Dodge Demon concept
Dodge Demon concept. Click image to enlarge

Review and Photos by Brian Early

Photo Gallery: Chrysler concept cars

Sidebar: Chrysler Concept Ride & Drive

Grosse Pointe, Michigan – Given the situation that Chrysler currently finds itself in – in the midst of an acquisition by private-equity firm Cerberus and the resulting state of uncertainty and transition – it would be easy to dismiss a Chrysler event that puts journalists behind the wheel of several concept and SEMA show vehicles as a simple PR stunt aimed at generating positive ink.

That would only be half right; undoubtedly Chrysler would love some good press right about now, but according to my host, Chrysler’s Sam Locricchio (Communications Manager; Chrysler Group Design and Quality), this event was actually a few months in the making; the timing was basically coincidental.

It’s also not the first time that the automaker has done something like this, although being allowed to venture out onto public roads with these vehicles is unusual.

Fortunately for Sam and Chrysler, there was good news here. While it’s unreasonable to expect that any of the concepts present at this gathering will make it to production as is, the influence of their styling and some of the ideas that they present likely will. In particular, the Miata-esque Dodge Demon convertible – first seen at the Geneva Auto Salon – suggests that Chrysler is at least considering entering that market: more about the Demon in a moment.

Dodge Hemi Nitro

Look beyond all of the go-fast visuals worn by this heavily metal-flaked, almost overwhelmingly purple Dodge Nitro SEMA show vehicle (even the glass is purple) and you’ll see its most noteworthy point – Chrysler’s Hemi V8 appears to fit quite comfortably into the engine bay.

Dodge HEMI Nitro
Dodge HEMI Nitro. Click image to enlarge

This is significant, because at present the Nitro and its Jeep Liberty chassis-mate only offer V6 powerplants. With Nissan having just introduced a V8 Pathfinder, it’s no stretch to see the potential for Dodge and Jeep to respond in kind; such a move would address complaints that even the Nitro’s top 4.0-litre V6 lacks oomph.

If the Hemi was equipped with the MDS variable-displacement system, it might even prove more economical than the sixes in the real world, as was the case in several earlier Dodge light truck models whose base 3.9-litre V6 was often thirstier than their available 5.2-litre V8.

Of course, it’d be hard for any gearhead not to add this 5.7-litre Nitro’s Tremec five-speed manual transmission, (four) Viper seats, big brakes, and lowered/widened suspension to their wish list. Unfortunately for me (but probably fortunately for the locals), this one wasn’t available to drive, its customized powertrain demonstrating the finicky nature of such hand-built vehicles.

Chrysler Sebring Tuner

Another SEMA concept, the Sebring Tuner suggest the potential for upgrading this new mid-size sedan, in this case with the seemingly prerequisite 20-inch wheel and tire/huge brakes package, unsubtle cosmetic enhancements, and the replacement of the existing 235-hp 3.5-litre V6 with a 285-hp 4.0-litre version.

Honestly, I doubt that the Sebring will receive much “tuner” attention now that its much more muscular-looking platform twin, the 2008 Dodge Avenger, has become available – particularly since the Avenger can be equipped with AWD, while the Sebring currently cannot. I know which one I’d want to start with.

Jeep Wrangler JT

Compact-sized regular cab pickups seem to be an almost extinct breed, yet here is Jeep showing off a regular cab pickup version of its new Wrangler Unlimited: crazy? Hardly – look at the continuing success of the YJ/TJ/Wrangler vehicles that defy conventional wisdom by being crude, noisy, impractical, and yet somehow charming, all at the same time.

Jeep JT concept
Jeep JT concept. Click image to enlarge

These Jeeps have the kind of brand image and loyalty that others can only dream of.

Even with its short five-foot box, such an animal would likely find buyers, and not just among the world’s parks and forestry service fleets. Reams of Jeep owners have happily overlooked the lack of comfortably inhabitable rear seat room in their two door models, and they’d probably appreciate the JT’s added cargo capacity and butch military styling.

In addition to the loyalists, Jeep is clearly targeting a youthful, loud music-loving demographic – why else would they have painted the JT “Hearing Aid Beige”?

Jeep Wrangler Ultimate

It’s hard to say why Jeep would want to create a luxury version of its Wrangler. After all, within Jeep’s line-up, doesn’t the luxury off-roader niche already belong to the Grand Cherokee and Commander?

