2006 Chrysler Crossfire car reviews

Review Notes: Chrysler Crossfire Coupe (automatic)
Personality Sporty car with terrific styling, heavy feel, incredible grip, and somewhat un-ergonomic interior
Unusual features Cheaper way to get a Mercedes; automatic spoiler; one-side-at-a-time exterior lighting
Above Average: Great looks; cornering
Needs Work In: Some daft controls, oddly missing features, and hard-to-control radio

Chrysler Crossfire car reviews

The Crossfire was marketed as bringing the best of both DaimlerChrysler worlds, but its ad campaign may have turned off both domestic and foreign buyers; it promoted the superiority of German craftsmanship (ignoring Mercedes’ sinking quality ratings, Chrysler’s quality gains, the fact that it was the only Chrysler made in Germany, and other minor details) and American styling. To many at Chrysler, the Crossfire represents the worst times of the “merger,” as Mercedes insisted on having it made in Germany, with a Mercedes engine; and magazines generally said it was merely a restyled previous-generation Mercedes SLK. In reality, it was not that bad — Chrysler engineers did a substantial amount of retuning, so that even some German magazines consider the “American” version to be superior to the original. Given the changes that were made, it is not exactly a previous-generation design. Still, sales seem to be lagging, as foreign-car buyers are turned off by the Chrysler label and domestic buyers are turned off by the German chassis. The car itself hardly seems to get a chance.

The Crossfire draws admiring looks, and we found the styling to be unusually attractive - sporty without being ugly, assertive but not aggressive. The interior is generally well executed; though the usual textured plastic dominates the upper dash, the most noticeable area is the silver-matte center stack, with silver knobs and buttons relieved only by the vents and the thin indicator dials on the climate control knobs. The gauges use the new Chrysler style with precise marketings and an elegant typeface, in matte silver rings (the 300M's shiny chrome rings and elegantly tapered pointers would increase the effect). The doors have chrome bars for grips, and door speakers and interior handles have chrome surrounds. In short, the interior looks good from the driver's seat, without venturing into the gaudy excess of the Audi TT. Passengers get the short end of the stick, with a plain plastic glove compartment under a plain dark plastic dashboard top.

At night, all switches are lit, and the gauges are very nicely backlit by strong green lighting. The result is that the Crossfire is equally attractive in day and night, and gauges are highly readable in all types of light.

Acceleration is fairly swift, belying the relatively low horsepower ratings of the 3.2 liter engine (figure a bit below 7 seconds to get to 60 mph, with the automatic), though the brute-force instant-on power of cars like the Corvette isn't there. (To be fair, it also is not an "rpm queen" that needs to be revving high to move.) Most drivers will probably appreciate the balance between speed and gas mileage, at least on the relatively thrifty automatic (yes, you read that right - the six-speed manual appears to have been designed with performance in mind, not economy). We found the automatic to sometimes be jerky, and at low speeds it seemed to want to avoid upshifting. In winter mode, not surprisingly, it felt spongy, but that goes with the territory.

Cornering is excellent, using the standard, summer tires, with their very narrow profile and big width. Part of the credit should be given to the standard active suspension. Even when under hard acceleration, the tail doesn't swing out; the Crossfire makes it deceptively easy to swing round turns with surprising speed and ease. On the other hand, it has a moderately heavy feel.

The ride is not exactly smooth, but more sporty-firm; it also is not painful, and can absorb bumps and rough surfaces. While some sports cars have a busy ride, letting you feel every rock embedded in concrete, and making a loud noise over rough surfaces, the Crossfire cushions out most of the small stuff, while remaining generally firm and hugging the road. Overall, the compromise is favorable if tilted toward the sporty side.

Interior noise is not bad; the exhaust has an interesting note, and while the engine is a bit gruff and noisy it usually isn't too loud. The Chrysler 3.5 would not have been less well mannered (and would have provided a bit more power). Sound insulation could be better; on the highway, there was more wind noise than one would expect from this range. Or perhaps it was a compromise reached to allow for better performance (lighter weight) and lower pricing, with money poured into the suspension.

Interior space is good for two people, though some may find entry and exit to be difficult due to the low height and low door openings. A large glove compartment and center console provide some amenities, and netting by the center console holds the bulky owner's manual (and keeps it handy so you can operate the radio). A single cupholder in the middle holds beverages very well, despite its clunky feel going up and down, but also puts drinks right where they can be knocked over by a stray elbow. The hatchback design makes cargo access easy, and the generous trunk space (for the class) is all easily accessible. The spoiler takes almost no space. (Keep in mind we tested the coupe; the convertible has a bit less space.)

