So far for 2006, DaimlerChrysler Group, and in particular the Dodge brand has gone all out with new introductions. It started the year off with a bang at Detroit’s NAIAS with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Challenger Concept, followed through with another muscular stroke by introducing the Charger SRT-8 SuperBee, and continued the afront with the compact segment’s newest arrival, the Caliber. And if these weren’t enough, Dodge stole the spotlight in Chicago by debuting three more vehicles, the Nitro midsize SUV, the 300-horsepower Caliber SRT4 and the practical Rampage sport-utility-pickup concept. After doing the rounds on the American auto show circuit, Dodge is off to Europe where it will be promoting the same Nitro and Caliber, plus this new subcompact Hornet Concept at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.
DaimlerChrysler is eager to expand into Europe and beyond, and they’ve marked their intent by delivering vehicles that are daring and experimentive. Look no further than the zen-lounge-inspired Chrysler Akino concept for an example, which, aside from its chrome-winged grille and brand name, shares little in common with any Chrysler ever produced. The Hornet is much the same for Dodge. The physical dimensions of this concept place it directly inside the subcompact ‘B’-Segment, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Toyota’s Yaris and Chevrolet’s Aveo. But Dodge, a non-native to this end of the spectrum, has gone about things differently; the Hornet isn’t a normal looking hatchback, it’s got a sort of MINI-meets-Scion xB look to it, which ought to appeal to younger audiences across the globe.
I suppose without any previous experience in developing B-segment cars (at least in modern times), Dodge had the freedom to turn the Hornet into an all-out design experiment; but these results show that Dodge is certainly onto something. Like the Akino, which shares nothing with the typical all-American Chrysler, the Hornet makes a Neon seem like a large car; yet this two-box concept is unmistakably Dodge, and unabashedly American. Perhaps it’s that bold, in-your-face look that can be traced back to the Ram full-size pickup, or the new-style grille that’s popped up on the Nitro and Caliber. From the back side there are less obvious clues to its Ram-brand heritage (in fact, take the Viper stripes away and there aren’t any), but as with most cars, the defining characteristics have always been head on.
In presenting this radical two-box shape to a relatively fresh audience, Dodge has worked to dress up the Hornet to the tastes of European youth. The principal design team, lead by Mark Moushegian, used the ever-popular Super 1600 Rally Cars (Junior WRC) and the sport compact scene for inspiration. The Hornet’s oversized flared fenders give it a chunky look, while a visible intercooler and a small, offset hood scoop show a little bit of the Hornet’s muscle. Dodge has embraced the sport tuner world, including the kind of goodies and accessories that most teens and youngsters would otherwise sink their hard-earned dollars into, including gold-coloured brake calipers, which poke out from inside cool-looking 19-inch alloy wheels. All the glass and the big, panoramic sunroof has been tinted in ‘Blue View’, like a pair of fashion sunglasses, and the whole car has received a coat of slick Beryllium Gray-coloured paint