No matter how good the Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6 is, what really will catch your attention is the price: just north of $45,000 for the coupe and a touch under fifty grand for the convertible. Chrysler likes to point out that the 158-mph SRT-6 is its fastest-ever car, but it also happens to be its most expensive, right up in Porsche Boxster S, Mercedes-Benz SLK350, and BMW Z4 3.0i territory. This is part of DaimlerChrysler's strategy to turn Chrysler into an upscale brand, which we think is a tough sell.If the strategy has any chance of working, it needs the right products. And in many ways, this hi-po version of the cute Crossfire coupe and roadster hits the mark. The folks at Street and Racing Technology already have done a great job of turning the deeply average Neon into the quite excellent SRT-4 and the Ram pickup into the bodacious SRT-10. They have further cemented their reputation with this car, which is much more coherent than the outgoing Mercedes SLK32 AMG, with which it shares many of its parts.
For a start, the Crossfire's polarizing styling is made more macho with a fixed rear wing, a deeper chin spoiler, and exquisite fifteen-spoke wheels that are eighteen inches in diameter up front and nineteen inches out back. Inside, only Alcantara seat inserts and a 200-mph speedometer differentiate the cabin from that of the already stylish Crossfire.
Underhood, the 215-horsepower Mercedes 3.2-liter V-6 in the stock Crossfire is replaced by an AMG-built, 330-horsepower, supercharged version, which also makes 310 pound-feet of torque. The only available transmission is an M-B five-speed automatic that has TouchShift-oops, sorry, AutoStick-manual operation. The hand-me-down multilink rear and control-arm front suspensions have been heavily revised, with springs and dampers that are some 40 percent stiffer than the regular Crossfire's. The brakes, too, have been uprated, with twin-piston calipers replacing single-piston items; larger, 13.0-inch-diameter vented front discs; and vented rotors at the rear. The ESP skid-control system has been recalibrated to be less intrusive, although there is always an electronic safety net. The larger-diameter wheels are shod with aggressive Michelin Pilot Sport 225/40ZR-18 front and 255/35ZR-19 rear tires.
The SRT-6 is a quick little car. We recorded a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 5.1 seconds, which puts it ahead of the Boxster/SLK/Z4 pack. (It isn't that much faster than the considerably cheaper Nissan 350Z, however.) The SRT-6's midrange performance is actually more impressive than its off-line prowess, because the power delivery is extremely linear. With your foot buried deep in the throttle, the V-6 produces a raunchy bass growl that's addictive and never overbearing. Although the lack of a manual transmission is disappointing, the automatic's ratios are well matched to the engine, and the AutoStick manu-matic operation-you move the lever sideways to shift-is slick and fast.
Over the Angeles Crest Highway en route to Willow Springs Raceway, the SRT-6 coupe we drove was actually pretty undramatic. High-speed stability is excellent, the car turns into corners neatly and crisply, and the recirculating-ball steering has good weight and feel, although it lacks initial precision. The brakes are superb, as evidenced by a stopping distance of 156 feet from 70 mph.
On the track, the SRT-6 is equally undramatic and very effective. The trade-off for its overly stiff highway ride is fine body control and bags of grip. In Willow's high-speed turns, the SRT-6 adopted a neutral set, with mild understeer on the limit in the tighter bends. This is a finesse car rather than an animal like the old BMW M coupe, and, anyway, the ESP eventually will enter the scene and quell any chance of tail-out heroics.
The SRT-6's one problem, other than its price, is that it lacks a compelling character unless you're absolutely smitten with the styling. By concentrating on providing refined performance, the SRT engineers have made the car a bit anodyne. Still, to have produced something this good from the old SLK32 AMG's underpinnings is an impressive achievement. It makes you wonder what SRT would have done with the new-generation SLK.