Jeep Compass, Jeep Willys2, Chrysler Pacifica and Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Chrysler Chronos and Chrysler Crossfire. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Grant Yoxon

Blaineville, Quebec – It’s not often that one gets to drive the future – or at least a concept of what the future might be – but that’s exactly what a group of journalists got to do recently at the PMG Technologies test track north of Montreal.

DaimlerChrysler Canada brought eleven of its auto show concepts to the track for journalists to examine, photograph and drive. Included in the group was the Dodge Razor, Dodge M-80 concept truck, Jeep Compass, Jeep Willys2 and Chrysler Pacifica which debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. From the L.A. Show came the near production ready Dodge Neon SRT which will go on sale later this year as a 2003 model, and coming for 2004, the boat-tailed, two-seater, Chrysler Crossfire.

Also along for the ride were the two door Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible (slated to go on sale in early 2004), Chrysler Hemi 300C convertible, Doge MAXXcab and the classic 1998 Chrysler Chronos concept car.

I’d like to say that DaimlerChrysler handed us the keys and told us to have some fun on PMG’s four-mile high-banked oval, but such was not the case. These cars are rolling sculpture and cost in the neighbourhood of $1 million each. They were built for the auto show circuit and not the test track, although judging by the gauges in a few, some testing had been done. Our time behind the wheel consisted of speed-limited group tours around a 10 to 15 minute circuit, which ensured that everyone got to drive every vehicle over the course of the day.

The derivability of these cars ranged from rough (Jeep Willys2) to ready (Dodge Neon SRT). It’s not only styling that is conceptual. Most of these vehicles are powered by concept engines, like the Hemi 300 C’s prototype all-aluminum 353 cubic inch (5.7 litre) pushrod V8 which features hemispherical combustion chambers and two spark plugs per cylinder. A lack of sufficient cooling had the Crossfire’s supercharged 2.7 litre, 275 horsepower V6 engine overheating occasionally (but I can tell you this one pulls strong!).

What became clear is that there is a lot of work to get a car from the idea stage to the show room floor, and these concepts are (mostly) at the early stage of a process of continuous refinement.

Here’s the details on what we drove.

Chrysler Pacifica

Chrysler Pacifica concept
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Debuting at the 2002 North American International Auto Show, the Chrysler Pacifica Sport Tourer is being fast-tracked into production and will go on sale in 2003 as a 2004 model. The Pacifica will be built in Windsor.

The Pacifica is a wagon-like vehicle with six passenger seating and all-wheel-drive. Powered by a 3.5 litre SOHC 24-valve V6, the Pacifica has independent front and rear suspension, four-speed automatic transaxle with manual shift “AutoStick”, load-levelling rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, side curtain airbags in all three rows and tire pressure monitoring system. Chrysler Pacifica is long and wide but retains a high level of car-like handling, performance and operating efficiency.

Pacifica interior
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Interior finishing on the Chrysler pacifica is striking, with two-tone panels and brushed aluminum trim. Accommodations for both front and rear passengers is first-class, with dual zone climate control, power driver and passenger seats, heated first and second row seats and reclining second row buckets. Other features include, for example, dual power centre consoles for first and second row seats, power adjustable pedals, integrated in-dash navigation system, hands-free cellular phone, Infinity theatre-style surround sound audio, satellite radio and six disc in-dash CD and DVD player.

Chrysler Crossfire

Chrysler Crossfire concept
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This radical coupe debuted at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show. Eight months later, DaimlerChrysler announced that the Crossfire would go into production for the 2003 model year. The car will be built by Karmann of Osnabruek, Germany.

The Crossfire concept has a one-piece carbon fire body and all-aluminum frame. The supercharged 2.7 litre, 275 horsepower V6 engine provides plenty of power to move this light combination. The Crossfire’s exterior design features a “boat-tail” emphasizing the 21-inch rear wheels and tires and wide fenders.

Chrysler Crossfire concept interior
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Despite a large square rear window, rear visibility from the driver’s seat is virtually nil. It will be interesting to see how DaimlerChrysler and Karmann resolve this problem without reshaping the classic rear end treatment.

A true two seater, the Crossfire concept features electronically adjustable competition seats and adjustable pedals, an “on-board vehicle data acquisition centre”, a two-tone blue and tan leather interior, aluminum spine-like centre console and brushed accents on the steering wheel.

Chrysler Chronos

Chrysler Chronos concept
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A classic show car, the Chrysler Chronos debuted in 1998. Outrageous in its proportions and styling, the Chronos will never be produced, but its design influences can be seen in the grille, front fascia and headlamp design of the Crossfire and Pacifica.

With its long hood and short deck, the Chronos is reminiscent of the impressive touring cars of the thirties, although Chrysler attributes the inspiration to the Virgil Exner era – Exner led Chrysler design from 1949 to 1961 – and the 1953 Chrysler D’Elegance concept vehicle.

Chrysler Hemi 300C Convertible

Chrysler Hemi 300C convertible concept
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Also reminiscent of another time and another vehicle – in this case the 1957 Chrysler 300C – the Hemi 300C convertible is a design exercise that previews the future, while paying homage to the past. Although it is unlikely DaimlerChrysler would build a large four passenger convertible like the 300C, elements of the concept – like its rear-wheel drive layout, the fuel-saving features of its 5.7 litre hemi engine, or the advanced technology found in the concept’s driver “innovation” system – could find their way into future products. This latter system includes a global positioning system, trunk-mounted laptop computer, internet access, and for added security, finger print scanning.

Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible

Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible concept
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Another convertible – and one that will see production – is the PT Cruiser convertible. Introduced at the New York Auto Show last year, the Cruiser convertible will debut in showrooms in early 2004.

Take the roof off any other four door sedan and the result would likely be a sedan without a roof, but when DaimlerChrysler designers took the roof off the PT Cruiser and deleted two doors, the result is a strikingly attractive convertible. In fact, the PT Cruiser convertible concept had many auto writers present at this event wondering why DC hadn’t done it sooner. Use it as a four-seater or a two-seater with added cargo volume, the Cruiser convertible is likely to be a hit with summer loving consumers.

Chrysler Neon SRT

Dodge Neon SRT
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The concept closest to production and the most refined driving machine present at the DaimlerChrysler concept media event was the Chrysler Neon SRT. The SRT is the most powerful Neon ever, with a supercharged 2.0 litre, 16-valve engine that generates 208 horsepower. This powerplant gives the Neon the low end torque missing on the current Neon R/T and a wide, strong power-band that is reminiscent of the Subaru Impreza WRX. Most writers who drove the SRT held back behind the parade of concepts to give themselves the space to experience the healthy acceleration the SRT offers.

The Neon SRT is 1.5 inches lower than the production Neon and has four-wheel independent suspension with Eibach custom springs, Tokico performance-tuned struts, heavy duty front and rear sway bars, racing tires and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Pricing in the low 20’s is anticipated when the SRT goes on sale this Fall.

Dodge Razor

Dodge Razor concept

Dodge Razor concept
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While no plans to produce the Dodge Razor have been confirmed, it would not be difficult to bring this light weight two-seater to market in a hurry. The Razor uses many “off-the-shelf” components, which would not only make it easier to produce, but would also keep the price down. The engine is an upgraded version of the Chrysler Group’s 2.4 litre DOHC engine, enhanced with a turbocharger and intercooler. A six speed manual transmission was sourced from the Daimler side of the business.

The Razor is not a high-end vehicle; no power windows, mirrors, power leather seats or other frills, not even a radio. It is a single purpose vehicle, intended drivers who love to drive, for whom the sound of boosted rpm is is the sound of music. In an era when increasingly luxurious options and accessories seem necessary to sell cars, it is refreshing to find a vehicle that gets back to the basics the way the Razor does. Personally, I hope DC builds this one.

Dodge M80

Dodge M80 concept truck
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It is clear DaimlerChrysler has a younger generation of buyers in mind in developing a minimalist concept like the Razor. Continuing this theme is the Dodge M80 pickup truck concept, a go anywhere vehicle intended for people who want performance but not the pricey options that usually go with it. Sized right for two people and their gear, the M80 is a small affordable truck with a five-foot bed and tie-downs all over the place.

Based on the Dodge Dakota frame with independent short-and-long-arm front suspension and a solid axle with leaf springs in the rear, the M80 incorporates a high percentage of existing corporate components, making it affordable to build. Power comes from the Chrysler Group’s all-new 3.7 litre V-6 engine coupled with a carry-over 5-speed transmission and 4×4 transfer case.

Dodge MAXXcab

Dodge MAXXcab concept truck
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At the other end of the spectrum is the Dodge MAXXcab. With a big interior, a big box (52.7″ long, 56.7″ wide) and luxury finishing, the MAXXcab shows where high-end pick-up truck design could go. DaimlerChrysler calls it the “world’s first Passenger Priority truck.” It’s a pick-up truck with cab-forward design, sedan like characteristics, space, comfort and luxury.

While driver and passenger enjoy the luxury of “cream pillow-top leather-tailored seats,” the rear compartment is child-focused. Three mini van-style, built-in child safety seats accommodate toddlers and older children, while an “edu-tainment” system with DVD player, internet access and a hand-held sketch pad keep them busy.

Jeep Compass

Jeep Compass concept
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Like the Dodge Razor, the Jeep Compass is aimed at an emerging generation of consumers, dubbed “millenials,” for whom affordability, flexiblity and performance are primary concerns. Inspired by the 1998 Jeep Jeepster concept and built on the Jeep Liberty platform, the two-door Compass has all-wheel-drive, a short wheelbase and a low centre of gravity, to travel any kind of road. The interior is simple, uncluttered and functional – of course there is also a compass – with room for four. The rear buckets fold flat to create a flat loading surface finished in low-gloss stainless steel with integrated tie-downs in the side trim. The spare tire is incorporated into the rear hatch. Power is provided by the Liberty’s 3.7 litre, 210 horsepower V-6.

Jeep Willys2

Jeep Willys2 concept

Jeep Willys2 interior
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Unlike the Compass, an all-weather, all-road vehicle, the Jeep Willys2 is extreme off-road, with plenty of ground clearance and very short front and rear overhangs for capable approach and departure angles. It’s off-raod capability is further enhanced with an automatic transmission, shift-on-the-fly transfer case, full-time four-wheel drive and low-range modes. While we didn’t go wandering off the beaten path at Blaineville, the importance of the Willys2 is not what it can do but what it is made of.

Incorporating cutting-edge plastic technology and a light weight aluminum frame, the Willys2 is built in carbon fibre to simulate the weight savings that could be achieved with injection-moulded plastics. Injection-moulded plastic bodies save up to 50 percent in manufacturing costs and weight, and are nearly 100 percent recyclable.

The Jeep Willys2, which weighs approximately 1350 kg (3000 lbs), is powered by a 1.6 litre, in-line four-cylinder engine that has been supercharged to delver 160 horespower and 155 lb.-ft. of torque.

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