 5,000 rpm). Downshifts came easy due to the excellent synchros, and the real metal shift knob further adds to the car's upscale aspirations.

    Our on-road assessment of engine performance was confirmed at the track, where the Crossfire managed a respectable 6.9-second 0-to-60-mph time; however, the Z4 2.5i we tested a few months back managed to hit 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. It also cleared the quarter-mile in 15 seconds flat, while the Crossfire needed 15.1 seconds. Even these relatively close acceleration numbers don't tell the whole story. When you're traveling at freeway speeds, and the engine is loping along at 2,500 rpm, you don't really want to have to shift just to maintain speed up a slight grade, but in the Crossfire you either downshift or watch the speedometer slowly unwind.

    We're certain we could have cut our acceleration numbers by spinning the tires off the line and keeping the engine's rpm up, but with the super-sticky 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport rear tires sized at 255/35, spinning said tires off the line was not an option, regardless of launch technique. Those 19-inch rear wheels likely contributed to the engine's low-rpm woes, and they would explain why the SLK (which uses 16-inch wheels with less rotational inertia) never feels as weak at low rpm, despite utilizing the exact same drivetrain.

    The flip side of having such large rolling stock is that the car's stability through our slalom course was among the best we've experienced. Its average speed of 65 mph misses the benchmark set by the Z4 (67.1) by a few mph, but just beats the last Boxster S we tested (64.6). We also liked the calibration of the stability control system, which was subtle and unobtrusive during slalom testing (though we did have to turn it off to get our best times). And, as mentioned earlier, all of these performance characteristics translate into a thrilling ride on twisty roads…as long as you keep the engine in its midrange sweet zone.

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    If you're considering a Crossfire for reasons beyond pure performance, you'll be pleasantly surprised by its comfortable and quiet cabin. Entry and exit take some getting used to because of the low roof that curves down to meet the side windows, but once inside headroom is plentiful due to the car's domed shape (think TT here). Outward visibility is another worry some might have when viewing the Crossfire's low, swoopy shape. Our first impression was that outward visibility equated to that of a military tank, but our primary driver reported that, after a short acclimation period, maneuvering the car through heavy L.A. traffic wasn't nearly as tricky as he first expected. The rearview mirrors do an excellent job of filling in the blind spots, and at just under 160 inches long (a Z4 is 161.1 inches long, a 350Z is 169.6 inches) the car is easy to slide through tight spots.

    Those same Michelin Pilot tires that give the car substantial stick around corners are also silent at highway speeds. In fact, with the exception of some very light wind noise from the A-pillar area, the Crossfire is whisper quiet at 75 mph. The one problem with having such a serene cabin is that the car's rear spoiler, which goes up at about 50 mph and drops down around 39 mph, makes an audible whine as the motor deploys and retracts the rear wing. If the cabin weren't so quiet, the motor wouldn't seem so intrusive. A switch on the center console allows for putting the spoiler up manually and keeping it there — regardless of speed. If your commute involves regularly going between 35 and 50 mph, you might want to utilize this switch.

    Seat comfort lives up to the car's premium nature. The leather feels high grade and the range of adjustments in seat height and fore/aft location makes finding the right driving position easy for a variety of body types. We did note that the steering wheel only telescopes — no tilting. But again, by playing with seat height and seat back angle every editor who drove the Crossfire (ranging in height from 5 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 2) found a position that suited them.

    The cabin itself displays much of the same "linear" themes seen on the coupe's outer shell. The interior door pulls are long, narrow handles that, unfortunately, are covered by silver plastic. A line runs down the center of the dash, and along the center of the headliner, to echo those found on the hood and roof. Interior materials all have a premium look, but, as with the interior door pulls, running your hand along the center stack or over the climate control dials reveals the true nature of this "metallic plastic." It measures up well when compared to the Nissan 350Z's center stack but, with the exception of the brushed metal shift knob, falls far short of what Audi uses in its TT.

    Interior controls display a combination of Chrysler and Mercedes parts bin raiding. The power seat controls, turn signal stalk and cruise control stalk are all clearly Benz bits, but the dials for the climate control (which is dual-zone but not automatic) feel more Sebring than C-Class. The upper dash and door panels display a texture that looks rather coarse for a premium-grade vehicle, but nearly every interior surface (with the exception of the aforementioned center stack and door pulls) is soft-touch. The power windows operate with a Mercedes-like refinement, but the switches, located on the center console, felt "backward" to most staffers — meaning you push down on the back of the switch to raise them, and you push down on the front part to lower them. At least they featured one-touch operation.

