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We Drive Chrysler’s 2007 Concepts

2007 Chrysler Nassau concept

2007 Chrysler Nassau concept

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Chrysler’s recent crop of concept cars hasn’t been approved for production — but that didn’t stop the company from letting the press get their hands on them for a spin.

The automaker brought an assortment of show cars — a handful from each category — out on a warm spring afternoon, some just to sit and look pretty, but most for us to actually slip inside and drive down the tony waterfront in Grosse Pointe, Mich.The selection covered quite a range, from entry-level roadsters to high-line sedans, as well as a variety of Jeeps and trucks.


“We try to strike a balance,” explains Joe Dehner, the new design vice president at Chrysler, between the pure fantasy cars, with their wild and fanciful shapes, and “the stuff that’s more disciplined, with show car flair (tempered by) the potential to make it onto the showroom floor.”


Demon on the loose


2001 Mazda Millenia

2001 Mazda Millenia

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For those who’ve been wondering about the name of Chrysler’s new owners, Cerberus, it refers to the three-headed guard dog of Hades, from Dante’s Inferno. We don’t know if that’s a reference to what the troubled automaker will be facing in the future, but perhaps it’s appropriate that the star among recent Chrysler show cars was named Demon.


Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show, last February, it’s Chrysler’s take on the classic, entry-level roadster. Think Mazda Miata or Pontiac Solstice.


Under the skin, the Demon shares roughly the same chassis as found in the current production model, the Chrysler Crossfire, but the roadster show car features a smaller, 2.4-liter in-line four engine.


Firing it up, the Demon let out a nice little burble through an exhaust system unfettered by a catalytic converter. We struggled to get the manual transmission into gear — a sin forgivable in a prototype which had to make its borrowed drivetrain fit whichever way possible. In production form, we’d expect to see a reworked version of the four, which would boast more than enough power for such a lightweight vehicle. (We’d also hope that Chrysler would consider at least one up-market drivetrain option, much as Pontiac as done with the Solstice, however.)


As with the drivetrain, the borrowed steering package was a little notchy and not quite ready for prime time, but the overall feel of this Demon on the loose was perfect for a cool, sunny spring day. While this may officially be described as a concept car, it has the feel of something getting ready for production. And perhaps for good reason, according to Dehner.


While there’s been no formal decision, designers had a clear mandate. “The idea behind it was to do an entry-level sports car that, if it were to get approval, could get into production very quickly,” Dehner explained, pointing to the Crossfire, which went from concept to production in barely 18 months.


If the Demon gets the go, insiders hint that it would likely share its platform and key components with another entry-level Chrysler minicar. The most probable? The production version of the Hornet show car. The U.S. maker is developing that as part of a joint venture with the Chinese automaker, Chery, and it could reach showrooms by 2009. We’re hoping like the devil to see a production Demon around the same time.



Caliber: Small is beautiful


2001 Mazda Miata rear

2001 Mazda Miata rear

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Since the introduction of the modern minivan, back in 1984, Chrysler’s lineup has been dominated by various light trucks. But with gas prices likely to stick in the $3-a-gallon range, and sales of once-hot models, like the Ram pickup, faltering, there’s been a push to bring out more competitive cars — small cars, in particular, Dehner told “But just because they’re small doesn’t mean they have to be boring, or cheap.”

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