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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Design: Challenger's Challenge -- Attractive and Repellent All at Once

Chrysler's Dodge division has revealed the production version of the Challenger concept at the Chicago auto show. Of the three cars in this class, Ford's current Mustang, Chevy's upcoming Camaro and now the Challenger, I have liked the Camaro best because it's been the least slavish in aping a retro design. This is not to say that any of the three are unnatractive.

The Challenger is a close second and the changes that have been made to the exterior for production have surprisingly improved the looks. The picture above is the production model and below is the concept car by way of comparison. The most obvious change is the loss of Dodge's signature crosshair grille -- good riddance! The whole front end has been subtly reshaped and enhanced with a very retro air dam, the effect is perfect. The sidelights have been repositioned and the curvature of the sides, where the body tucks in towards the ground has been lessened. Interestingly this sets of the hiplike beltline curvature better towards the tops of the sides. Subtle and effective. Here's the full gallery.
On the production car (below) the taillights have also been revised and the whole shape of the rear bumper has been changed, with the whole topped off with a retro spoiler in black. From the back you can also see the very German black lower body form that lessens the visual heft of the sides and back bumper. Overall, a great job and a much needed boost for Chrysler's beleagured design staff.
On the other hand, the interior is atrocious. The color scheme suggest a drive through the coalfields with the windows rolled down. The steering wheel, while adequate for a sedan (it comes from the Dodge Charger) carries no sporting appeal. The materials look like the stuff you have to rip through to get to a new pair of headphones. The shifter surround is one of the single sorriest pieces of design I've seen in recent years. A giant, oblingish , fake-chrome ringed slab of cheap black plastic. The cabin seems like a place to be punished (like the black hole of Calcutta) when it ought to be as special as the car's outside. This is what the owner will see and touch when driving their rolling sculpture. Chrysler knows it has a problem in this area, but now it has to address it head on.
The Mustang interior, which is already several years old, is far from industry leading but its better than this. GM has shown with Chevy's excellent new Malibu that they are getting the inside stuff right so the Camaro will no doubt be something special. Too bad Chrysler is still behind the pack when it comes to making a car look and feel good, inside and out.

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