Despite very thin windows, visibility is surprisingly good to the sides and ahead; rear visibility is not bad through the rear view mirror, but forget about the rear corners, which are thoroughly blocked by thick pillars. Likewise, backing up can be an adventure, especially if the spoiler is up. On the lighter side, the headlights are strong and well focused.

Controls are sometimes a bit awkward; the cruise control is oddly designed and placed just above where the turn signals normally are, while the turn signals themselves are lower and can be hard to reach. Also, in a page from GM, Mercedes has overloaded the turn signal stalk, so it includes headlight dimming as well as wiper-washers; and if there are intermittent wipers, we haven't found them. (In case you were wondering, you press in to get washers, turn the end of the stalk for wipers, pull to flash bright lights, push to turn bright lights on, and move up and down for turn signals.)

Speaking of awkward controls, two barely accessible buttons protrude from the instrument panel; one adjusts the interior light dimming and shows distance to service, while the other can be pulled to set the clock. The other controls generally make sense until you get to the radio, in our case a combined stereo/navigation unit. In some ways, this is a terribly clever device, because it provides a navigation system without any need for a full sized LCD screen. (You'd think this would bring the price down, but you'd be wrong.) It provides most of the features of a standard navigation system, apart from showing a map; it does show the next turn and the compass. The navigation system is surprisingly easy to set up, with the usual point of interest or address options for destination, and a woman telling you where to go; the only down-side is that it shares the CD player with the audio system, so if you miss a turn, you have to put the navigation CD back in until the buffer fills back up again. (The clever part is that it can remember some of the directions without the CD in place, so you can listen to music while dealing with the nav system). Unfortunately, we never did figure out if there was a way to listen to the navigation instructions without having the radio on, since they seem to share the same volume control.

The less clever aspect of the stereo is the stereo part itself; its controls are awkward enough without the "luxury feature" of dimming the sound and bringing it back again every time you change the station or band. This is not a stereo you want to fiddle with much while driving. Nor is the sound quality up to the standards of, say, the PT Cruiser's Infinity system, though it isn't bad.

Other controls are generally sensible and obvious; the dual-zone climate control provides a simple up/down heat control, with pushbuttons for the rear defroster, a/c compressor, and recirculation. Large dials control fan speed and mode, with mixed modes possible and many fan positions. The fan is relatively quiet even at full speed.

The automatic transmission includes a winter mode that starts from second gear, and an override feature so you can bump up or down a gear; it goes back to automatic after a while, or can be made to return by hitting it up to fifth gear.

The headlight control, mounted right where we expected it on the dash, is traditional except for two spots which turned out to put on the parking lights for just one side of the car. It's a bit of an affectation given that these lights use almost no power, but it can be fun to confuse people with.

A number of things become conspicuous by their absence. Let's start with the lack of a tilting steering column - it telescopes in and out nicely, but doesn't go up and down, so if you sit too high you miss the 50-110 mph parts of the speedometer (which goes up to 160 mph - an optimistic touch). That's a gift from Mercedes — even the lowest Dodges and Plymouths had tilt-wheel a decade ago. Another missing feature available on just about every other car is sun visors that swivel to cover side windows; these don't, though most of the time they don't to, thanks to the small window openings. Seats are missing lumbar supports, too.

Those who want to take a kid on a ride now and then may be interested in some other missing items - like a child door lock, even though the passenger door latch automatically unlocks the door. That's a little surprising given that the car has LATCH child-seat anchors. There's also no power door switch inside; the doors all unlock when the driver's door opens. The passenger-side front airbag can be shut off using a key when the car is stopped and the door is open; the torso-protecting side airbag cannot be deactivated. There is no option for side curtain airbags.

Prices range from about $30,000 to over $40,000. Ours ran $34,000, with the automatic transmission and navigation system.

Overall, the Crossfire's biggest asset (excluding the SRT-6 model) is its looks; you can honestly have as much fun in a lower-performing sporty car, and you can also get a higher-performing car in this price range. It's easier to drive than the old C5 Corvette, but not as easy (or practical) as a WRX or SRT-4 (it's also not as fast as an SRT-4, but then, some people want two-door coupes.) The real performance strength of the Crossfire, due at least in part to the huge wheels and high-performance tires coupled with active suspension tricks, is high-speed cornering without even the hint of a squeal; if you want thrilling straight-line performance, you may be more interested in an SRT-6, SRT-4, 300C, WRX, Evo, Mustang, or Corvette. But the Crossfire sure is nice to look at.

We’ll have more on the SRT-6, which promises blistering acceleration and even better cornering, in September.