Now that my youngest son is old enough to drive, it’s time to add yet another car to the Halter household. He wanted something small and sporty, with two doors and ideally two seats. He also wanted something “Exotic” (or at least uncommon), at least as much as possible within his price range. We soon settled on a Chrysler Crossfire, the unloved offspring of the DaimlerChrysler merger. When we found this pristine example a few months back, I knew we had to have it.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Chrysler Crossfire was built back in the DaimlerChrysler era using hand-me-down parts of the first-generation R170 Mercedes-Benz SLK. While using a dated (but proven) platform was scandalous back in the day, 15 years later I find this to be highly reassuring. The mechanicals of the R170 SLK and Crossfire are among the last of the old school Mercedes-Benz, when engineering excellence still mattered over all else. The 18-valve 3.2L M112 V6 engine (Mercedes’ first V6 engine) has a reputation for being virtually indestructible. It was also viewed as somewhat primitive at the time, as it sported three valves (and two spark plugs) per cylinder at a time when customers expected four (or five) valves per cylinder.
Contrast this to the R171 SLK, whose M272 V6 and 7G-TRONIC 7-Speed transmissions both have developed reputations for being brittle and failure-prone. I should know: I’ve put thousands of dollars into both the engine and transmission on my R171 2006 SLK280.
So the Crossfire got the last laugh: It may have been the ugly stepsister with dated components, but they were also proven. Its cousin, the beautiful R171 went to the ball, it eventually got turned into a pumpkin with weak mechanicals (OK, I’m messing up the story here, but roll with me).
But enough about the mechanicals. The real appeal of the Crossfire is the styling. The large (for 2005) staggered wheels and tires (18” front, 19” rear) combined with the absurdly short wheelbase gives the Crossfire the appearance of a life-sized Hot Wheels toy car.
Yes, the front end looks too much like a third-generation Sebring (which actually came out after the Crossfire), but once you get past that, there is eye candy all over the place here. A side character line that goes from concave to convex. Center exit exhaust trumpets. From the boat-tail rear end (that evokes an AMC Marlin) to the dorsal fin that runs the length of the roof (and is carried over on the dashboard), there is a lot to like here.
Oh, do you know what other car has a dorsal fin character line? The Bugatti Chiron!
I’ve owned many small cars (including two-seaters) over the years, but this one is the smallest of them all. You sit closer to the rear wheels than the front, with your head closer to the rear window than to the front windshield. This, coupled with the long hood and overall cab backward styling, gives you the impression of driving from the back seat. This feeling of being in the back seat is amplified when you exit the car, which is right by the rear wheels and hatchback.
Driving the Crossfire is about what you would expect. Don’t let the Chrysler badge fool you – once underway everything you see, hear, and touch is pure Mercedes-Benz. The doors are heavy and close with a solid, satisfying thunk. Anyone who has ever been in a R170 SLK will feel right at home, as other than the silver color the switchgear is exactly the same. The steering (despite being a recirculating ball unit) is quick and precise. The roof is low and the side windows are gunslits thanks to the chop-top styling.
The short wheelbase and low profile tires understandably lead to a choppy ride. The interior trim pieces are hard plastic (no doubt to service the weatherability requirements of the roadster model), and there is no good place to rest your right arm. The lower seat cushions are a little firmer (and shorter) than I would like, but they are embroidered, power-adjustable, and look suitably expensive.
Shared bits with the Crossfire roadster show up in one other unexpected place: The windshield frame and header on the coupe is shared with the roadster, necessitating a rubber seal in the joint between the roof and windshield, similar to a C5 Corvette fixed-roof coupe. This gives the coupe the impression of being a retractable hardtop, even though the roof is fixed. Luckily I have not observed any of the water leakage problems that have plagued the Corvette FRC.
