Auto Test Drives
Crossfire. That's an interesting name. Two things come two mind upon hearnig it. One, Stevie Ray Vaughn's Texas voice wailing in between bluesy guitar lick's "Hey now baby, caught in the Crossfire." This goes with the image of being caught in between warring parties - not the image you want associated with a car that is intended to provide a harmonious balance between comfort, style, performance and handling. Number two, in an automotive frame of mind, crossfire sounds similar to misfire (I'm thinking it's got something to do with that "fire" bit). Or maybe you think of backfire. Either way, the Crossfire has a name which sounds pretty cool but depending on your state of mind it may conjure less than tantalizing images. Except if you concentrate on those rockin riffs from Stevie Ray Vaghuan's electric guitar, then you might get a similar feeling to what you get when you drive this car.
Because the Crossfire is a very impressive performance vehicle. That's what happens when you take the old Mercedes SLK chassis, the old AMG motor for the performance version of the SLK, and put a Chrysler body on it. That motor, a supercharged SOHC 18-valve 3.2 liter V6, is throbbing with 330 horsepower at 6100 rpm (just before the rev limiter kicks in) and 310 lb-ft of torque from 3500 to 4800 rpm - wow! Furthermore, this intercoled helical-type supercharger helps reap 90% of the peak torque from 2300 to 6200rpm. It pulls very strongly at 2500 rpm, despite a very tall 3.07 rear gear ratio, and 1000 revs higher it is raging on at full bore, storming forward like an animal on fire. Being one gear too high is not enough to kill the performance of the Crossfire. It pulls pretty strongly in third gear around the mid 2000's rev range, and once it winds up past 3200 it is back on track, drawing you back into the seat like a lover that's hungry for more. It takes some very high speeds to make this Crossfire's acceleration curve start to wane significantly. From wheelspin to speedometer spin to triple digit speed, the Crossfire waits for no one.
The engine sounds not too apealing - it sounds rather unexotic, like an American V6 with an unexciting exhaust note. Funny thing is, it's Germnan. There is a ton of intake noise, yet there is no supercharger whine or whir. Those are poor, and highly impressive, respectively, traits of this motor. Considering there is a low enough amount of insulation material that you can clearly hear the intake noise, the lack of supercharger mechanical noise is commendable. The build quality is excellent and refined. The lack of a treatment for that heavy sucking noise is confusing, though certainly not unheard of even in some more expensive performance cars.
The automatic transmission on our test ride is a decent unit for the job. It is much better suited to the vehicle than the unit we drove on the Charger was for that car, even considering that performance sedan is more family oriented. The Crossfire's 5-speed auto features a winter mode which makes you start off in second to help prevent wheelspin (for wet and icy conditions), and it has a manual mode similar to the Charger's. You leave it in "D," and tap left for down. The shfits are much faster, more than 50% quicker than those of the Charger. They feel ten times quicker. You tap right, and then by the time you bring your hand back to center (at a somewhat relaxed pace) the transmission is already starting the physical gear shift. To cancel out of manual operation, you can just hold the lever to the right for about two seconds and it goes back to auto mode.
The brakes seem very impressive on paper. The front discs are 13 inches in diameter, quite large for this featherweight vehicle. The Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires offer phenomenal grip, ensuring a good transfer of brake apd to rotor grip to the asphatl, resulting in very furtive stopping power. The brakes don;t feel very impressive in their bite, but that's just a pedal sensitivity issue. The brakes do a great job of bringing this lightweight very quickly to a stop.
The handling is great. Four wheel independent suspension, with coil springs and gas scharged dampers all around, A-shaped control arms up frnot and a multi-link rear, provides a stable yet moderately supple handling platorm. With a 94.5 inch short wheelabse (you can get a good sense for how short the wheelbase is just by sitting inside...) this little go-getter is quite sharp. There is a well-defined but very short delay in turn in, with discernable but minimal body roll, then equilibrium is reached between forward momentum and the intended rate of lateral acceleration, and simultaneously you get grip. The Crossfire operates on a strong chassis which fights flex like Lysol kills bacteria. Its one tough cookie. The grip is high, cornering speed is high, and the corners of your mouth will be high, as they define the ends of a big grin. With 310 lb-ft of torque available, it is extremely easy to snap the tail end out when launching through a 90 degree corner. Making a U-turn on a 2-lane road is entirely possible. Driving at opposite lock is second-nature to this little guy. With all that torque on tap, it just begs for more.
