Now Chrysler must decide if it can take that affordable, aspirational theme one step further, and the Imperial Concept is a bid to measure reaction from the public and the press. Introduced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show, the Imperial Concept rolled onto the stage with actress Eva Longoria riding in the spacious rear seat, adding a bit of star power to a vehicle already infused with presence. As with the 300 sedan, which unabashedly borrows styling cues from Bentley, Chrysler looked to British motorcar heritage as well as its own in creating the Imperial. The result looks much better in person than in pictures, especially when its lustrous Imperial Bronze paint is bathed in warm Southern California sunlight.
Chrysler invited us to drive the Imperial Concept near San Bernardino, but this is not a driving impressions story. concept cars might look terrific, but they drive like homemade kit cars. Chrysler reps asked us to keep speeds at 20 mph or less, and though the Imperial Concept has a stock 5.7-liter Hemi V8 under its long, V-shaped prow, the powertrain was locked in limp-home mode, the transmission running in our choice of first gear or reverse. The suspension rattled over the slightest bumps, and the dashboard was just for show – no operating gauges, no climate control, and only power front windows available to vent the interior, which suffocated under the Imperial’s bronze-tinted glass roof in the searing desert sun.
We did learn a few things from the brief drive, however. First, if Chrysler produced the Imperial and sold it for $55,000, it would impart the look and feel of an automobile four times that price. The view over the long hood, the appearance of the retro-styled dash, the sheer size of the thing reminded us of a variety of classic Rolls-Royce models, from the Silver Cloud of the 1950s to today’s Phantom. The car has presence, it has heft, and in production trim it would exude luxury – all it needs is a big honkin’ hood ornament glittering in the sun. Based on our impressions of the Imperial, if Chrysler is wondering if it can compete in the luxury car class with something bigger and more opulent than the successful 300, the answer is yes.