Fleet News

Chrysler Crossfire Roadster

Review

Cars like the Nissan 350Z, Mazda RX-8 and Audi TT would score well on both counts while others, like the Hyundai Coupe and Alfa GTV, would score highly for looks but with an underwhelming rating for the driving experience.

The Chrysler Crossfire coupe would also have fallen into the latter of the two camps: it grabs the attention like few other cars and looks like nothing else on the road. But while it was good to drive overall, there seemed to be something missing from the experience compared with similar-priced rivals.

Barely six months after Chrysler launched the Crossfire coupe in the UK, the company is now ready to launch a 'roadster' version in time for the summer, and if the same graph was applied to roadsters, the Chrysler could be expected to perform better.

One of the advantages of having access to a range of technology and parts across the DaimlerChrysler alliance is that the Crossfire was based on the first generation Mercedes SLK, which was always designed as a two-seat convertible.

It was relatively easy, therefore, to design the Crossfire with both body styles in mind, and launch the Roadster in the UK less than a year after the coupe arrived in showrooms.

Using the same 3.2-litre V6 engine as the coupe, the Crossfire Roadster has an electrically-operated fabric roof (apart from the initial manual unfastening at the top of the windscreen) and heated glass rear windscreen.

Chrysler has carried out some re-engineering work to strengthen the Crossfire body shell for its new role minus its roof. However, the company is also proud of the fact that the process has added only 36kg to the weight of the Roadster compared with the coupe.

Scott Wilkins, programme manager for Team Crossfire within Chrysler, said: 'The Crossfire Roadster is not necessarily best in class in any one attribute, but overall we believe it is class-leading.'

Chrysler believes main rivals for the Crossfire Roadster to be the BMW Z4, Audi TT Roadster, the Honda S2000 and the Nissan 350Z Roadster.

Steve Gray, marketing director for Chrysler in the UK, pointed to growth in the coupe and roadster market during 2003, largely due to new entrants in the market.

He said 74% of Crossfire drivers were company directors or own their own businesses, the average age was 43 and two-thirds of the drivers had no young children at home.

Perhaps most importantly, 37% of them did not even consider choosing another vehicle.

Prices for the vehicle – which will be offered with a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic – are yet to be confirmed, but are likely to be announced at next week's Motor Show Live and are thought to be just under £30,000.

The Roadster continues building on the range of new products for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge over the next few years, which will double the number of models on sale.

Simon Elliott, managing director for Chrysler Group in the UK, said: 'The UK has one of the biggest and most hotly contested convertible segments in the world.

'This stunning, head-turning convertible is one of a host of new Chrysler arrivals in the UK this year and represents the latest phase of the Chrysler brand's product offensive in Europe.'

High-performance versions of the Crossfire and Crossfire Roadster are in the pipeline (using a supercharged version of the 3.2-litre V6), a new Viper – renamed Dodge SRT-10 – will be launched later this year, as will the Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible. The Chrysler 300C executive saloon will arrive next year along with a new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Fact file

Make: Chrysler
Model: Crossfire Roadster 3.2 V6
Engine (cc): 3,199
Max power (bhp/rpm): 218/5,700
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 229/3,000
Max speed (mph): 150mph
0-62mph (sec): 6.5
Fuel consumption (mpg): 27.2 (auto: 28.0)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 250 (243)
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 60/13.2
Service interval (miles): Variable
On sale: June
Price (estimated): £30,000

Behind the wheel

I TOOK to the roads in the Crossfire Roadster half expecting it to be a softer version of the coupe, but will gladly admit I was mistaken.

While the looks are still first-rate, with a plastic tonneau cover hiding all evidence of the fabric roof when retracted, and two 'sport bars' behind the seats, the Roadster – like most convertibles – looks far better with the roof down.

It seems Chrysler has tried to give the roadster its own identity, rather than just offering a chopped version of the coupe.

The retractable boot spoiler now accommodates the third brake light as well as its speed-related pop-up function, and driving the car is quite entertaining.

The manual version – probably accounting for a small number of total sales – feels much livelier than the five-speed auto and it is far easier to exploit the newly-tuned exhaust note.

Goose pimples appear on the arms when you hold the car in gear as long as possible, such is the sporty roar emanating from the rear of the car, and the manual shift is short and slick enough to make upchanges fun.

While the automatic versions are expected to be the favourites, you really feel how much power is sapped when driven back-to-back with the manual, the main benefit being a rested left leg and lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The Roadster offers plenty of grip, particularly as the rear wheels are an inch larger and more than an inch wider than those at the front. These are not easily overwhelmed by the 218bhp on offer, but it bodes well for the supercharged versions to come.

The interior is still a mixture of smart-looking but cheap-feeling switches and buttons, and it's a shame the roof function is not fully automatic from start to finish and requires intervention to release the roof from its starting position when retracting it and to refasten it again when putting it back up.

Verdict
THE Crossfire Roadster performs above expectations and is deserving of its place in the UK's elite band of premium convertibles. However, like the coupe, the price is also likely to be more premium than the interior materials.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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