A far more interesting Chrysler arrived in 2003: a slick two-seat semisports car marking the first tangible result of the Daimler-Benz takeover. Like the PT Cruiser and Dodge Viper, the 2004-model Crossfire hewed closely to a well-received concept (the '01 Crossfire). But its sharp Chrysler styling was just a new wrapper for an older Mercedes, the 1998-vintage SLK, which was about to be replaced by a clean-sheet design.
Critics chided both Daimler and Chrysler for this evident hand me down, but the Crossfire had much to recommend it. One big plus was price: initially $33,600 to start, some $6000 less than a base SLK. Of course, it helped that the Crossfire had a fixed fastback roof instead of an expensive retractable hardtop, though Chrysler quickly catered to fresh-air fiends by issuing a power-soft-top model in calendar '04.
It also helped that Mercedes had mostly amortized the costs of powertrain and chassis components. And if those were no longer new, they were still pretty impressive. As in the SLK, a 215-bhp 3.2-liter V-6 drove the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional five-speed, manually shiftable automatic. (The latter was preferred for drivability reasons, and most U.S. buyers ordered it anyway.)
Chrysler claimed it had made numerous technical tweaks for the Crossfire, but the all-independent suspension, all-disc antilock brakes, recirculating-ball power steering, and standard torso side airbags were all essentially the same as those of the SLK. One notable upgrade concerned wheel diameters: 18 inches front and 19 rear versus 16s or 17s for SLKs.
There was no room for a spare, though, so a plug-in air compressor and a can of sealant were provided. Another Crossfire distinction was the rear spoiler that popped up automatically -- and rather noisily -- above 40 mph to aid high-speed stability; below 50 mph, it snugged itself back into the deck.
Because Mercedes had lately added a supercharged SLK, the Crossfire was expected to follow. Sure enough, model-year 2005 introduced "blown" SRT-6 versions with the same 330 bhp. The initials stood for Street and Racing Technology, the recently formed in-house team charged with developing higher-performance versions of chosen Chrysler Group products, not unlike Mercedes' AMG.
To handle their greater speed, SRT-6s were treated to an ultrafirm suspension and "summer" tires (versus all-season) on specific multispoke wheels. Completing the package were a cockpit trimmed in leather and suedelike Alcantara, plus a fixed rear spoiler of tastefully modest size.
By this point, nonsupercharged Crossfires offered a choice of base and Limited trim. The latter, costing $4000-$4700 more, delivered full-leather upholstery, heated power seats, tire-pressure monitor, premium audio system, and other goodies. The SRT-6s had these too, but started $11,000 higher, listing at $45,000-$49,000.
Chrysler hoped for 20,000 Crossfire sales each calendar year in America (plus a few more in Europe), but ended up with rather less: a mere 4000 in the abbreviated 2003 season, around 14,700 in '04 and again in '05. Though the "used Mercedes" hardware might have turned off more-knowledgeable buyers, sales were probably hobbled more by pricing that looked out of whack for a Chrysler, with all the bad vibes many people still attached to that name.
Lukewarm press reviews hurt, too. Though Chrysler resisted incentives on its new "halo" car, a nine-month backlog by early 2005 forced deep discounts, which only further tarnished the car's image. With all this, Crossfire will likely be allowed to fade away, though it continued with little change into 2006.
For more on the amazing Chrysler, old and new, see:
- Chrysler New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chrysler Used Car Reviews and Prices