A low fog hung in the sky, preventing the early-morning sun from warming the asphalt. For a moment, there was silence. Four gleaming vehicles sat before me, and I had first pick. This was how I began my day at Chrysler’s “What’s New 2015” event at their Chelsea Proving Grounds. “What’s New” is an annual event where Chrysler (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) showcases every available model, plus a handful of unreleased vehicles, to select media. This year, we were lucky enough to be invited. Better yet, I was the first one to reach the autocross course. That meant the day started with the Fiat 500 Abarth, Jeep SRT, Alfa Romeo 4C, and Dodge Viper GTS. After that, it was “off to the races” to drive everything else. Here’s some of the best photos from the event, along with a handful of drive impressions.
The Fiat 500 Abarth has the most character per dollar on the market. For 2015, an automatic is now available. The new transmission may add a little over 100 lbs to the Fiat’s total weight, but engineers have re-tuned the suspension to give both versions identical handling. So how is it? The answer is: very good. The Abarth’s new auto holds gear in cornering situations, allowing the driver to use throttle application to help steer the car. Throttle blips on downshift are another nice touch. Personally, I’d buy the manual, but the new automatic opens up the Abarth to a whole new audience.
Big, loud, intimidating. The new Viper is still a Viper – which is to say it has a presence about it. Even the most seasoned onlookers are drawn to the bark of its thunderous V10.
Those Italians can sculpt a beautiful piece of machinery and fill it with soul. Alfa Romeo makes its return to the US market with the stunning 4C. After verifying that I could fit in the tiny, turbocharged, mid-engine Alfa at the NYIAS, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel for real. It’s not as pretty inside as it is outside but visuals soon take a back seat to the sound. The sonorous exhaust is so unique that it stays with you long after the lap is done. The Alfa is raw and unadulterated, even with its dual clutch transmission. There’s no steering assistance between your hands and the front wheels. At low speeds, this makes for a heavy wheel. At speed, it means more feedback than your brain knows what to do with – simply amazing. The balance of the car is spot on and the grip is tremendous. I wish I could have spent more time with this car.
This was the first time we’ve seen the new Challenger Hellcat in person. It looks mean, and it sounds meaner than it looks. We weren’t able to drive it…yet. The refreshed Challenger was also nearby.
With plenty to show off, yet another Viper and a host of factory-customized Jeeps were on display.
The only other car we couldn’t drive was this blue Viper TA. This time, we were still able to experience the car. Chrysler invited professional racing driver Tommy Kendall to pilot the Time Attack. Hot laps were provided after lunch. I think we may have stumbled onto a great new weight loss technique.
I bypassed the long lines of journalists eager to try out the Chrysler 200. Check out our review of the Chrysler 200C for more on that. Unfortunately, heavy rains earlier in the week meant that Chrysler’s own Lyman Trail was closed, so we weren’t able to do any offroading either.