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Caught in the Crossfire

"Has it got a V8?" asks one enthusiast outside an auto shop one Saturday morning. "No, it's a 3.2-litre V6 – not much more power than a Commodore V6 really but it feels strong and goes quick enough."

"This is one of those American things, isn't it? So how does it handle?" asks a man who has done a U-turn on his bicycle to pore over the coupe. "Yes, it's what you might call an American interpretation of a Mercedes SLK sports car. It does handle very well. The cornering grip is pretty high, thanks to those large tyres of course."

The Crossfire design in early photographs was an eye-catcher: not so much for its purity but that it was different, bold and purposeful.

But in the flesh, it's a smaller car than some imagined. It's a two-seater hard-top coupe. Despite its long bonnet, the stubby rear end has it at just 4058mm long. An Astra 1.8 three-door is 4110mm. Leg room is still fine inside and the hatchback rear opens to a handy box-like boot.

But there's no spare wheel, not even a space saver – just a can of tyre sealant and an air compressor.

The wheels and tyres are massive for this size car: Michelin 225/40 on 18in rims on the front and 255/35 on 19in rims at the rear. If anything, it feels over-tyred sometimes but you can't deny that cornering grip.

The Crossfire is the offspring from the marriage of Mercedes-Benz and America's Chrysler. The car is Mercedes SLK-based and picks up the Benz 3.2-litre V6, a willing engine that is smooth and gives good torque at and from 3000rpm and has a serious note when revved out. Transmission is six-speed manual or, as tested, the five-speed sequential automatic, using the Mercedes configuration of bumping the shift to the right for up shifts and to the left for down shifts.

The car performs a nice trick: Above 90km/h, a small rear spoiler deploys. It subsides when the speed returns to below 60km/h. Several times, it caught the sun, a distraction when reflecting in the rear-view mirror.

Equipment includes CD with 240W sound system, power-adjustable, heated leather seats, dual-zone airconditioning, front and side airbags, ABS plus ESP.