Pre-Recession Chrysler’s Crossfire SRT-6: The Working Man’s E46 M3?

I always had the thought in my mind that, “Hey, that SRT-6 Crossfire? That’s like the working man’s E46 M3! I should make a post comparing them!”

This all seemed like a lovely idea, so I started doing my research and it all looked great. It’s truly strange how similar the two cars are on paper.

Similarities:

The E46 M3:

  • RWD Coupe
  • 3.2 liter, six cylinder engine
  • 333 horsepower
  • 3450 lb
  • 0-60 in 4.8 seconds
  • 13.5 second quarter mile
  • German chassis
  • German engine

The Crossfire SRT-6:

  • RWD Coupe
  • 3.2 liter, six cylinder engine
  • 330 horsepower
  • 3330 lb
  • 0-60 in 5.1 seconds
  • 13.5 second quarter mile
  • German chassis
  • German engine

So get the Crossfire?

I was all fired up. How has nobody discovered this secret M3? The Crossfire is even made on the SL platform, and has a Mercedes engine. Its underpinnings are sophisticated and European. It has a much shorter wheelbase–more than a foot shorter. It’s gotta be a hoot to drive. I was blazing through research, inches from my computer monitor.

I could see my face on Time magazine, I could imagine the photo; me and orange man, shaking hands at the White House. I was getting ready to write my magnum opus.

My Golden Globes acceptance speech–for the film adaption of my article–titled; “Caught in the Crossfire” was being drafted. I could hear Ricky Gervais:

“Mate–Working Man’s M3? Brilliant stuff.”

I would get an expensive three piece suit and walk down to my neighbor’s house, where a practically mint metallic purple Cavalier coupe is parked.

“My good man, for your Cavalier. Will this be sufficient?”

I would then present the contents of a suitcase, revealing four crisp one-hundred dollar bills, carefully affixed to case’s red felt floor.

Then, I noticed four things:

  1. The Crossfire SRT-6 is automatic only
  2. The less-than flattering reviews it received
  3. The base price of the Chrysler was $45,695
  4. The base price of an E46 M3 was $46,000

Well, there goes that article! Who even thought that was a good idea in the first place?

The Chrysler Crossfire

Image result for chrysler crossfire

The Crossfire was born of the strange (strange and doomed) 1998 merger of Chrysler and Daimler Benz. Its platform is based heavily on the first-gen SLK roadster, but total Mercedes parts are only something like 40%. It’s not quite just a re-bodied version of that car. Production started in 2004, and then a year later the next generation SLK was released on a completely new platform. The Crossfire did not receive this platform, nor a second generation. So technically, Daimler-Chrysler was kinda making two generations of SLK roadster at the same time.

It was styled after a concept car also called the Crossfire. The looks of the concept were controversial, as were the production car’s. The Crossfire coupe (it was also available in a convertible) was particularly polarizing, with Jeremy Clarkson saying it looked like a dog relieving itself. This, to me, is just a typical Clarksonian exaggeration.

The Brief Foray into the Forums

I was looking for the exact quotation from Mr. Clarkson and stumbled upon a strange ‘crossfireforum.org’ post from 2009. A forum member, known as “Mr. Burns” or “Monty”, was very upset by the Top Gear presenter’s unkind words. He was upset enough to consider making a satirical version of the review, where he played a mocking version of Jeremy called “Germy Clarksville”. Mr. Burns claimed to be a professional actor, insisted he had studied Clarkson “extensively”, and would of course don the proper attire.

Real straight shooter, this guy.

Other members of the Crossfire forum were very receptive to this. One reminded Mr. Burns to include Jeremy’s less than perfect teeth in the costume. Another user, known only as “s40guy”, also supported the idea, encouraging Monty with a simple “Definately”.

Under the Hood

I touched on the Crossfire’s specs earlier, but it’s worth going into a little more detail. The Crossfire came in two engine trims; the base car and the SRT-6. Both trims got versions the M112 V6 engine. The M112 may at first glance seem pretty boring , but actually it’s a little strange.

The base car’s engine is the ‘E32’ variant of the M112, while the SRT-6’s motor is the ‘E32 ML’. Both are 90°, 3.2 liter V6s. Both of them have forged steel connecting rods, three valves per cylinder, and single overhead cams. The M112 is also a “twin spark” motor, meaning each cylinder gets two spark plugs. The difference between the ‘E32’ and ‘E32 ML’ is in the performance, which is determined by the two engines respective induction methods.

The ‘E32’ M112 is naturally aspirated. Air enters the motor through a magnesium (I know to save weight, but why magnesium?) variable length intake manifold. It makes 215 horsepower and 229 lb-ft in the Crossfire. A 6-speed stick is available with this motor.