At a bit higher speeds, say where you reach the limits of adhesion on an on- or off-ramp, the car feels stable - more due to the suspension than weight balance. It is not overly sensitive at either end. The rear end stays put while you roll on the throttle, but eventually it will come smoothly and preditcably out. The rear end is light, so going over large bumps will help throw that tail out of whack. Traversing speed bumps at 15 mph produces a large rear end hop, which is a good indicator to watch out for unsmooth road when driving hard. On smooth asphalt, however, this thing corners like a king.
The ride is pretty nice considering the great handling and the short wheelbase. Under bad road conditions and sections of freeway which yield freeway chop, the Crossfire becomes a bumpy and fairly uncomfortable ride. Under moderately poor road conditions, however, the Crossfire remains composed and accomodating to most non-overly sensitive passengers.
Interior quarters are cozy. There is enough headroom for my 6' 1 1/2" frame when the seat is pushed all the way down to the floor, and shoulder room is good if you're thin, but legroom is just barely lacking. Teh 42.7-inch EPA measurement for legroom is as good as a great number of medium to large sized vehicles, yet somehow my frame is cheated of about 1-2 inches. For some reason, the design team for this vehicle put a hard plasic divider in the way so the seat can't be pushed all the way back. The first thnig I would do as an owner is push it back. But there is no adjustment that can be made to allow balance between increased cargo room and increased legroom. It is a wall, but doesn't seem to offer structural reinforcement. It jsut seems to be a cargo hold divider and it is in the way.
The design of the Crossfire is mostly very attractive. The front end is athletic but upscale. It is not drawn from a completely minimalistic material and frontal surface area perspective, but the body lines are tight. The hood profile, when viewed from head-on, is flat, interrupted by three thin grooves running fore-aft. These grooves look amazing when filled in with chrome strips, as we saw on Chrysler's ME412 concept. The long thin groove theme is continued on the roof, which drops smoothly but rapidly into a classic fastback, which is flanked by a pair of large, bulbous rear fender flares. On the rear slope sits a fixed rear wing, a suprise because it was not eletronically adjusted per speed. The sides of the Crossfire feature aesthetic vents which look much like the side vents we know well from the Mercedes SL line. Thus, there is Mercedes influence even on the exterior design of the Crossfire, but the overall feel of the car is "upscale Chrysler."
The exterior promises an elegance, a luxurious expereience that the interior falls far short of delivering. The long, thin groove design theme is carried onto the dashboard, which is cool, but the materials are cold. The texture on the dash matches the skin on the doors, and it is of pretty good quality, but the material is too prevalent here. The dashboard would be much better without the strip of conflictingly smooth plastic very oddly placed at the front upper rim of the eyebrow over the instrument cluster.
The center console is overcrowded, and there is no positive contrast in the materials to help you wade through the small sea of buttons. It is a big slab of silver colored plastic with a myriad of unlabeled buttons, some which were non functional on our test ride (like the button to turn on/off the electonic wing adjustment, because the SRT6 has a fixed wing). They did manage to squeeze in a navigation system, which is fairly easy to use considering the limited space available for a screen and controls. there is also only one cupholder.
Well, that's fine. This is a true, small, 2-seater sports car. The lack of a few features is called focus. The lack of four cupholders per interior occupants is excusable given the great driving experience. What's not excusable is the price. The acceleration is just about on par with the C5 Corvette. Deceleration as at least as powerful. The steering is very positive, though not as good as a Corvette. The handling is fantastic though on unsmooth terrain this light rear end makes the car a bit unstable. This car is short of a Corvette, despite its fondest hopes. Thus it fits in a slightly lower price class. This Crossfire does not quite give your $42,000, or $47,000 as our test ride was equipped, justice, given the competition. Yet the Crossfire does give a lot of value for the money, and its blend of exterior styling and impressive performance does command a fair sum of money. But this car will not move when priced so closely to the Corvette - especially since it is a V6, doesn't sound that great, and has none of the history the Corvette has, on the street or on the road. The Crossfire needs a chance to establish itself. This is a great car, a fast car, a nimble machine, a wonderful piece of art on wheels, but it could go for a small price drop.
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