    Storage space is about typical for this segment, meaning not much. There are small nets on both doors, and the glovebox, while featuring a large opening, only offers a small amount of useful space. The center console does have a decent-size bin near the back, but you really have to reach behind the seats to access it. There's also a small pouch on the bulkhead that separates the seating area from the cargo area. The cargo hold itself offers 7.6 cubic feet of space, but accessing it through the rear hatch isn't easy because of the narrow opening and high liftover.

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    Other areas that could be improved include the one cupholder that deploys from the center console. It's hard to operate, feels excessively cheap and blocks access to the shifter when deployed. And, interestingly, while the car is a combination of Mercedes and Chrysler parts, the audio system's head unit looks like it's right out of a Porsche 911. Too bad we hate the 911's head unit, and our opinion remains consistent when the same system shows up in a Chrysler-badged vehicle.

    We have to give DaimlerChrysler credit for what seems like a solid business plan. Take the outgoing Mercedes mechanicals (the SLK gets redesigned next year) and slide them under all-new bodies with Chrysler emblems. As the Crossfire (and Pacifica) proves, even Mercedes' "leftovers" feel as good or better than many of the competitors' state-of-the-art platforms. Mercedes gets to further amortize the SLK's original platform costs, Chrysler gets an all-new model with exceptional ride and handling qualities and the consumer gets a premium product for $35,000. Even more compelling is the fact that Chrysler already has a convertible version of the Crossfire in the works. Makes sense really when you consider the original platform started out as a drop top.

    We wish the Crossfire had more low-end torque, slightly better steering feel and less plastic in the cabin, but we can't deny how much fun the car was on twisty roads, or how upscale it felt when cruising along at freeway speeds. We also can't deny the surprised expressions from mesmerized onlookers when we told them how much the car cost.

    So despite all the internal infighting, quarterly red ink and lingering lawsuits from angry stockholders, this whole "merger of equals" thing might just pan out. And even if it doesn't, the Crossfire is proof that we'll see some interesting product in the meantime.

    ------

    Senior Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
    I wouldn't go so far as to say that this car is nothing more than a pretty face, but when it comes down to it — it's better at looking good than anything else. Not that I didn't have fun behind the wheel. On a demanding canyon road, it displayed unflappable body control, serious grip and a stability control system that wasn't overly intrusive. The steering is quick, the brakes capable and there's even decent visibility as long as you're looking forward. The shifter is a little rubbery in the gates, the seats are flat and the pedals could be placed a little better, but overall the Crossfire ate up the tight turns as fast as any other mid-$30Ks sports car.

    My only real complaint concerns the interior, as it displays the kind of half-hearted quality that plagues far too many domestic vehicles these days. There's nothing inherently wrong with the design, but the attempt to jazz things up with silver-coated panels fails to look genuinely upscale. The dashboard itself is solidly built and of good quality, but the climate dials feel cheap and the radio is an ergonomic disaster. Pull the cigarette lighter and you can see where the silver paint stops — not good. Doesn't this make the Crossfire a failure? Not in my book. With a shape like that, who needs chrome trim and a perfect gearbox?

    Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
    The Crossfire was not a car I expected to fall in love with — the sheet metal is a little too pretty, I feel, for my understated personality, and frankly, I didn't think 215 horsepower would be enough to make the car entertaining. After spending a couple hours with our test car, though, I came away liking it more than I thought I would. Indeed, the engine was a bit of a disappointment, as it felt good only around 3,000 to 4,000 rpm, but I certainly enjoyed the slick-shifting manual transmission. The ride is comfortable for a car with a sporting demeanor, and it's a lot quieter than that of any other Chrysler product. What's more, the tight suspension and meaty Michelin Pilots made the Crossfire a lot of fun to drive hard on twisty roads. It didn't have the precision of the Infiniti G35 coupe, and I definitely wouldn't have minded a little more communication from the steering, but considering that most people who buy the Crossfire won't be hard-core enthusiasts, its handling package is just fine.

