Beauty demands attention. It does so quietly. You see it, touch it, feel it, you want it.
Thus, it is not so much that beauty is its own excuse for being as it is that it needs none. It exists because we need it.
Consider the 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster. It comes to us this spring in a market already filled with impressive drop-tops -- the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Cadillac XLR, Ford Thunderbird, Nissan 350Z and Porsche Boxster.
You can argue that we don't need another one. You'd be wrong -- as wrong as saying we don't need another day of sunshine, another lovely face, another love song.
What the Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler Corp. has done here is magical. It has taken the Mercedes-Benz SLK's platform and given it a new body and soul. That transformation began a year ago with the introduction of the Crossfire coupe, a visually stunning two-door hardtop.
But something was missing from the coupe. The absence of that something bothered me in a tested pre-production model, but I couldn't define it. I thought it was the general character of a pre-production vehicle, one released for evaluation before the regular retail-ready run.
Pre-production models often have glitches, such as the manual gearshift knob that came off in my hand in the hardtop coupe. I thought that was the problem -- poor quality. But that assessment did not hold up. Everything else in the coupe was perfect.
It was not until I drove the Crossfire Roadster that I knew what was missing. Sex. Oh, hush! I'm not talking about Eros alone on his throne. I'm talking Eros with agape, the latter being the spirit of love that makes the physical meaningful, memorable.
The Crossfire Roadster has that spirit. It is clear that the car was designed by people who loved every second of what they were doing, who paid attention to detail, who made the right choices, such as forgoing the retractable hardtop used on the SLK in favor of the Crossfire Roadster's triple-ply cloth top.
The SLK, by comparison, is Teutonic techno -- more male, more gear-oriented, more unnecessarily complicated. The Crossfire Roadster is substantially more poetic. Its cloth top drops easily, nicely, within 22 seconds, into its boot. Twist the "D ring" on the headliner, push a button, and it's done without the extensive mechanical ballet of a hardtop retraction, without interrupting the seductive lines of the Crossfire's "boat tail" rear end.
Trunk space is lost when that top is lowered. It shrinks from an already tiny 6.5 cubic feet to 3.6. But beauty frequently eschews practicality. So, there are two seats in the Crossfire Roadster and coupe, just as there are two in the SLK. Roadsters, after all, are about romance in which "two" is the perfect number. Three or more yield a crowd.
Performance? It's there. The Crossfire Roadster retains the 3.2-liter, 18-valve, 215-horsepower V-6 used in the Mercedes-Benz SLK and the Crossfire coupe. But horsepower alone is misleading.
Feel is important. Torque is important. This car has lots of torque -- 229 foot-pounds at 3,000 revolutions per minute.
The Chrysler Group's marketers brag that their roadster has more torque than the Boxster, TT Roadster and the Z4. But, as often is the case with bragging, their boast is somewhat misleading. It all depends on which version of their rivals' cars they are talking about.
The Chrysler marketing people should know better than to look at the wrong thing. Their car wins on looks alone. In this case, that truly is a good thing.
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