- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Maybe the 2004 Chrysler Crossfire should be called the Chrysler Pheromone.

Let’s see, there was the guy at the pet supply store who had to know all about this new, sporty two-seater during my test drive.

And the fellow in the Dodge Viper who slowed down his super sports car so I could pass, giving him a closer look at the Crossfire.

My favorite was the man driving a $350,000 Bentley who followed me into the bank parking lot.

“Nice Bentley,” I said to him as I got out of the Crossfire.

“Nice car you have there — what is it?” he responded.

And just like that, I was chatting with the owner of a $350,000 Bentley.

The Crossfire, the new halo car for Chrysler with a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $34,495, sure is an attraction.

People seem drawn to its styling, which includes a broad Mercedes-Benz-like hood and squat boat-tail rear end set off by 19-inch rear tires. (Front wheels and tires are 18 inches.)

Not a single person who came to ask about the Crossfire guessed it was a Chrysler, though.

But then, the Crossfire doesn’t look like a Chrysler.

And truth be told, this snazzy two-seater that competes with the likes of the Audi TT and Nissan 350Z gets as many as 40 percent of its components and much of its engineering from Chrysler’s parent company, DaimlerChrysler, which also is the parent company for Mercedes-Benz.

For example, the Crossfire test car felt more like a Mercedes-Benz than a Chrysler. The ride was sophisticated — firm, but not stiff or harsh — and the Crossfire didn’t seem to sway in any aggressive maneuvers.I attributed the good road manners to suspension and platform, borrowed from Mercedes-Benz, specifically, the current SLK.

So, there’s an independent double-wishbone front suspension with coil springs and gas-charged shocks and an independent five-link suspension with coil springs and gas-charged shocks in back.

It’s all tuned for a firmer ride in the Crossfire, however.

I heard some road noise from the tires. Still, I was impressed at how well the Crossfire’s aerodynamic shape keeps wind noise, even at highway speeds, to a minimum. But the recirculating ball steering didn’t seem to quite match the sporty nature and wasn’t as quickly responsive as I expected.

A confident sound emanates from the Crossfire’s V-6. This, too, is from Mercedes-Benz. In fact, the Mercedes-Benz SLK, C-Class and even the ML-Class sport utility vehicle use this 3.2-liter, single-overhead cam, 90-degree V-6, too. In the Crossfire, it delivers its 215 horsepower smoothly and efficiently.

And depending on how you want to drive, the Crossfire’s 229 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm can shove riders straight back into their seats or come on at a more leisurely rate.

Audi’s TT isn’t offered with a V-6; it has either a 180-horsepower, 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder or a 225-horsepower, 1.8-liter, turbocharged four.

Maximum torque is 173 foot-pounds as low as 1,950 rpm, or 207 foot-pounds as low as 2,200 rpm, respectively.

Nissan’s 350Z comes only with a 287-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 capable of 274 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm.

Finding the gears in the six-speed manual in the Crossfire test car was never a problem, though it took some getting used to the slick-feeling, silver-colored shift lever.

Many cars, the Z car among them, provide a leather-covered area for your hand to grab. But in the Crossfire, there’s an entirely different shift-lever sensation.

Premium fuel is recommended for the Crossfire, and fuel economy is just 18 miles a gallon in city driving for this two-seater with manual transmission. The highway rating is 27 mpg. Chrysler also offers a five-speed automatic in the Crossfire.

A note about the Mercedes-Benz parts and influence: Chrysler officials readily concede the Crossfire comes with German engineering. In fact, the Crossfire is produced by German coach builder Karmann, a longtime partner of Mercedes’ parent, on an assembly line in Germany.

Riders sit low to the ground in the Crossfire. How low? I had a great view of the rear bumper of a Ford F-150 pickup. Crossfire riders also must drop down into the sculpted leather seats. It is a bit of a workout for an elderly passenger to climb in or out of this car.

The rear window doesn’t provide a lot of room for scanning behind you for cops, and believe me, you want to keep a lookout when you’re driving the Crossfire. I also found it difficult to back out of a parking space in the Crossfire because the pillars beside the rear window obscure a lot of the rear-side view.

Still, it was a relief at the airport to see 7.6 cubic feet of cargo space under the Crossfire’s handsome rear liftgate. The space easily handled two small-to-medium suitcases and a computer bag, with room left for more.

Long-legged drivers likely will fare best in this car. At 5 feet 4, I had to push the drivers seat up so far to depress the clutch pedal that my knees could brush the underside of the dashboard. This, and the smallish side windows, can convey a cramped feeling. But I’m not complaining. The attention this car brought was worth it.

Chrysler said it looks to sell some 11,000 Crossfires in the United States a year.

Competitors such as the Audi TT and Nissan 350Z are offered as convertibles as well as coupes. But Chrysler offers only the hardtop Crossfire and hasn’t revealed plans for a future open-top version.

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