If you don't like people gawking at you while you drive, don't bother purchasing a Chrysler Crossfire. Throughout the weeklong testdrive, all this car did was turn heads and encourage complete strangers to strike up conversations with me.

Introduced as a concept at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Crossfire hit production last summer. If this is Chrysler's way of giving its stagnant image a kick in the pants, it's certainly working. The body styling is unusual: Sharp sculpted lines define a long front end finished by a cropped rear end. Brushed aluminum accents give the two-tone gray and rust-colored leather interior a vintage sports-car feel.

The two-seater sports coupe's lifeblood is a 3.2-liter SOHC V6 that pumps out 215 hp at 5,700 rpm and 229 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. A firm push on the accelerator and the car takes off like a bat out of hell. The powerplant links (mercifully) to a six-speed manual transmission, although an automatic is available for those who like to sleepwalk through the driving experience. The gearshift favors short, easy throws, but gearing is close. Actually it's a little too close, as it is easy to shift from 1st into 4th gear if you are not paying attention. The clutch is smooth and easy to operate, with a decent amount of stiffness.

The rear-wheel-drive Crossfire has an independent, double-wishbone front suspension with coil springs and gascharged shocks. In back sits a five-link independent suspension with the same spring and shock setup. Four-wheel ABS with brake assist, an electronic stability program, and all-speed traction control ensures the Crossfire obeys driver commands. The coupe swings around corners and takes sharp turns easily, thanks in part to the power steering, stabilizer bars front and rear, and high-performance Michelin tires. One notable feature is the speed-sensitive deployable rear spoiler that slides into action when the Crossfire hits 60 mph. Chrysler outfitted its sports coupe with plenty of amenities including power, heated leather seats; an Infinity Modulus audio system with a 240-W digital amplifier and six speakers including dual subwoofers; telescoping steering column with a leather-wrapped steering wheel; cruise control; and power doors, locks, and windows. Safety is addressed as well, with passenger and driver air bags and thorax side air bags mounted in the doors. Also, the passenger seat is equipped with the Latch system for children and a deactivation switch for the air bag, but I can't see too many soccer moms hopping behind the wheel of the Crossfire.

Mileage figures aren't bad, 25-mpg highway/17 city, and the Crossfire only sips premium (91 octane and higher) fuel. With a 15.85-gallon fuel tank that was a quarter-tank full, it cost a little over $25 to fill her up. Base price is $33,620, $34,495 complete with destination charges. Not too bad for what Chrysler calls a “German-engineered, American-styled” sports coupe that just may give Porsche and BMW a run for their money.