Car Review: 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Limited Roadster


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chrysler

Chrysler broke new ground when it introduced its Crossfire sports coupe last year, and keeps momentum for 2005 with significant additions to the line. Or maybe that should read ``significant reductions,'' as the most immediately noticeable addition is the removal of the top, to form the Crossfire Roadster.

The Roadster was planned from the inception of the Crossfire program, and was developed in tandem with the Coupe. As with the Coupe, the Roadster is a product of both sides of the DaimlerChrysler combine, styled in the U.S. by Chrysler, based on the first-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK and assembled by Karmann in Osnabrueck, Germany. The SLK platform is eminently suitable for drop-top use - the original SLK was the first modern convertible with a folding metal top, after all. The Crossfire Roadster's power folding cloth top fits neatly into the space as the SLK's metal top disappeared into.

The Crossfire line has grown in other ways, too. The regular models are now offered in two trim levels, base and Limited. Base models have a six-speed manual transmission, cloth upholstery, and low-back bucket seats; Limiteds get standard leather and high-back buckets, an available five-speed automatic transmission, and more luxury features. All have a moveable spoiler that deploys above 60 mph, and both convertible models feature a power-operated top that disappears completely beneath a stylish metal tonneau.

Also new in the Crossfire lineup are the SRT-6 models, coupe and convertible. Like Chrysler's other SRT cars, they are best thought of as factory tuner cars. Performance is the name of the game, and while SRT-6s have a 3.2-liter V6 like other Crossfires, its is supercharged and makes 330 horsepower, somewhat more than the regular engine's 215. There are suspension upgrades and both exterior and interior modifications as well. Think of SRT as the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler's equivalent to Mercedes-Benz's AMG.

But I'll leave a test of an SRT-6 for another day, as I've recently finished a week with a Limited model Crossfire Roadster with an automatic transmission. It's Fall, so unsurprisingly the weather was varied from warm and sunny top-down joy to cold, drenching rain. Top-down, the Roadster Limited was wonderful; top-up was snug and pleasant. Chassis rigidity was exemplary, contributing to quick, nimble handling, and 215 automatic horses were plenty for a fast-but-relaxed touring pace on all kinds of roads. Convertibles are important in the segment in which the Crossfire competes, and the Crossfire Roadster is one of the best in its class.

APPEARANCE: Sometimes removing the top from a car originally developed as a coupe can produce ungainly results, especially with the top up. And sometimes the resulting convertible not only retains its good looks, but improves upon those of its fixed-roof sibling. Such is the case with the Crossfire Roadster, and the Crossfire Coupe is a very handsome car. Top-up, the convertible top blends well with the body shape, and the top's small size visually decreases the car's apparent size. With the top down, this is even more pronounced, and the car looks even lower and smaller. And the Crossfire Coupe is not exactly a large car. From the windshield forward, the coupe and roadster are identical, with the new Chrysler eggcrate grille and 30s Art Deco-inspired styling details. The namesake ``cross-over'' concave-to-convex side styling is retained, and contributes to the Roadster's dynamic wedge-shaped side view - as do the large 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels. The rear is similar to the coupe's, minus the boat-tail roof, of course. It's rounded in a 1930s fashion, with a small spoiler that lifts above 60 mph integrated into the trunk lid. With the top down, the twin SLK-style ``sport bars'' and fairings in the metal tonneau are visible, and add a classic touch. The twin centrally-located rectangular exhausts in a faux venturi panel are totally contemporary. Interestingly, with the top up, from a three-quarter rear, slightly-elevated angle I find an interesting resemblance to the late Chrysler/Plymouth Prowler.

COMFORT: If the Crossfire Roadster looks smaller than the Coupe on the outside, it also feels smaller inside. It's very comfortable, but cozy, especially with the top up. The design is basically the same as the coupe's, a stylish and symmetrical twin-cockpit look, meant to be functional with either a left- or right-hand driving position. The instrument pod on the driver's side is balanced by a similarly-shaped cutline on the passenger's side. High-quality soft-touch materials are found on the dash, while the console and center stack are covered with bright silvery plastic. The Limited's supportive power-adjustable, leather-faced, heated high-back sports seats are appropriate to a car of the Crossfire's stature. Control placement is good. A moderately-sized console box and mesh door pockets complement the locking glove box, but pack light. Trunk space depends on top position, but golf clubs are out no matter what. Sensors in the trunk allow the top to be lowered only if the trunk's internal divider panels are correctly installed and nothing will block the area into which the top goes. Top operation is simple and fast - unlatch the large latch at the front center of the top and manually push the top up a few inches. Then hold down the switch and let the servo motors do the rest of the work. Putting it back up is the opposite - hold the button down, and when the motors stop, grab the latch, pull the top down the last few inches, and latch it. With the top down, there is enough room in the trunk for a small duffle bag and a couple of briefcases. Sport touring is not the same as sport-utility touring.

SAFETY: The Chrysler Crossfire's safety equipment includes dual front and side airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, all-speed traction control, electronic stability assistance, LATCH child seat anchors and a passenger airbag off switch.

ON THE ROAD: Some convertibles in the Crossfire Roadster's class exhibit noticeable cowl shake and chassis flex. The Crossfire does not - it feels almost like it is machined from a solid piece of metal. It's one of the stiffest cars in its class, and that benefits both ride quality and handling. I only noticed cowl shake only on a very poorly-paved road, and even then it was minimal. Even with a firmly-tuned fully-independent suspension featuring double A-arms in front and a multilink system in the rear and exceptionally large, low-profile tires - 225/40 ZR18 in front, 255/35 ZR19 at the rear - the ride was not harsh at all. There was little body roll, and the huge contact patch ensured great grip. It's great fun at a quick pace on a twisting road, but is also comfortable on the highway. As with the coupe, there is no spare tire, only a can of sealant, so watch for road debris.

PERFORMANCE: The 3.2-liter single overhead cam, 18-valve alloy V6 found under the Crossfire's long, ribbed hood is the familiar Mercedes-Benz powerplant, but with different intake and exhaust manifolds to enable it to fit. No complaints there, it's smooth and powerful at nearly all engine and road speeds. The coupe I tested almost a year ago had the standard six-speed manual gearbox, while this week's roadster had the five-speed automatic. The performance reduction that I expected because of the automatic was not really noticeable, as the engine's torque characteristics and the transmission's adaptive shift logic work together very well. If manual shifting is desired, simply select ``AutoStick'' mode and shift, but that is rarely necessary. Because of the Crossfire Limited's relaxed sport-touring nature, the automatic is a fine choice.

CONCLUSIONS: Remember when convertibles were supposed to be gone, never to return? Chrysler has already forgotten those sad days as it adds yet another drop-top to its line for 2005 in the form of the Crossfire Roadster.


SPECIFICATIONS

2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster

Base Price			$ 38,045
Price As Tested	        	$ 40,245
Engine Type			90-degree single overhead cam 18-valve
				 aluminum alloy V6
Engine Size			3.2 liters / 195 cu. in.
Horsepower			215 @ 5700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			229 @ 3000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic with ``AutoStick'' 
				  manual mode
				 (6-speed manual standard)
Wheelbase / Length		94.5 in. / 159.8 in.
Curb Weight			3174 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.8
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				F: 225/40 WR18 R: 255/35 WR 19
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, antilock & 
				  brake assist standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  independent five-link
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 28 / 23
0 to 60 mph				6.9  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Premium two-tone interior		$   250
5-speed automatic transmission with
  ``AutoStick'' (r) manual mode	        $ 1,075
Destination charge			$   875

Complete specifications on the 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster Limited and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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