    Inside, the Crossfire has higher-quality materials and a lot more style than anything else in Chrysler's lineup. I wasn't fond of all the materials, mind you, but alongside most of the offerings in this price range, the Crossfire's ensemble is acceptable. I do wish the designers had adopted the soft turquoise backlighting for the instrumentation used in the 300M — I could not warm up to the generic yellow-green lighting. The driving position could be awkward for some, as the steering wheel telescopes but does not tilt. Although I did find a comfortable position, I had to lower the seat more than I would have liked to avoid bumping my shins on the dash. Also, the rear sightlines are terrible, even compared to those of a car like the Nissan 350Z — it's like driving a convertible with the top up. And many of the controls are hard to use; I had difficulty with the console-mounted window buttons, the directional dial for the climate control and the stereo display, which washed out in sunlight. While these issues were annoying, they'll be easily dismissed by anyone who swoons over the Crossfire's high style. Even I was willing to overlook them on the open road, simply because I was enjoying the drive.

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    Ups: Exceptional handling, engaging transmission, unique and effective design elements, a quiet Mercedes-like interior.

    Downs: Needs more low-end torque, steering feel could be better, some interior surfaces feel cheap, the rear spoiler's motor upsets an otherwise serene cabin.

    The Bottom Line: The Crossfire is compelling proof that this "merger of equals" just might work.

    MSRP of Test Vehicle: $34,495
     
  2. M4A1

    M4A1 :)

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    :down: does nothing for me. the fact that celine dion is on all of their commercials will scare all potential buyers away.
     
  3. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    oh shit, beats a boxster s thru the slalom.

    ibofficercartman
     
  4. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
     
  5. Chadder007

    Chadder007 OG Diamond Member

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    Still needs to be cheaper. :)
     
  6. thegeneral

    thegeneral Guest

    holy fuck that rear end is hideous.

    I saw the front end on a billboard or something and was like "wow good goin chrysler!!" :eek3:

    then I saw the back.
     
  7. mamoru

    mamoru New Member

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    TriShield, you're on a roll today :bigthumb:

    :hug:
     
  8. sporff

    sporff We're rotten fruit. We're damaged goods.

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    back is :ugh:

    rest is a very good overall design but has some tacky "slapped on" looking pieces
     
  9. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    I think it's really cool, and really needs more power.
     
  10. Supreme Allah

    Supreme Allah The terrorists won.

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    6.9 second 0-60, 15.1 second 1/4

    doesnt cut it in this day for that price
     
  11. MiseryIndex

    MiseryIndex i never know why. i only know who. Moderator

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  12. 93CivicEX

    93CivicEX Charming, Dashing, Rental car bashing

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    and more powerful.

    when you compare it to a boxster in slalom, remember that a mazda MP3 beat a vette... :dunno:

    If it had 50 more horses, and was $5k less it would be much more noteworthy...
     
  13. Sideways

    Sideways Do I look like I give a damn?

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    Christ, you'd think they would have learned their lesson by putting such a weak ass power plant into the Prowler, but NO here they DO IT AGAIN :slap:
     
  14. Bad Mojo

    Bad Mojo Guest

    :rofl:
     
  15. Melo 15

    Melo 15 Guest

    I think it's cool how there are ZERO options. :cool:

    Just int/ext color choices. :cool:

    Every car costs $34,495.
     
  16. God of Gamblers

    God of Gamblers OT Supporter

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    Back end is retarded.
     
  17. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    It doesn't need to be 5k less, it simply needs more power.
     
  18. 93CivicEX

    93CivicEX Charming, Dashing, Rental car bashing

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    wasnt it originally announced to be in the $24k range, and ~250hp?
     
  19. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    No. :ugh:
     
  20. Chadder007

    Chadder007 OG Diamond Member

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    bingo. :bigthumb:
     
  21. 93CivicEX

    93CivicEX Charming, Dashing, Rental car bashing

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    oh...

    then consider me corrected :big grin:

    I still wouldnt spend $35k on a chrysler though :o
     
  22. MiseryIndex

    MiseryIndex i never know why. i only know who. Moderator

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    even if it was really made by mercades?
     
  23. 93CivicEX

    93CivicEX Charming, Dashing, Rental car bashing

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    why not put a MB logo on it then? :dunno:

    I woulndt buy THIS $35k chrysler I dont htink...

    I think it looks good, it sounds like a good package (minus the power aspect)... just not my tastes
     
  24. Dr. Woo

    Dr. Woo Guns don't kill people

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    Rear end = ugly
    Front end = not sporty
     
  25. MiseryIndex

    MiseryIndex i never know why. i only know who. Moderator

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    because its not a MB product, technicly.
    same reason honda & acura are seperate, infiniti & nissan, toyota & lexus, etc...
     

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