Originally created 08/20/04

Top-down Crossfire is fashionable ride



America's convertible brand knows how to make the most of summer.

With three open-top models, Chrysler offers more convertibles than any other domestic auto brand.

No matter that the most recently introduced Chrysler soft top - the 2005 Crossfire Roadster - is built in Germany with the help of Chrysler's German parent company, DaimlerChrysler AG.

The two-passenger Crossfire roadster, with its boat-tail rear end and ready-to-pounce stance, is one of the most eye-catching convertibles on the market.

"At this time of year, it's easiest to see America's love affair with convertibles and their enjoyment of the open-top driving experience," said George Murphy, the senior vice president for marketing for the Chrysler Group.

Today, convertible sales surpass 300,000 a year, about 22 years since Chrysler brought back convertibles to U.S. consumers. Sales of the vehicles had waned because of safety and fuel concerns. Today, Chrysler also makes ragtop versions of its Sebring and PT Cruiser.

Top-down time in the Crossfire is 22 seconds, but the three-layer fabric top isn't fully automatic.

The driver must first twist a handle at the top of the windshield to release the roof and push it up several inches above the windshield.

Then, touching a button, the driver can watch the top go back and fold up. When all is done, the roof is tucked and hidden under a hard tonneau cover.

To raise the fabric top, the driver uses the button to activate the top again and then must pull down on the handle to position the roof at the leading edge of the windshield. The driver also must twist the handle to lock the top in place. This didn't always work easily in the test car.

One time, it took me four tries to finally pull the top down onto the windshield. The leading edge of the roof stopped stiffly, several inches above the windshield and resisted efforts to pull it down.

The roadster's rear window is made of glass, so there's no worry about ripped or discolored plastic.

There are two engines for the Crossfire convertible.

The base car and Limited model, which was the test car, use the 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter, single overhead cam V-6 producing a maximum 229 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm.

Mated to a six-speed manual transmission in the leather-trimmed tester, this engine moved the 3,140-pound car capably and with spirit. A five-speed manual transmission also is available.

The base engine is readily heard on acceleration, and the exhaust note is confident and strong.

The Crossfire isn't designed to be especially fuel thrifty. Its top speed is a sporty 150 mph, and it's rated at 17 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. Premium gasoline is a listed requirement.

The ride can be stiff. I felt strong vibrations nearly all the time, even as the test car rolled over relatively smooth pavement.

Fitted with big, W-rated, Continental SportContact 2 tires that are 18-inchers in front and 19-inchers in back, the tester rolled harshly over manhole covers. There's no cushioned ride here.

Handling in this rear-drive auto is commendable, however, with a feeling of precision and control in curves and a tight feel to the car, overall. Stability control is a standard feature.

The open-air ride was a rush as the sunshine seemed to spotlight the attractive "cool vanilla" interior and the matte, silver-colored center console.

Passengers sit low. I was at eye level, for example, with the door handle on a BMW 7-Series sedan that was next to me.

Drivers must watch as they back up and out of parking spots, because the thick fabric pillar around the back window can obscure views.

Legroom in the front is noteworthy at 42.7 inches and headroom is 37.3 inches.

There's little storage room inside the Crossfire.

Trunk space totals 6.5 cubic feet when the fabric top is up on the car and is reduced to 3.6 cubic feet when the top is down and stowed.

Specs

The vehicle: 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster Limited, a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger convertible

BASE PRICE: $34,095 for base roadster; $38,045 for Limited

DESTINATION CHARGE: $875

price AS TESTED: $38,920

ENGINE: 3.2-liter, single overhead cam, 90-degree V-6

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manualepa

MILEAGE: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway

TOP SPEED: 150 mphLENGTH: 159.8 inches

WHEELBASE: 94.5 inches

CURB WeighT: 3,140 poundsBUILT in: Germany

OPTIONS: None