Sunday, August 12, 2018

Will the next Dodge Charger be a badge-engineered Alfa Romeo Giulia? Let’s assess the pros and cons

Front view split screen of Dodge Charger SRT and Alfa Romeo Giulia
FROM LEFT: Dodge Charger SRT and Alfa Romeo Giulia.
Photos: FCA US Media Website. 
The untimely loss of Sergio Marchionne is of course tragic—for his family, for FCA, and for the automotive industry.

Yet the true extent of his legacy in transforming the automaker he led may still lie ahead for us to see.

While listening to the most recent episode of the Motorweek podcast yesterday, I heard the panelists discussing a set of related automotive rumors that I had somehow missed: rumors about the design future of the Dodge Charger.

Presumably, this could affect Challenger as well, but that was not a direct topic of discussion.

One of the panelists remarked that “it’s about time” for a redesign of Charger, echoing a pervasive strain in critiques I’ve seen, in outlets like Jalopnik, about the current Dodge and Chrysler (what’s left of it) lineup.

Jalopnik has been especially harsh on Chrysler, using terms like “sad,” “tired,” and “old as hell” to describe the current generations of Charger, Avenger, the Chrysler 300 before its demise was made official, and even the Challenger.

My position on the Chrysler lineup may be described as somewhat contrarian. Yes, you can say that the lineup is retro. But to me, that, especially in the case of Dodge, is just what has given Chrysler such a special niche in the marketplace.

When it comes to Mopar, my take has always been that the brand has been about a purity of raw power, not about pretty cars. Think of the old-school examples of Mopar muscle of the 60s and 70s—the Chargers, Challengers, Road Runners, Super Bees, even Darts, Demons, Dusters, and Swingers.

Compared to the likes of Mustang, Camaro, and even GTO, the lines of Mopar muscle cars were pure, clean, simple and, arguably, masculine. For many, myself included, the virtue of this design language has become fully clear only with time. It’s a design language that, in hindsight, has aged remarkably well. For decades, I tended to under-rate Mopar muscle cars or even scoff at them as wannabees and also-rans.

Yes, some folks were onto Mopar’s pure-power aesthetic when the cars were new. A young chap who, during the late 60s and early-to-mid 70s, opted for a new or lightly used Mopar muscle car rather than something like a Mustang, Camaro, or Firebird, was clearly looking for a mean, lean street machine rather than a chick magnet. To me, the current Charger and Challenger still capture a lot of that vibe. FCA, with their recent emphasis on the “sinister” element of their design language, seems all too aware of that.

Now, here’s what the Motorweek panelists I was listening to yesterday were talking about. A listener had emailed to ask them if they had any inside knowledge about the redesign of the Dodge Charger. The panelists said that FCA was still “not saying much” about the future of the Charger. They also referenced rumors that FCA has a vault full of sketches, designs and renderings of ideas for the next generations of Dodge, but to date has released nary even a tease.

Also discussed were rumors that the next Charger would likely be Alfa-Giulia-based or maybe even Lamborghini-based. The Lamborghini scenario seems pretty far-fetched to me. While an Alfa-Romeo-based Charger seems like a reasonable possibility since Alfa Romeo is already among the more accessible—relatively, at least—Italian brands, one might expect FCA to be more protective of  Lamborghini’s differentiation, to maintain the value of its more exclusive cache.

Then again, don’t forget the precedent of the eyebrow-raising Jeep-like knobs and buttons on the Maserati Levante. But the Giulia scenario still seems much more plausible.

I really dig the Giulia. It’s a pretty exotic-looking sedan for the money, and I can’t wait to see the 2-door coupe version that is rumored to be on the way. When I’m ready for my next daily, perhaps two or three years from now, a used Giulia sedan—or its coupe sister if it’s been on the market long enough to have aged into a price range I’m willing to entertain—will almost certainly be on my shortlist. That said, so will a used Charger.

So how about a Giulia-based Charger? Would that be the best of both worlds? Maybe, but I’m really of two minds about the idea. On the one hand, being a fan of the Giulia, the idea intrigues me. Yet another part of me would be saddened to see Dodge move away from the pure American-muscle vibe that the current-generation of Challenger and Charger have been able to maintain.

But let’s face it. No matter how much part of me might sympathize with the idea of trying to tariff our way back to some mythical glory days of Detroit-built “pure-American” iron, those who point to the reality of today’s global automotive industry have a strong point. And there is a clear European and British influence on some of today’s best American cars.

Consider the impact, for example, of the Callum brothers on the Ford of today. Look at the basic shape similarities, from some angles, at least, between the current-generation Mustang and the Jaguar F-type (I have angered both Jaguar enthusiasts and Ford enthusiasts with comments about that, but I insist that, when looked at with an impartial eye, it’s true). And, for that matter, look at the shape similarities between the Mustang and the Audi A5 Coupe. International cross-fertilization of design language has a clear impact on what we see in both American cars and imports today.

And, truth be told, it’s really nothing new. The first generations of both Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet Corvette are openly acknowledged to have been inspired by British and European sports cars. In fact, if you look at the entire oeuvre of a designer like GM’s Bill Mitchell, the European influence is clear on vehicles as varied as Corvette and Riviera. Mitchell’s protégé Bill Porter, furthermore, was instrumental in integrating a more ponton-based look into the Buicks of the 90s, and you can still see elements of that design language in Buick’s current lineup.

So where does all this leave us with the idea of a Giulia-based Dodge Charger—or, dare we even bring it up, a Giulia-coupe-based Dodge Challenger?

At the very least, I want to see some concept cars. And knowing FCA’s PR idiosyncrasies,  if anything along these lines is truly afoot, we can almost certainly expect at least some tiny teasers—a snip of grille here, a glimpse of fender there, like a coy flash of thigh from a slit skirt—to start showing up soon.

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