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2007 Detroit Auto Show: Chrysler Nassau
Four-Door Coupe Hatchback: Awkward Bodystyle Answers a Question No One Asked
Chrysler has made it a tradition to introduce its most important, or sometimes just most fun, concepts at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit every January. This year, the Chrysler brand contribution is the Nassau. While it does play better in the tin than in photos, we’re not convinced it is a clear direction for Chrysler. After spending a few days at the show, we do confess that ours may not be the prevailing opinion. Even within the office, there were conflicting opinions on the success of the concept.
Nassau takes the 300′s rear wheel drive platform and the SRT8 6.1L HEMI V8 and, with a nip here and tuck there, put a new body on it. Probably inspired in part by the Mercedes-Benz four-door CLS coupe, Nassau takes a stab at the four-door coupe look. Sort of. Instead of a traditional trunk, there is a stylized hatchback, effectively muddling it beyond recognition or clear identification. As Trevor Creed described in the presentation, it is meant to look like a British shooting brake, except that few Americans understand that idea. Shooting brakes were sporting vehicles with a hatchback for some functionality. In the States, we’re more likely to put a HEMI into our SUV than put a hatch on our sporty cars. I’m a wagon and hatchback fan more than an SUV fan, but didn’t find the Nassau as successful as it should have been. The Nassau’s design themes may appear on the next 300, but we wouldn’t count on the hatchback.
Chrysler Group’s design teams often take refreshing risks and many of those have resulted in successful and well-received concepts, even if not production cars. The Nassau is likely to go down as one of the more mediocre attempts, unfortunately. My favorite view of the Nassau is from the front, despite adapted minivan grille it carries. Nassau balances the large minivan-inspired grille with a deep front fascia. The highly stylized headlights indicate Chrysler might move away from the rounded-bottom form headlights found, one way or another, on most of the current range, to a more elegant, trapezoidal shape.
The rear roofline is fast and low, going for a sporting look. But instead it draws attention to the apparent lack of rear headroom. There is an elegance about many sporting wagons, but not in the profile of this crossbreed. Pushing the wheels out to the edges of the body makes for a sleek look and the surface lines on the bodyside do wrap nicely into the taillamps. The C-pillar shape reminds me of the Infiniti FX 45 (view image), but the subsequent glass aft of the pillar for the hatchback makes it look awkward. Also, the hatch opening looks smaller than a conventional trunk and the shape of the glass looks as though it would impede rearward vision, both elements that negate the typical goodness of a shooting brake or a hatchback.
There is a very modern, high-tech feel to the interior, inspired by electronics and cell phones. Interior pushbutton switchgear was patterned after the Motorola Razr cell phone. The design makes for a cool concept interior, but not necessarily a production solution. The interior ambient lighting is a very nice, comfortable and modern blue; the gauges are stylish and easy to read.
There are four bucket seats, with a center console running between passengers front to back. As a concept, the rear seats don’t fold down. The Nassau gets the poor headroom and cramped feeling of a low-roof coupe and the potential image penalty of a hatchback profile. Not to mention that trying to meld practicality with a luxury coupe concept seems rather pointless.
Nassau Does Not Have Presence
The Nassau’s biggest problem, particularly since the hatchback form does not mean Chrysler is brave enough to replace their smashing success sedan with one, is that it does not carry the presence of the 300. Nassau looks sleek and clean, with elegant lines. But it does not have weight or demand attention, and those elements are at the core of the 300′s success. According to the principal designer, Alan Barrington, the concept is “a more emotional and artistic articulation of what it means to be a Chrysler,” but the Nassau walks away from the only formula Chrysler has had real success with in this decade.