In recent years, the Chrysler half of DaimlerChrysler has become America's automotive styling leader. From Chrysler Cirrus to Dodge Ram, it has crafted examples of stylish, identifiable design with every new vehicle launch. Chrysler knows how to do power, too. Its Dodge Viper has carved a sports car niche rivaling that of the Chevrolet Corvette, based in no small part on Viper's asphalt-eating 400-horsepower V10 engine.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Chrysler served up both styling and power at Detroit's North American International Auto Show with its bold 300 Hemi C concept car. If the measure of a concept's success is the amount of press it gets, then the crowds of normally jaded journalists urging Chrysler to put the 300 Hemi C into production says it all.
This car is beautiful.
From its egg-crate grille to its chrome winged badging, there's no mistaking the 300 Hemi C for anything but a Chrysler. The automaker says the car pays homage to the 1957 300 C, although little in its shape says "retro." Its front wheels are pushed out to the corners, leaving very little front overhang. The eyes are drawn to the pronounced wheel flares and a single crease down the center of its long hood.
Hiding under the front deck is a treat not seen from Chrysler in decades: an all-aluminum 353 cubic-inch (5.7-liter) pushrod V8. And yes, the engine has true hemispherical combustion chambers. It cranks out one horsepower for every cubic inch, with an estimated 353 horsepower and 353 foot-pounds of torque delivering power to the rear wheels. Chrysler hasn't revisited the V8/rear-wheel-drive scene since the Dodge Diplomat police specials of the late 1980s.
The 300 Hemi C indulges our guiltiest horsepower pleasures, but Chrysler hasn't overlooked its environmental responsibilities, either. The prototype 5.7-liter engine provides improved fuel efficiency and emissions through an automatic cylinder deactivation system. Using sophisticated engine management software, the system shuts down four cylinders during low-load situations, such as highway driving and deceleration, to burn less fuel and produce fewer pollutants.
The concept car features a four-speed automatic transmission, but it's not hard to imagine shifting manually with Chrysler's AutoStick sequential gear changer. The company says the 300 Hemi C gets to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and tops out at 160 mph.
Four-wheel independent suspension tacks this convertible to road, with MacPherson struts in front and an aluminum five-link setup in the rear. The 300 Hemi C rolls on 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels, and stops via massive 14-inch ventilated discs with four-piston brake calipers at each corner.
Like most of the concepts lining the floor at the Detroit show, the 300 Hemi C addresses our insatiable taste for technological gee-gaws. Its unique security system uses a fingerprint scanner and a tiny camera; the car won't drive unless the driver's fingerprint and picture match preprogrammed data. This Chrysler also features a GPS navigation system, complete with a trunk-mounted laptop computer for Internet access and, of course, e-mail. These "Infotronic" features are activated using voice commands, or through a liquid crystal display on the instrument panel. The driver also can manage audio, climate, phone and security systems using voice commands.
More than any manufacturer, Chrysler has made a habit of putting concept cars into production. The current Viper, 300M and PT Cruiser all started as concepts. Insiders say the company has a new rear-drive platform ready for board approval; at the very least Chrysler might offer a drop-top version of its front-drive 300M. While the second prospect might not strike quite as boldly at the heart of the luxury-performance car world, it would sure be beautiful.