These are unusual times in the Halter household. Thanks to COVID, I have been working 100% from home since March, and likely will continue to do so on a permanent basis even post-pandemic (my wife has always worked remotely). As I alluded to in my last COAL update, the four cars that I now own seem like at least one too many, so we decided to sell the 2015 Audi Q3, with it being older and having more miles than the recently purchased A3. (nb: I transferred the title of the 2009 Audi TT over to my oldest son a few years back when he turned 18, since he paid for most of it anyway).
This leaves the Halter motor pool in an interesting situation. For the first time since 2006, there are no SUVs of any kind in my garage. All of my remaining vehicles are compact cars, with the A3 being the largest, and two of the three are two-seaters(!). For those keeping score, my motor pool currently stands as follows:
- 2005 Crossfire, the subject of this COAL
- 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK280
- 2017 Audi A3
So far, things are working out well. With both of my kids now being independently mobile, I have little need for a large passenger vehicle. Even with both my wife and I driving it, the A3 barely goes through a tank of gas per month. The few times a year when I need to haul large items like trees or mulch, the rental truck from Home Depot or U-Haul (which lets me rent a truck immediately from my phone app any time day or night) serves quite nicely and is way cheaper than owning and keeping such a vehicle. Who says you need a pickup truck?
In a few more years, once the kids have graduated from college, I’m thinking there may be room in my garage (and budget) for one more recreational car. I really like the styling of 1940’s fastbacks, and right now I’m leaning towards a 1946-50 bathtub Packard, but I’ve got plenty of time to think about it. I’m sure when the time comes I will enlist the help of the readership here in selecting and locating a suitable vehicle.
Know that this is based on Mercedes but that “undercover german” brings so not car related things to mind from history, lol.
My son also has an eye on a Crossfire. He is saving up for one of these.
Good for you to “know” you will have a classic in the near future!
What a cool choice and specific example. Wishing your son many miles of enjoyment of this fine machine.
FWIW, the frontal styling is okay with me. It was the less-than-ideal adaptation of this basic look on the third Sebring that diluted it for me somewhat. I think the Crossfire has terrific style. The only thing is that when I was a teenager, I wanted something with a back seat so I would get to be the one to drive all of us wherever we were going.
I will confess that I have always been intrigued by these, and figured that they were probably hitting the “value basement” in the near future. I had not paid a tremendous amount of attention to these when new and had assumed that there was more Chrysler content, such as in the engine. So thanks for setting me straight on this.
I have seen one or two of these around in recent times, and each time am re-reminded that they exist. In another 20-30 years when your son is reminiscing about high school cars with a group of friends, most of them will be mentioning the stuff everyone knows and smiles and nods at. Your son will be in the other group. 🙂
We had a Crossfire SRT6 that my wife drove. She likes small, quick cars. This one was small and very quick. She loved that car until we had to replace the supercharger, which came within a few bucks of being a five-figure repair job. A friend had (still has, actually) one that leaked fluid onto the transmission control circuit card. That was a $3,500 repair.
So, in conclusion: fun to have. Expensive to repair. Sort of like the two happiest days in a boat-owner’s life.
A real blast of fresh air on the styling. Sat in one on the dealer’s floor back in the day. Instrument surrounds had an odd finish that changed color as the ambient light shifted. Very unique.
Chrysler invited me to test-drive this Crossfire roadster along with the BMW Z4 and Audi TT. I am about six feet tall and on the Chrysler with the seat adjusted at its lowest position I was looking directly at the upper-windshield frame which was chrome. I was literally driving blind!
At least in the BMW I was able to sit in such a way that I could look straight through a glassy area of the windshield. The Audi was “broken” and was not able to be driven. The interior drivers door handle on the BMW was broken and the door had to be opened from the outside.
I’m not sure if that was “all for show” or not. Anyway, I wasn’t in the market for a roadster Chrysler or otherwise.
I hope your son is shorter than me.
I’m also a hair over 6-foot and the Roadster was a no-go for me. The seat could not go back far enough.
