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Road & Travel's 2004 Sexy Car Buyer's Guide

Chrysler Crossfire
2004 Chrysler Crossfire

Muscular. Toned. Yet classic in grace. A little burly in authority, it's capable of quick, spontaneous maneuvers while gliding along with a fighter's nimble gait. In its latest, top-down iteration it even won the eye of rising entertainment star and mega-mogul Donald Trump long enough to be his first taste-of-luxury gift for his victorious Apprentice.

This is the vehicle with the rock-solid punch of, say, an Oscar De La Hoya jab before the boxer-entertainer transcends into groupie-bait hunk. What else but Crossfire could meld from dominator of the mean streets of a seething city to the valet favorite at the toniest event?

With Crossfire, Chrysler mates American road-commanding tradition with Mercedes' German engineering. It propels through tight turns, then jackrabbits away from a stop thanks to the 215-horses in a 3.2-liter, 90-degree, 18-valve V-6, all riding on pressure monitored oversized tires. (A late summer STR-6 powered, 330-HP addition for coupe or roadster promises to deliver a true knockout punch.)

Underneath, Crossfire matches spirited high points with some necessary compromises for a small sporty, rear-drive coupe on race-tuned tires with a tantalizingly affordable price tag starting at about $30 K. (Push the price to the mid to high 40s for the upcoming high performance versions.) A tighter-than-expected interior has less leg or head room than optimal for the truly tall. That shortcoming disappears in the top-down, true roadster mode for '05 when it disrobes, so to speak, in a mere 22 seconds -- sending blind spots into oblivion in the process.

Crossfire can demand a clutch pedal stretch in six-speed stick shift version, eased by an adjustable steering column. Without optional all-weather tires (at $185), it's a definite fair weather friend, with distaste for sloshy streets best left to the sport utility across the garage, despite stability and traction controls and a wealth of airbags -- just in case.

But any shortcomings are quickly forgotten with the delicious color-shock leather interior (orange in our test version), blending precision styling with comfort. Crossfire knows its place and the drive is just thrilling. And simply no one ignores it as you roar on by. Center stage, please.