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American beauty: Chrysler Crossfire; Chrysler's Crossfire Roadster is set to turn heads with its flowing lines and curves - but it can burn up the Tarmac too, asks CHRIS REES.

Byline: CHRIS REES

SAY 'Chrysler' to some people and they won't have a clue what you're talking about. Even those who know a bit about cars will probably only be able to identify the wackyPT Cruiser hot-rod lookalike in the company's line-up.

But judging by all the gawps of admiration the newCrossfire Roadster receives, a lot more people are going to be sitting up and taking notice of the American brand.

Heads swivel like they're attached to the Crossfire by strings as it wafts past.

With good reason. Love or loathe the styling, it is at least pretty dramatic.

As a coupe, it looks exciting. As a roadster, it is sensational.

But I have to say straight away that the Crossfire makes much more sense with a folding roof. Not only do you get to enjoy the rays when they finally arrive, but you also have better visibility, extra desirability and more retained value when you sell.

And yet it only costs pounds 715 more than the coupe - a reasonable pounds 27,995.

Thepower soft-top folds away in just 22 seconds in an elegant arcing movement.

For the most part, it's spot on - the roof folds away completely under the rear haunches, and the structure feels ultra-solid. There is almost none of the vibration that often makes driving a soft-top a wobbly experience.

But it's certainly not perfect. It takes a Schwarzenegger-sized bicep to wrench the roof out of its slot in the windscreen.

And the shiny black plastic header rail feels very cheap indeed. Even with the optional wind deflector in place, don't expect your hair to remain unruffled, as you still have a Force 5 backdraught to contend with.

Because the roof folds away flush, it steals lots of boot space when in drop-top mode.But the Roadster still retain s the Crossfire's party piece - the rear spoiler pops out of the boot at speeds above 62mph to aid stability.

Inside, the cabin is just like the coupe - a bit kitsch with a decidedly downmarket matt silver console.

Because there is hardly any weight penalty over the coupe, performance doesn't suffer at all. Chrysler quote the same figures as the coupe at 150mph top speed and0-62mph in 6.5 seconds.

It certainly feels quick, whether you choose the manual or super-smooth automatic transmission. Because the mechanical side comes from MercedesBenz (it's shared with the CLK), you get a comfortable ride, a refined drive and a solid feel.

Handling is on the soft side - the Roadster has softer suspension and tyres than the coupe.This is a car for posing in rather than scuttling down twisty back roads. If you want a sports car in this price bracket, choose a BMWZ4 instead.

Yes, the Crossfire Roadster wins the catwalk competition hands down. It looks fantastic and delivers a feel-good factor that's off the scale.

Okay, it's no sports car and it isn't the world's best soft-top - but for cruising and posing it's every inch the glamorous Hollywood star.

ComeonChrysler. All weneednow is a dose of Californian sunshine on your options list. I can't wait.

FACTFILE Model: Chrysler Crossfire Roadster Engine: 3.2-litre V6 Performance: 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 150mph Warranty: Three years/ unlimited miles Price: From pounds 27,995On sale: Now
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 13, 2004
Words:548
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