16/06/2004 00:00 | By Kyle Fortune

Chrysler Crossfire v Nissan 350Z Road Test



They’re priced similarly, are both as impractical - and beautiful - as each other and are powered by V6 engines, but which one to go for?

Chrysler Crossfire v Nissan 350Z Road Test

The coupe market until recently has been rather limited – you only need to see the sheer number of Audi TTs or BMW 3 Series coupes out there to see that. But the manufacturers have gotten wise to that and there’s been an explosion in the market in the past few years, new coupes arriving in quick succession to challenge the established favourites.

Here we look at two recent models from America and Japan respectively. The Chrysler is pure Americana with its overt styling, but the reality is that it’s actually based on the underpinnings of Mercedes’ previous generation SLK. The Nissan is more sober suited, but no less dramatic, with more than a nod to the dramatic Z cars from Nissan’s history.

Similar in theory – different in reality

Similar in theory – different in reality

Visually they may be very different, but looked at on paper the Chrysler Crossfire and Nissan 350Z offer much the same package. Power for both comes from charismatic and powerful V6 engines mounted under long bonnets, pushed as far back as possible to improve weight distribution.

They’re both rear-wheel-drive with six-speed transmissions. Neither makes any attempt at being anything but a selfish purchase with seats only for the driver and passenger, and they’re both available for under £28,000. The Crossfire comes in at £27,280 and the Nissan 350Z GT £26,500. The Nissan can be had for less, £24,000, but only if you lose the electric leather seats and the Bose sound system, the stereo alone being worth the additional expense.

On the road

Crossfire: Eye-catching

Crossfire: Eye-catching

So they’re priced similarly, are both as impractical as each other and are powered by V6 engines, but which one to go for? Only a drive will decide. It doesn’t take long to discover that the 350Z and Crossfire are very different in the way they drive. The Nissan is unquestionably the driver’s car, the quick, precise steering, the firm ride and crisp, weighty gearshift adding up to a very involving and enjoyable driving experience. There’s plenty of grip and the chassis provides nicely balanced handling. But with 276bhp from that 3.5-litre V6 there’s the opportunity for you to break traction if you’re so inclined.

The Crossfire takes a slightly different tack. Its 3.2-litre V6 cannot muster the same firepower as the Nissan’s larger 3.5-litre unit, but with 215bhp its performance is still impressive, sprinting to 62mph in 6.5 seconds - the Nissan taking 5.9 seconds. The time differences might not look like much, but the Nissan feels significantly quicker, the fantastically rorty engine note adding to the rawer feel of the Japanese car. Through the gears it’s the 350Z that offers greater urgency, the Chrysler feeling more languid in comparison. Overall the Crossfire, though fast, is a softer, less focussed car that’s more suited to fast cruising than hard charging.

Coupe penalties

350Z: More conventional

350Z: More conventional

Being coupes you’d expect compromises and unsurprisingly visibility from both is restricted. The view out of the Crossfire limited by its small rear window, the 350Z’s better, but featuring an annoying reflection on the rear window from the strut brace that crossed the shallow bootspace. Both luggage compartments offer acceptable space, the deep boot of the Chrysler more useable than that of the Nissan, the Japanese car additionally lacking a boot cover to hide your possessions from prying eyes. There are more storage cubbies in the 350Z as a result, but they’re placed in awkward positions and are only suitable for small objects.

Inside

Crossfire cabin

Crossfire cabin

The cabins of both are slightly disappointing. Despite the glitz, the interior of the Chrysler is basically a rehashed version of the old Mercedes SLK upon which it’s based. The seats are relatively high making it feel quite claustrophobic, the small glass area adding to this effect. The 350Z feels more airy, partly due to the open boot area behind you and the lower seating position.

350Z cabin

350Z cabin

Overall it feels more sporting as a result, the neat instrument binnacle and chunky steering wheel also suggesting its more driver-focussed intent. Flashes of inspiration like those smart instruments are let down elsewhere by the interior, which in areas looks dull and featureless. The plastics used in both in areas lack the quality feel you’ll get in rivals like the Audi TT, but otherwise the build quality is good in both.

Final verdict

Nissan has the edge in this stand-off...

Nissan has the edge in this stand-off...

Deciding which one’s for you depends on your priorities. The 350Z is undoubtedly the more appealing driver’s car, but the Crossfire shouldn’t be ruled out. Its dramatic looks, good engine and high specification appeal, though we’d only have it as an automatic, so poor is the manual shift. Do so and you’ll have a fast, desirable coupe that’s well specified and fairly exclusive too.

In the Nissan it’s all about the gearshift too, but for different reasons. Its chunky precision and powerful engine mark it out as a more enjoyable driving machine. It’s noisier, but it’s the right kind of noise. Its drama is created on the move rather than by striking design. It’d be our choice for that reason, but the Crossfire shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if your priority is turning heads.

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