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Discussions about the new Chrysler Crossfire

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 #41658  by johnpaull
 September 6th, 2003, 4:01 pm
Here's one from the NY Times.2004 Chrysler Crossfire: Find the Mercedes in This Picture By PETER PASSELL DAIMLER-BENZ'S surprise takeover of Chrysler in 1998 was accompanied by a corporate song and dance about the synergies of combining Daimler's engineering prowess with Chrysler's marketing flair. The S-Class marries the Viper, etc.In truth, the whole proved less than the sum of the parts. But five years later, those who found much to like in each company can at last point to a new vehicle that is obviously a child of the marriage: the 2004 Chrysler Crossfire coupe.The American-designed exterior of this little two-seater is pure Chrysler. Its retro sheet metal and powerful haunches invoke the drama of 1930's Euro roadsters, while oversize wheels, ultra-low-profile tires, ground-effects front spoiler and fancy headlamp treatment shout "muscle car." Inside, the influence of the folks from Stuttgart is clear. Handsome synthetic materials in unusual colors (charcoal and rose, in my test car) complement the elegant leather seats. The brushed-metal switches and gear lever weren't to my taste, but the lovely Infinity sound system and near-perfect fit and finish certainly were. The base-model Crossfire, incidentally, comes loaded; standard equipment includes antilock brakes, side-mounted air bags, electronic stability control and a rear spoiler that automatically deploys at autobahn speed. You also get heated power seats, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, two-zone air-conditioning, remote locking, halogen headlights and aluminum wheels.The interior offers plenty of proof that the Germans, not the Americans, are in charge. Start with the Crossfire's ashtray and lighter, items that have virtually disappeared as standard features on American cars. Consider the window switches inconveniently situated on the console rather than on the doors. Although Chrysler was a pioneer in cup holder development, the Crossfire's single unit is a small, fussy, pop-up thing that seems to reflect German disdain for American indulgences. And the useful steering-wheel switches of homegrown Chryslers are gone; the cruise control is actuated with the same ill-placed lever that Mercedes drivers routinely nudge by accident when they want to signal a turn. Drivers - big ones, anyway - pay a price in comfort for the Crossfire's radical design. The cabin is plenty wide for the bottoms of the boomer generation. And thanks to the hatchback design, storage for groceries or maybe a suitcase or two is surprisingly generous. But the cabin is simply too short to accommodate those with long legs. And the very low roofline can make driving the Crossfire feel like solitary confinement.Chrysler had a reputation in the 90's for its spacious cab-forward cabins. The Crossfire, on the other hand, is more like cab-backward.Another vexing issue is the poor rear vision. The rear window is tiny, and the cartoonlike bulge of the rear fenders creates oversize blind spots. Changing lanes on a busy freeway can be an adventure, and parallel-parking this baby requires a touch of blind luck.Of course, sports cars designed to attract members of the opposite sex (and leap tall buildings in a single bound) often suffer from such flaws. Backing up a Lamborghini requires a co-pilot to stand outside and shout directions over the rumble of the engine. The real question with the Crossfire, then, is whether the car's wow factor makes up for its ergonomic shortcomings. And the answer depends at least in part on how you weigh aspects of its performance.Thanks to DaimlerChrysler engineering (and assembly by Karmann, a German subcontractor), the Crossfire is a lot of fun to drive. The steering, suspension and transmissions are borrowed, almost intact, from the Mercedes SLK roadster. And that guarantees a pretty good experience on the road.In fact, the Crossfire has two structural legs up on the SLK. First, it has a fixed roof rather than a retractable hardtop, and the resulting increase in rigidity both improves the car's handling and reduces its vibration. Second, the larger, lower-profile tires give the Crossfire more traction than the SLK. (High-performance Z-rated Michelin Pilot Sport tires are standard, 18 inches in front and 19 inches in the rear.) Indeed, Car and Driver magazine said the Crossfire clung to the asphalt on a skid pad better than the hot Nissan 350Z.It should be no surprise, then, that the Crossfire feels great on winding roads. The steering is stiff, the way fans of German cars like it. Instead of the rack-and-pinion steering that you expect in a sporty car, the Crossfire uses a less direct recirculating ball setup. The suspension is softer than one might expect of a serious driving machine. But the body roll on curves is nonetheless modest, and the Crossfire holds to irregular pavement like a champ. I can think of very few cars with such a comfortable ride that handle so well. The Crossfire comes with a six-speed manual transmission or, for $1,075 extra, a five-speed automatic with a Tiptronic-style shift-it-yourself function. The manual is serviceable, though it takes a bit of learning to distinguish consistently between second and fourth gears, and between third and fifth. The automatic is another animal entirely; it performs faultlessly, but undermines the sense of control that you get from the stick shift on twisting roads, where handling matters more than brute force.On the subject of brute force: while the Crossfire's engine is acceptable, it falls well short of thrilling. The 3.2-liter aluminum V-6 is also borrowed from the SLK, and it generates 215 horsepower and a maximum of 229 pounds-feet of torque. That is plenty to merge onto freeways or pass briskly on two-lane roads, but not nearly enough to match the acceleration of, say, the comparably priced Honda S2000 or the aforementioned Nissan 350Z.All that said, the Crossfire seems a worthy contender in a market crowded with sporty medium-price machines. It looks great and handles better. And for those who are neither tall nor prone to claustrophobia, it delivers a superior driving experience. This first full-fledged offspring of Daimler and Chrysler may not justify the "merger of equals" - everyone now knows it was a German takeover - that has generated a world of frustration for employees and investors. But it does suggest that those early promises of synergy were not entirely empty. INSIDE TRACK: Teutonic polish, Detroit pizazz.