Monday, August 13, 2007

The Nassau may be badged a concept, but don't be fooled - you're looking at the next 300C... sort of.

So, is this the new Chrysler 300C then?

In a way, yes. The 300C gets a refresh late this year – and it’s likely to be the last for the popular and increasingly genre-defining American executive car. Replacing it won’t be easy, but the Nassau is a clear statement of intent from Chrysler. It’s based on the current 300C’s 120-inch (wheelbase) platform, it’s got a HEMI up front and drive to the rear. Mmm, sounds like a 300C replacement to us…

But don’t be fooled by the hatchback. This is a toe-in-the-water exercise to see if the market is ready for an executive hatchback. We’d argue it isn’t (think Avantime and Signum), but it sure makes for a good-looking Touring version – which is what we’re probably seeing here. Stick your thumb over the Nassau’s ‘aerodeck’ on this pic and that’s what the saloon will look like. Or at least we hope so, because it looks great in the flesh.

Yeah, yeah. Concepts never make it to production. We see that all the time, right?

That’s often the case, but Chrysler (and Jeep) are different. Their concepts always drive extremely well and most are well into production feasibility studies by the time we get to see them. With this in mind, look at the side surfacing, the bold shoulders and the frontal aspect. All look production-realised and demonstrate what principal exterior designer Alan Barrington calls “a more emotional and artistic articulation of what it means to be a Chrysler.”

Surely that’s just designer guff?

Nope. He’s got a point. Photos can’t do this car justice. Proportionally balanced and neatly surfaced, the Nassau does a pretty good job of carving a solid identity. Think of a Honda Legend and then think of its polar opposite. It’s a fresh, distinctive shape that challenges Chrysler’s own design conventions but retains a brand identity. Quite an achievement really.

We probed the designers to tell us specifically which other design elements would make it through to a production vehicle, but Sam Locricchio, Chrysler’s Design and Quality Communications bigwig, said ‘there’s a sniper on the roof so I can’t tell you.’ Not sure if the sniper was pointing at him or us, but we got the message…

What’s it like inside? Full of typical concept car excesses?

Nope, there are no floating seats, holographic displays or joystick controls on this concept – just a tidy and well-executed cabin. The cockpit is wide, spacious and airy, and the dash looks like it was designed to work in both left and right hand drive applications.

The details and finishing touches inside were inspired by modern mobile phones, computers and iPods. Ben Chang, the Nassau’s interior designer, was also keen to mimic the increasingly effortless synchronicity between mp3 players/cellphones, the PC and the monkey hitting the buttons.

‘We strived to achieve a seamless interface between your car and the rest of your electronic world,” says Chang. The seats look and feel like they were designed to be mass produced – unlike most concepts – and perhaps the only element inside that us unlikely to make it through to production is the bold transmission tunnel. Extending through to the rear, the tunnel makes the Nassau Concept a strict four-seater.

So you got to drive it then?

Yep. And we’re glad we did because the Nassau reveals more of its intriguing character when you get behind the wheel. Bearing in mind this is a concept, and it probably weighs about the same as Luxembourg, we won’t con you with a dynamic appraisal. It goes, stops, handles and rides pretty well.

The thing you notice when you’re wafting along in the Nassau is that it’s a completely different proposition to the 300C – less bullish and more serene. In fact, the word ‘regal’ found its way into our notes somehow. The fact is that the Nassau surprises. You don’t charge to your destination in this car, pretending to evade the cops and outrun the baddies (like every journey in a 300C), you take your time and you enjoy the ride.


The Nassau makes us think that Chrysler is abandoning the muscular for something, well, more Lexus. Would that be a bad thing? The sole purpose of a concept is to explore alternatives, and this alternative is an interesting glimpse into the creative thinking going on at Chrysler at the moment. The Nassau’s proposition is graceful, progressive and classy and reinvents what contemporary American car design is all about.

Which if you think about it is just what the 300C did back in 2004. Let’s hope Chrysler, with its newly-handed powertrain dollars and lofty ambitions can see it through. Chrysler could be an American Lexus. Just think of it…

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