LJK Setright: American styling - but a Merc by any other name

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Sculptor Alberto Giacometti said that his pieces were justified by the shadows they made. Thus the sculpture, which (like the Chrysler Crossfire) is tangible, is reduced to something intangible. The Crossfire is not as simple as a Giacometti, for it casts its shadows in space and in time.

Sculptor Alberto Giacometti said that his pieces were justified by the shadows they made. Thus the sculpture, which (like the Chrysler Crossfire) is tangible, is reduced to something intangible. The Crossfire is not as simple as a Giacometti, for it casts its shadows in space and in time.

One need not look far to find in the shadows of that Chrysler-fashioned skin, the late Mercedes-Benz 320 SLK, replaced by the 350. Most of the mechanics in that pleasant little two-seater, were donated to the Crossfire. Remember that Daimler-Benz and Chrysler have become DaimlerChrysler. This is necessary for understanding how this obviously American car, happens to be made in darkest Osnabruck by Karmann, a firm that specialises in bodywork for relatively small production runs.

Thus 80 per cent of the Crossfire is made in Germany, and only 1 per cent in the US. The fresh engineering, however, is almost entirely American. Add to which the tradition that "you buy a Ford for cheapness, a Chevrolet for value, but a Chrysler for engineering", and the Crossfire sounds like a good proposition. The new coupé is exceptionally stiff, and this contributes to quietness, durability, and ride comfort. When a car hull can flex, it adds its own behaviour as a spring to the springs and bushings of the suspension and can only degrade them. The Crossfire rides, and takes corners well - up to 1.1g lateral acceleration, a figure that few production cars can better.

I was saddened to find sloppiness in the steering, so that at low speeds one has to nudge the wheel rather than turn it. This seems to disappear at higher speeds, so the aerodynamics must be effective: the underside is shaped to induce a downforce, and a wing rises from the stern at about 65mph. The faster you go, the nicer it all is: on speed-limited Texas roads I did not exceed 115mph, but when the Crossfire approaches its 150mph maximum it should feel lovely.

The styling of the body is amazing. Overhangs at front and rear are small and surface decoration is cunning. There is a slender rib detectable from nose to tail, which can be traced back to a Chrysler prototype called the Atlantic. It has little functional effect, but it is all part of the fun.

The only thing to detract from the fun is a rather high-set steering wheel, but some may like that. There is no accounting for some people, and that includes all those who mindlessly, buy Mercedes-Benz cars because they think its the right thing to do. If you want a Merc, but have no wish to be identified with them, the Crossfire is an economical alternative. Since there will only be 3,000 a year outside the US, you should have no difficulty finding yours in the car park.

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