Convertibles occupy a special spot in any car maker's lineup. Given that these vehicles serve almost no practical purpose, and are built purely so that drivers can enjoy the intense pleasures associated with open top motoring, they are often used by car companies as a way to produce unique and exciting vehicles that are quite different from their standard fare. Of course, it is not uncommon for an automaker to engineer a rag top edition of one of their standard coupes, but the convertible palette also opens itself up to interesting interpretations and designs that are meant to catch the public's eye.
In the 1990s, Chrysler established themselves as a company willing to not only introduce some of the most exciting concept cars to be exhibited at international car shows, but then also build them and make them available to the public. In fact, Chrysler was able to convert a prototype into a workable street vehicle quickly enough that the passion evoked by the original version of the car was still fresh in the minds of buyers by the time the vehicle hit showrooms. There are two famous examples of this type of product introduction. The first was the Dodge Viper in 1992 and the second was the radical Plymouth Prowler in 1997. Of the two vehicles, the Prowler was the most cutting edge in terms of style, a throwback to the hot rods of decades past with barely-there bumpers and huge outboard fenders. When Plymouth was dissolved at the end of the decade, Chrysler absorbed the Prowler for the remaining years of its product run.
Another two-seat convertible would also rise to prominence under the Chrysler banner. Taking advantage of their partnership with Mercedes-Benz, the company produced the Crossfire, a slick coupe that also spawned a roadster variant. Small, sporty and replete with Mercedes-Benz components secreted away from their own convertible programs, the Crossfire was an impressive vehicle. After the retirement of the Prowler, the Crossfire would join the always-popular mid-size Sebring convertible as the primary focus of Chrysler's open top efforts.
This article discusses the three very different cars that represent the best used convertibles to be found wearing the Chrysler badge. While the Prowler, Crossfire and Sebring all serve a unique audience, each of them is worthy of attention based on their own individual strengths, which help to distinguish them from other used convertibles on the roads today.
2001 - 2002 Chrysler Prowler
Once Plymouth had ridden off into the sunset, Chrysler became the curator of what was left the once-proud company's product lineup. The crown jewel in the Plymouth crown had been the Prowler, a roadster unlike any other. With it's pointed, narrow snout and split vestigial bumpers, the Prowler wore its '32 hot rod look like a badge of honor. The vehicle was intended to boost Chrysler's reputation amongst automotive aficionados, and it paid off in spades.
The 2001 - 2002 Chrysler Prowler is matched with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that generates 253 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. The twist comes on below 4,000 rpm, which helps to get the Prowler moving relatively quickly off of the line. Combined with a 4-speed automatic transmission featuring a manual shifting option, the Prowler is clearly intended as a cruiser, not a racer, but overall performance is good, helped by the vehicle's light weight and short wheelbase. The suspension is tuned for aggressive cornering, but the vehicle lacks anti-lock brakes, meaning that a greater degree of driver involvement than normal is required to make sure things don't get out of hand in a hurry.
The Prowler is small inside, with interior dimensions matching the external impression of the vehicle. In fact, it's not all that comfortable to drive with the top up, especially for taller occupants. Visibility is restricted thanks to the vehicle's high belt line and short windows. This is a vehicle that is meant to be driven under the sun or the stars and then parked when the rain begins to fall. Air conditioning, a CD changer and cruise control are some of the options that come with the vehicle, and a very small trunk brings up the rear.
The 2001 - 2002 Chrysler Prowler turns heads wherever it goes, and it has achieved collectible status on the secondhand market. If budgets will allow, used convertible buyers will very much enjoy what this retro rag top has to offer.
2003 - 2007 Chrysler Crossfire
Stepping in to fill the roadster void left by the passing of the Prowler, the Crossfire presents an almost entirely different take on the two-seat convertible concept. Whereas the Prowler was a throwback to days gone by, the Crossfire is an interpretation of all that is modern, with taut body lines and a futuristic rake that suggests a vehicle in motion even when it is sitting parked in the driveway. The Crossfire's handsome appearance helps it fill the role of Chrysler's premium convertible admirably well.
Also shoring up the upscale image are the Mercedes-Benz components that help tie the vehicle together. To begin with, the vehicle's suspension and chassis are lifted from several of the German car company's most successful products, helping to produce a stable ride that soaks up imperfections in the road while still transmitting accurate information to the driver through the steering wheel. Underneath the hood is a 215 horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 engine matched to either a 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission. For two years of production a supercharged, 330 horsepower SRT-6 edition of the roadster was available, featuring an engine built by famed Mercedes-Benz performance mavens AMG. A 5-speed automatic handles the shifting for all SRT-6 editions of the Crossfire.
Like most small convertibles, interior room improves once the top has been lowered, which can be done automatically at the touch of a button. The trunk is tiny but the vehicle's passenger compartment is actually quite comfortable, even for tall drivers. Brushed metal accents abound, and plenty of interior storage is sprinkled about the cabin, decreasing the chance that anything will blow away when blasting down the highway at triple-digit speeds.
The 2003 - 2007 Chrysler Crossfire makes an excellent used convertible alternative to pricey European or Japanese roadsters, as it combines great performance with a healthy dose of comfort.
2001 - 2006 Chrysler Sebring Convertible
In comparison to the more exotic Crossfire and Prowler the 2001 - 2006 Chrysler Sebring might seem a bit pedestrian to some, a mid-size convertible tangentially related to the coupe of the same name. However, after spending a little time with the vehicle it becomes clear that the Sebring is competing based on its own unique attributes. Part of the appeal can be traced to the beautiful and graceful design of the vehicle's sheet metal, a gradually sloping rounded shape that looks good with the top either down or up.
The 2001 - 2006 Chrysler Sebring is available with the choice of either a 4 or 6-cylinder engine. Early cars all make use of a 2.7-liter, 200 horsepower V-6, but as the model wore on a 150 horsepower 4-cylinder also made an appearance. The convertible is exclusively matched with a 4-speed automatic transmission regardless of which engine is found nestled between the front fenders. The vehicle's performance is much improved with the more powerful engine, but it never feels like a speedster, as the engine builds up steam gradually with the accelerator full depressed. The convertible body does display some flex in the turns but is generally well behaved.
The interior of the Sebring convertible is roomy, much more so than most other drop tops on the market, which helps to explain why it has been one of the best selling cars in its class throughout its lifetime. Four passengers can comfortably enjoy even longer trips together, and wind noise is minimal at highways speeds with the roof open. Interior appointments are on the nicer side, with wood trim and an attractive center console helping to dress up the passenger compartment. The Sebring feels classy and dignified, and its large size sets it apart from the typical compact convertibles which are more commonly found.
The 2001 - 2006 Chrysler Sebring convertible is a good daily driver that is only marginally less practical than the Sebring coupe, helping to make it a fine choice as a used convertible for those who must transport more than one other passenger at a time.