First DriveThe new Chrysler 300C is the sister car of the Lancia Thema, and continues to offer a unique charm, even if its detailing fails to match the class best
First DriveStill lacks a little polish next to the established rivals, but seriously competitive and likeable nonetheless
Sure, the Crossfire coupé might have got sports car fans talking, but it’s the new Roadster that’s likely to get them whipping out their Visa cards. And with summer well on the way, Chrysler UK is banking on the new Roadster comfortably out-selling the hard-top version.
There’s a good reason. In addition to its folding top, it looks sexier. While the bustle-back styling of the Coupé is something of an acquired taste, the Roadster is gorgeous.
Chopping the top makes the proportions – particularly in profile – appear more balanced, those mega 18-inch front/19-inch rear alloys look even bigger and the car seems to grow in length. And it looks just as cool top-up as with the roof folded.
The Roadster’s design also has some real sports-car cues, like the satin silver-painted roll hoops behind the headrests and a hard tonneau cover featuring raised race car-like moulded fairings.
Going topless is reasonably easy. Twist a centre-mounted handle, push up so the front roof rail clears the top of the windscreen and hold down a button on the centre console.
This releases the rear of the hood, opens the tonneau and powers the hood backwards. Twenty-two seconds max, beginning to end.
It’s not perfect, however.
When you close the roof, you have to pull down on the handle to latch it to the top of the screen. And that requires the kind of Herculean effort that will make you wish you’d spent more time in the gym.
With the top raised, get used to using your door mirrors, too. The car’s high waistline and low screen results in a rear window little bigger than a letter box. Reversing from a driveway into the street, or squeezing the car into a tight parking space requires a leap of faith. If ever a car needed parking distance sensors, this is it.
But the top itself is beautifully made and seals against the side windows and windscreen extremely well. Even at 100mph-plus, there’s hardly a whistle of wind noise.
With the roof folded, the Crossfire’s cockpit is a fine place to be. You sit low in the car, hot-rod-style, with the top of the windscreen swept back almost over your head.
There’s some wind buffeting above 40mph, but it doesn’t seem to increase by much as speed rises. The optional wind deflector – it slots in between the headrests – will be a must-have when Chrysler finishes developing it, hopefully in time for the Roadster’s June on-sale date.
As with all small convertibles, expect to pack light for weekends away. With the top raised, there’s a useful 184 litres of luggage space, though only soft bags can be squeezed in through the narrow boot opening.
Dropping the top cuts the amount of usable space in half and, before the top will lower, a partition has to be pulled down to prevent bags or groceries being squished.
Behind the wheel, any driver approaching six-feet tall will know how these groceries feel. This is a tight-fitting cockpit, with the seat’s rearward travel limited by the rear bulkhead. Forget about straight-arm driving styles, or even driving in a coat. Space is at a premium here.
The same goes for storage room. Shallow door pockets with elastic mesh covers, a narrow centre console cubby and a teeny glove box are all you get.
The satin silver-painted centre console still gets mixed reviews, though the rest of the materials – the plastics and leather seating surfaces – look upmarket.
As with the coupé, the sole engine offered until the arrival of the supercharged SRT-6 is the proven, all-alloy Mercedes 18-valve 3.2-litre V6, which produces a modest 215bhp and 229lb ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, with a five-speed automatic with Chrysler’s Autostick manual override control as an option.
Despite weighing an extra 36kg compared to the coupé, the Roadster still manages 0-60mph in 6.5sec, with the ton coming up in around 17.5sec. But, like the coupé, the drop-top is an impressive mid-range performer, its smooth-spinning V6 delivering 90 per cent of its torque between 2600 and 5300rpm.
Leave the gearlever in third and both the 30-50mph and 50-70mph increments are dismissed in well under four seconds. And with the top down, the V6 delivers the most glorious howl at full throttle.
The six-speed manual we tried swapped gears smoother than any Crossfire we’ve sampled so far, though the change is still rather notchy, particularly when cold. The five-speed auto is well worth considering.
Using the suspension set-up from the old Merc SLK – double wishbones up front and multi-link at the rear with dull recirculating ball power steering – the Chrysler is more cruiser than bruiser.
There’s more body roll in tight turns than you’d expect and heavy braking produces plenty of pitch.
But those 255/35 rear gumballs offer plenty of grip and, while the ride is sports-car firm, it remains acceptably smooth over all but the most acne’d blacktop.
Slicing off the top has also done little to affect the car’s body stiffness. Even over crater-like potholes, the Roadster doesn’t shudder or shimmy.
re’s no doubt that this convertible Crossfire will have considerable appeal among fans of open sports cars. The only question mark, however, is price. While Chrysler UK won’t release prices until early May, we predict a base of around £4k above the £27,260 coupé, or £31,260. And therein lies the problem. For just £3k more, you’ll be able to buy a new Merc SLK 350 with a folding metal hard-top, more spacious cockpit, 268bhp V6 with a smoother-changing six-speed manual and more precise rack-and-pinion steering.
For standing out in a crowd, though, this cool-looking Chrysler takes some beating.