The Crossfire SRT-6

Image result for chrysler crossfire srt6

 

The SRT-6 gets the ‘E32 ML’ M112, which is supercharged. It gets a twin-screw blower in combination with a water-air intercooler. Peak power is 330 horsepower, over a hundred more than the base E32. Torque in this version is 310 lb-ft. The only transmission offered with this engine was a 5-speed automatic.

The SRT-6 trim was offered on both the coupe and convertible versions of the car. Besides the new engine, it got new front & rear fascias, a big boy spoiler, and new wheels & tires. The wheels are 18s in the front, 19s in the back (a weird pre-bailout trend that I understand but am still confused by.)

This car does not get a spare tire, probably because there’s nowhere to put it. You just get that shitty little can of fizzy ranch dressing that apparently magically fixes tires (unless the puncture in your tire has a larger diameter than a human hair). Also, for some reason you still get a jack. What a joke.

On the topic of things about this car that suck,

It has recirculating ball steering. What is it, a bus? Don’t worry, if your steering decides to pack up just swipe some parts from a nearby cement truck. Why would they do that? Even Ford was like, “Wow, we still have recirculating ball steering in the Crown Victora? That’s fucked up!” and replaced it with an actual rack and pinion. There were carriages on the Oregon trail with more sophisticated steering.

The ride is apparently not great either. This is despite the car having double wishbones up front and multi-link out back. It isn’t lacking in sophistication, just tuning.

Apparently a lot of the upgraded equipment for the SRT was taken right off of the SLK32 AMG. In fact, the exact same drivetrain is offered in the SLK32 AMG. I guess they just had a big bin of all of these AMG parts and nailed them to the Crossfire without changing them.

The real kicker is that it’s automatic only, but if you’ve been reading carefully you may have come to the same conclusion I did while researching.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Why not just manual swap one of these cars? A manual transmission is offered on the same motor! Well, as it turns out it isn’t that simple.

There’s an extremely long and ancient build thread about somebody who wanted to do this on crossfireforum.com. He eventually did, but it was a big pain in the ass. Apparently you need to modify the end of the crankshaft to do it (among other things). If you really wanna read all of it, be my guest.

So what’s the point?

You may have read this and thought two things.

  1. This car is not actually comparable to the E46 M3.
  2. It doesn’t seem too great.

In fact, both of these things are true. Magazine reviews from the time either say it’s not great, or they come to basically no conclusion. The case for buying this car seems pretty weak then, right?

I got 2500 things that may change your mind:

srt6 ad

To be fair, most of these cars on the lower end go for around $7k-$9k, but this one is dirt cheap. I’m not Mr. Moneybags or anything, but I do have this much money from my paltry college side-jobs in savings. I could technically go buy this car right now. It could be mine. Such a strange feeling.

To me, that’s really the appeal.

It may not be as good as the M3, but it’s so close on paper. Really, how bad can it be? This thing probably hauls ass, it really doesn’t look half bad (especially the convertible), and it has a twin-screw supercharger. Imagine the completely dumbfounded WRX owners you will inevitably race on the highway.

I talked to Zack Klapman (the man driving in that video), and he said that although it definitely wasn’t great, it was “fun for fun’s sake”. (To be fair, the one in the video was modified, but it’s still an automatic Chrysler Crossfire.)

This car may not be some SECRET and AMAZING performance bargain (do those even exist?), but it is still a cool car. E46 M3 prices keep getting higher, and I don’t see this car appreciating any time soon. It may not have been the working man’s M3 when it was new, but oh boy it is now.

21 Comments

  1. I get so confused….

    “Chrysler executed the interior and exterior styling. All other elements of the car such as wheelbase, track, engine, transmission, chassis structure, suspension components, are shared with the [Mercede-Benz SLK329] R170 platform. An example of this is the engine bay of the Crossfire, which is virtually identical to the Mercedes-Benz SLK320 on the R170 platform.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_Crossfire

    But it’s really almost identical to BMW E46 M3?

    My brain hurts.

  2. What a great article.
    Also, look at current prices of Mercedes Benz AMG W203 C55s, again, no manual, but it is a five stage auto. Compare to E46 M3, with it’s awful automated clutch.

  3. I get so confused….

    “Chrysler executed the interior and exterior styling. All other elements of the car such as wheelbase, track, engine, transmission, chassis structure, suspension components, are shared with the [Mercede-Benz SLK329] R170 platform. An example of this is the engine bay of the Crossfire, which is virtually identical to the Mercedes-Benz SLK320 on the R170 platform.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_Crossfire

    But it’s really almost identical to BMW E46 M3?

    My brain hurts.

  4. A naturally-aspirated automatic Crossfire is the first sports car I drove (I suppose sports car is used loosely there), so I do hold a minor soft spot for it. Plus, a friend if mine worked at a driving school that had a handful of SRT-6’s, and says they held up well to track use. It’s really just an AMG wearing mild steampunk cosplay, but that’s fine.