Said to be inspired by “rugged adventure sports bags”, the Wrangler Ultimate adds chrome, leather, and wood finishes to the four-door Unlimited Rubicon’s otherwise utilitarian interior, while special paint, a truckload of chrome Mopar accessories, custom wheels, and a suspension and tire upgrade dress up the exterior.

Dodge ‘Targa Newfoundland’ Caliber

Dodge Targa Newfoundland Caliber (SEMA Concept)
Dodge Targa Newfoundland Caliber (SEMA Concept). Click image to enlarge

Less SEMA concept than de facto race car, this specially prepared Dodge Caliber is based on the upcoming high-performance SRT4 model, and uses its 300-hp turbocharged 2.4-litre engine.

Sporting a gutted interior, a full roll cage, and still wearing a very worn set of race-spec tires, its clear that the bright blue and white paint scheme is the only “show” part of this rally monster, unless you count “showing” the competition your tail lights; with Ralph Gilles, Chrysler Group’s Vice President Jeep/Truck and CFM Design, behind the wheel, it claimed first in class and fifteenth overall in last year’s Targa Newfoundland.

Jeep Trailhawk

A true concept vehicle, the Trailhawk rides on a Wrangler Unlimited chassis and is powered by the Grand Cherokee’s 3.0-litre CRD diesel V6.

Jeep Trailhawk concept
Jeep Trailhawk concept. Click image to enlarge

Based on a sketch by (Principal Exterior Designer) Nick Vardis, the Trailhawk is intended to meld the open-air feel and off-road abilities of the Wrangler with the upscale attributes of the Grand Cherokee. From the waistline down, exaggerated squared-off fender flares and wheel arches recall traditional Jeep design cues, while the short, raked, almost curvaceous satin-metallic greenhouse suggests a pillarless hard-top coupe. According to (Jeep Studio Senior Manager) Don Renkert, the visual contrast was deliberate.

As the Wrangler is essentially a convertible already, the four-door Trailhawk’s elongated T-roof design isn’t a complete fantasy, but it’s more likely that you’ll see the concept’s aggressive front-end styling and its diagonally stacked and cropped headlight layout on the next Grand Cherokee, rather than a verbatim copy of this unusual design exercise.

Chrysler Nassau

Chrysler Nassau concept
Chrysler Nassau concept. Click image to enlarge

Unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this past January, Chrysler’s Nassau takes the current 300’s mob-car sedan styling in a whole different direction; this baby’s coupe-like roofline tapers into a well disguised boat-tail shaped tailgate.

At the time of its introduction, my first impressions of the Nassau were “nice nose, sorry about the rest”, but seeing the car away from the harsh lighting of the show floor, on real roads, with its surfaces reflecting natural light, I came away much more appreciative.

I might have warmed to it, but it would be a real gamble whether hatchback-shunning American consumers would accept – let alone embrace – this substantial a change in tack. Chrysler may not be prepared to make such a leap, but it wouldn’t be difficult to envision elements of the Nassau’s design finding use.

Dodge Demon

Revealed at the Geneva Auto Show, the Demon was the only one of the cars and trucks present that wasn’t based on some existing vehicle’s platform, yet this driveable concept appeared to have been crafted with production in mind.

Dodge Demon concept
Dodge Demon concept
Dodge Demon concept. Click image to enlarge

Fashioned out of a mix of hand-made and parts-bin pieces and hobbled by a weak second gear syncro, driving impressions of this four-cylinder roadster are essentially meaningless; however comparison to Mazda’s Miata/MX-5 is inevitable, even if for now it must occur on paper. Although the 2.4-litre Demon has a slight horsepower advantage (172 vs. 166), the incrementally larger Dodge’s estimated curb weight is slightly higher, so any advantage is likely academic.

While the bold, angular exterior, penned by Jae Chung, is quite attractive, a nod must also go to Dan Zimmermann, who was responsible for the well-executed interior layout. Incorporating a large number of existing components and able to seat a six-foot-five driver, the concept’s handsome, purposeful interior looked virtually showroom-ready, right down to its console-mounted cupholders.

Best yet, the Demon sports a reasonably large trunk (take that, Solstice and Sky!), though admittedly, while it looks as if it was designed to accommodate one, the concept’s lack of a real folding top probably gives it an unfair advantage over those production twins.

Of the concepts here, the Demon edges the Nassau for my vote for “gotta build it”. With the Viper becoming so powerful and so expensive that it’s almost irrelevant, the Dodge brand could use the sort of “halo effect” that an attainable roadster like the Demon could provide, and certainly Mazda and General Motors are able to provide business cases for their respective drop-top models. Chrysler, if you build it, they will come.

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