Cars

Was the Chrysler Crossfire Really That Bad?

If there was an Automotive Hall of Shame museum somewhere, you could easily imagine such flops as the Ford Edsel, Pontiac Aztek, and the Yugo occupying some exhibit space.

These ill-fated vehicles were disastrous in terms of engineering, quality, and sales, so the contempt that car communities hold for them is definitely deserved.

But would you lump the short-lived Chrysler Crossfire sports car in this same catastrophic category?

Most of the automotive press dismissed the Crossfire as a poorly-executed and under-performing wannabe sports car, but was it really that awful? Does it deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Edsel?

Buckle up, dear reader, as we answer this question by navigating the rocky road that led to the Crossfire’s untimely demise.

Chrysler Crossfire: A real American sports car?

A silver 2002 Chrysler Crossfire concept car on display at the North American International Auto Show in 2001.
2002 Chrysler Crossfire concept car | David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Dreamed up when Chrysler was owned by Daimler-Benz, the Crossfire concept car was intended to evoke a passionate emotional response from the public when it debuted at the 2001 North American International Auto Show. The Crossfire was also meant to be a two-seat halo car for Chrysler while utilizing 39% of its components from Mercedes-Benz products, like the platform and powertrain shared from the SLK320.

The automotive media and general public largely approved of the Chrysler Crossfire concept car, praising its bold sculpted lines, aggressive proportions, and interesting styling touches like its fastback profile and split front windshield.

So how was the Crossfire production model received when it hit dealership showrooms in 2003?

Love-it-or-hate-it styling

The rear three-quarters view of a silver 2003 Chrysler Crossfire.
2003 Chrysler Crossfire production model | James Devaney/WireImage via Getty Images

Concept cars tend to lose some of their visual mojo when they make it to production, and unfortunately, this was also the case with the Crossfire.

Styling cues like the rakish fastback profile, distinctive character lines on the hood, and boat-tail rear made it onto the production Crossfire, but the more menacing headlights and front grille as well as the retro-cool split windshield didn’t make the cut.

Critics also griped about the boat-tail design on the production Chrysler Crossfire.

Unlike the aggressive and hunkered down boat-tail featured on the concept car, the production model looked awkwardly scrunched down and sloppily executed. Automotive journalist Jeremy Clarkson even went so far as to claim that the profile of the Crossfire looked like a dog doing its business. Woof!

We think that’s a little uncharitable, but the overall toned-down aesthetic disappointed many people and made them leery of other key aspects of the Crossfire.

Beauty is more than skin-deep

2003 Chrysler Crossfire interior | Carlos Chavez/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Sadly, the snazzy red and black leather everything on the Crossfire concept car didn’t make it into production, and neither did the charmingly cartoonish dashboard and steering wheel.

Again, it’s to be expected that not every fetching feature found on a concept car will make it to the production model due to safety and budget constraints, but the interior on the production Crossfire lost virtually every neat styling cue.

Just take a look at the shot of the uninspired interior above—Chrysler bathed the production model’s dashboard in a sea of cheap looking and feeling fake aluminum plastics.

To make matters worse, the extremely high beltline coupled with a chopped roof design made sitting in—and seeing out of—the Crossfire a claustrophobic nightmare.

At least the Crossfire came with a respectable amount of standard amenities like huge alloy wheels with performance tires, keyless entry with a security alarm, and a decent Becker sound system.

Was the Crossfire any fun to drive?

A silver 2003 Chrysler Crossfire driving quickly through a city street.
2003 Chrysler Crossfire coupe | George Pimentel/WireImage via Getty Images

If a sports car drives amazingly, then it really doesn’t matter if the profile resembles a canine relieving itself. So did the Chrysler Crossfire redeem itself by offering an engaging driving experience?

Yes and no.

With the SLK320’s 3.2-liter V6 producing 215 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque powering the 3,100 lbs Crossfire, acceleration was adequate if not authoritative.

Chrysler offered either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, both borrowed from the—you guessed it—SLK320. Both transmissions were decent but the manual allowed drivers to make better use of the Crossfire’s powerband and was more engaging.

The sticky steamroller tires provided ample grip through the turns and body roll was near-flat thanks to an incredibly rigid chassis, but steering feel was number than Novocaine. Still, the Crossfire posted competitive handling figures at the time.

The Crossfire shared the same braking setup as the SLK320: 11.8-inch vented front rotors, 10.9-inch solid rear rotors, with four-channel ABS. Braking performance was solid.

Overall, the Chrysler Crossfire delivered passable performance, but it didn’t really excel in any particular measure.

Competitors like the Nissan 350Z and Mazda RX-8 offered better performance and driving dynamics for about $5,000 to $7,000 less than the Crossfire’s $33,620 MSRP.

On the other hand, some buyers felt that the inflated price was a fair trade-off given that the Crossfire offered more distinctive styling and the cachet of sharing some Mercedes lineage.

Did the Roadster and SRT-6 models boost the Crossfire’s cred?

2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster | JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images

For the 2005 model year, Chrysler diversified the Crossfire lineup by offering a roadster variant as well as a high-performance SRT-6 model packing the supercharged 330 hp 3.2-liter V6 straight out of the Mercedes-Benze SLK32 AMG.

The Crossfire Roadster retained the distinctive styling features of the coupe model but addressed the fussy hunchbacked profile. As far as we know, no one has publicly quipped about the convertible variant looking like a defecating animal of any variety.

Having the option to cruise top-down on a mild sunny spring afternoon tends to hide any glaring sins that a car may have, and so it did for the Crossfire. Critics seemed to prefer the driving experience delivered by the roadster model over the coupe.

The true hidden jewel of the Crossfire crew was the hotted-up SRT-6 model. Tipping the scales at roughly 100 more pounds than the base normally-aspirated Crossfires, the SRT-6 coupe or roadster packed enough punch to rocket the cars from 0-60 mph in just five seconds flat.

The Crossfire SRT-6 also benefited from a sport-tuned suspension, bigger front and rear brakes, grippier tires, and racy cosmetic tweaks such as a larger fixed wing.

Chrysler also added a dash of panache to the SRT-6 interior with pseudo-suede trim on sport bucket seats and a—wait for it—200 mph speedometer. Never mind that the SRT-6 was limited to 154 mph—a ludicrously optimistic speedometer pleases the inner eight-year-old in us all .

Best of all, the 2005 Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6 had a sticker price of just $46,095 and $49,995 for the coupe and convertible, respectively. Compared to the $53,000 2005 Porsche Boxster S, the SRT-6 models delivered more bang-for-the-buck.

Here’s how the Chrysler Crossfire should be remembered

2007 Chrysler Crossfire | Mario Tama via Getty Images

U.S. sales of the Crossfire started strong with almost 15,000 units sold in 2004 and 2005, but plummeted to roughly 2,000 cars in 2008. By comparison, the Nissan 350Z sold roughly double the Crossfire’s figures in 2004 and 2005, and approximately five times the units Chrysler shifted in 2008.

We tend to shy away from measuring a sports car’s true success by its sales numbers, though.

What’s important to take into consideration is that the Crossfire models fulfilled Chrysler’s objective of attracting a lot of attention to the brand while minimizing production costs through parts-sharing with then-partner Mercedes-Benz.

Above all, we should remember the Crossfire as the flawed-yet-funky halo car that made a noble attempt to bring some verve to the Chrysler brand and paved the way for future Chrysler SRT models like the 300 SRT8 .

And honestly, it wasn’t that bad.