    That said, out of mid-Oughts also-ran sports cars, the RX-8 depreciated even further (less attractive to retirees who keep them minty and the “I know what I have” types), has a back seat, and drives better. I can deal with the power deficiency.

    That said, an early E90 335i is probably the working man’s (or at least 19-year old with a part-time job selling phone cases at the Mall’s) M3.

  5. Great read! I remember being tried to be sold one of these by an acquaintance that worked at a dealer. He also tried to sell me a jeep commander, and a Toyota avalon. I was smitten by him (young, gay, in the closet, in rural Indiana), so I entertained the conversations, but in the end, both our hands came up empty… 👐

  6. Outstanding piece of satire, but the photos really nail it. If your Wikipedia standard photo shows a vehicle where the owner doesn’t care about accumulated brake dust, it’s not a true enthusiast vehicle:
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/2005_Chrysler_Crossfire_SRT6_AeroBlue-right.jpg
    I never really liked them, as they look as if the front, the sides, the rear had three different designers with different ideas of what they were working on. It’s daring, but not coherent. And the steering…Chrysler gotta be Chrysler.

    1. Eh, the steering is Daimler being Daimler, and forcing their cast-offs on Chrysler. Chrysler being Chrysler was also being able to walk into the same dealer selling a Crossfire in 2004 and being able to buy a Caravan with a 3-speed auto.

  7. My favourite scene in that movie, when the neighbour realized that the Rimova briefcase was worth twice its content and immediately adapted his price sliders on CL to 1200,- and added “trade in” to the keywords.

  8. This is my ’05 Limited Roadster with the 6 speed manual box. I’ve owned it since new and it’s more a weekend toy than daily driver (I have a VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI for that). It really is a blast to drive, and I’ve had it on track at both Buttonwillow and the road course at California Speedway in Fontana where it acquitted itself rather nicely. I think these cars are finally coming into their own even though they don’t quite have the driving dynamics of an M3. I’ve done a few tweaks to mine and even here in jaded SoCal it gets plenty of thumbs up along PCH and always gets prime parking spots with valets when my girlfriend and I go to dinner. Oh, and Barrett-Jackson just sold a 2005 SRT-6 Roadster with only 3,600 miles on it for $29,000 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5f86afbf629fc2cea109732068968e6af5aad8b173a57104504cdd55cedf8558.jpg

  9. How are any of us supposed to buy it with no link to the ad? 😀

    I actually have a soft spot for these. I like the quirky styling. It’s probably easier to add a supercharger or turbo to the base car than to swap a manual into the SRT.

    I seem to recall that Mercedes hung on to the recirculating ball steering long after everyone else went to rack and pinion and they had reasons for preferring it. I don’t remember what they were, though.

    1. The Recirculating Ball design is a tougher design to break, more expensive to fix if it does break but you very seldom have issues with steering on these cars. The one i am driving right now has just under 245k miles on it, The steering isnt the problem with these cars at all. Generally the only thing you really run into is sometimes you will run into an electrical issue but with the right support they are not too bad.

  10. sorry I think you should read into the srt6 more. first of all no AMG Mercedes in the world is a standard and to mention you could never shift a 6 speed as fast as the amg Mercedes transmission which is also used in cars like e55 AMG. also the advertised HP is less than the slk32 but in reality have the same HP. Chrysler did not want people to know it was the same exact hand built amg from the Mercedes factory. I am into speed and majority of M3’s can touch the srt6 in the quarter mile. Also a stock srt6 is 12.9 in the quarter mile with a 4.8 0-60 (do a little more research maybe before the article). With an expensive 500 cold air intake from needswing.com you can drop the car a full .5 seconds off the quarter mile which is fact, then get an upper supercharger pulley for another $500 and drop another .5 seconds off your quarter mile time. Give you a high to low 11 to 12 second car respectively. Chrysler and Mercedes were merged for less than 2 years but the SRT6 was the best thing to come of it. Traction control does suck as does the cup holder:) but especially if you want a fast sports car today bang for your money easily goes to the only Srt6/amg made in the world with a little over only 2000 of each style built. So buy an srt6 put $1100 into and smoke 80-90% of all stock production vehicles made today in 2020. Sure was fun smoking the new supra that he just spent about 50k on or even the baseline Stingrays that started in 2014, and watch the look on there faces when you blow by them with a crossfire SRT6. They will think something is wrong with there car, either flip you off cause the mad or pull up next to and say what the heck is in that thing! oh just stock with an intake and pulley. Later

  11. I own a 2006 crossfire limited coup it has 53000 Miles on it when I bought it there was 3500 miles. I don’t drive it in winter and it’s in very good condition.

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