I was one of the few who liked the looks but I know M-B hardware means M-B reliability and M-B repair bills. Not worth the risk.
I know folks dump on the look of the Crossfire but if Chrysler’s flirtation with art-deco had paid off they’d have hit a gold mine.
You can argue that they did hit a gold mine from 1999-2005 with the Chrysler 300M, PT Cruiser, and 300C. Its just that these cars didn’t get updated fast enough or at all.
Say what you will about the Accord and Maxima but Honda and Nissan always manages to “refresh” every 36 months so that returning leasers can be flipped into the “all-new” version.
Chrysler was brought by Cerberus after the financial collapse and I think their plan was to keep making the same cars and truck until the dyes broke or the DOT told them they were illegal for crash or emissions law.
I posted that argument before and received a lot of flak but I still stand-by it.
2007-2010 Chrysler was in the right place at the wrong time. It happens to the best of us.
Actually the deal was final in May 2007, before the financial collapse had really started to gain steam.
I’m sure they intended to follow the standard LBO playbook.
#1 Strip out the assets in other words sell the real estate, often to a holding company under their control.
#2 Cut costs, in this case they cut R&D spending, started beating up dealers on warranty reimbursements and cut stock levels in their replacement parts channel.
#3 pump up sales in the short term, Dirt cheap leases and warranty coverage for life.
#4 take the company public, touting that increase in sales and cash flow.
So yes their plan was to continue to sell the existing product, but they did not intend on hanging around long enough to let the tooling wear out or the regulations to make them unsaleable.
This seemed like a good example of the potential of the Daimler/Chrysler deal: Mercedes mechanicals leveraged into an American-style, non-Mercedes looking design. Almost like a ‘50’s show car, with dramatic form and overly fussy details. I liked them, but obviously not many people looked to Chrysler for a compact, sporty two-seater.
I know a guy who drove one in High School. His Dad was an engineer at Chrysler at the time. He told me the reason he ended up with that an not a cloud car was because the Crossfire was the cheapest car available for employee lease at the time.
The look was fresh and unique…Detroit swagger on Eurocoupe bones. One bit that was jarring was the strakes on the hood. I can’t imagine that they were required to stiffen it. So why did Daimler (forget the “Chrysler,” it was silent) do it? Without them, the dorsal fin character line, reminiscent of a 1963 two-seater coupe far better remembered than that Bugatti, could have been more prominent.
Not all of the Crossfires were silver-grey, but it often seems that way.
It was a stylistic choice. The front-end of the Crossfire was made to look like the Chrysler concept cars of the time which had the same hood lines.
I’ve always been intrigued by these but while quite inexpensive in the US that low buy in price does not seem to hold in my part of Canada unfortunately. I would imagine they will gain value soon.
I never paid much attention to these when they were new. I think I was still mourning the passing of the previous curvy Chrysler styling.
So with so many Mercedes bits under the skin, it’s virtually a cut price (or ‘bargain-brand’) SLK?
I have to wonder how Chrysler dealers like working on one of these now.
I was intent on buying one, but when I test drove one it was too small for me.
When I looked for my first car i also wanted wanted “something small and sporty”.
I wound up with a more affordable, used 1960 4 door Rambler “Super”. It wasn’t small or sporty but the driving experience was best described as periods of excitement interspersed with moments of stark terror.
While I’m not a fan of the Crossfire, it’s a different, cohesive design that manages to not be off-putting (unlike the Pontiac Aztek).
Frankly, I can understand those who like the car, and it’s possible these may end up being collectable at some point in the future, sort of like an example of modern day art-deco style, evoking images of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. To that end, if the price was right for a pristine example, it might be worth the leap.
This car stole my heart the first time I saw one. The commercial for it was very cinematic and showed the active rear wing in action. A co-worker owned one and loved it. The SRT version with 330 hp and only 3100 lbs to move would be an absolute blast.