Chicago Auto ShowCHICAGO – If the number of journalists saying, “build it,” is any measure, engineers and designers at Chrysler Group’s Dodge brand had better get busy on a production version of the wild and woolly Dodge Rampage concept pickup truck introduced at the Chicago auto show here.

Plying on its recent history of unveiling unique new pickup ideas at the Chicago show – last year was the Ram Mega Cab – Dodge had the winner of the day with the Rampage, a large but not menacing pickup “for the non-traditional buyer.”

The Rampage, a hybrid between a pickup and an SUV not unlike Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s controversial Ridgeline, seems proof auto makers may be acknowledging the pickup’s increasing role as a lifestyle vehicle as opposed to a genuine utility purchase.

“This truck is for the person who wants the functional aspects of a truck, yet doesn’t want a traditional vehicle,” says Scott Krugger, the Rampage’s principal exterior designer. “The Rampage has the capability of a pickup without sacrificing occupant space.”

Rampage concept pickup

Unlike almost all traditional pickups, the Rampage is built on a unibody architecture. Unlike traditional pickups, Rampage is front-wheel drive and has an independent rear suspension.

Sounds a lot like the Honda Ridgeline, but not. Generating thrust for the Rampage’s front wheels is a Hemi 5.7L V-8 featuring Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System. The Ridgeline doesn’t offer that – largely because Honda never has had a production-car V-8.

Initially, Chrysler considered a hybrid powertrain with a pair of 80-hp electric motors, but the auto maker nixed the idea in order to focus on the truck's unique package.

Out back, the outlandishly deep cargo box is 5 ft. (1.5 m) long. Front doors are conventional, but the rear door slides. There is no B-pillar.

Inside, an impressively executed “floating” center stack is reminiscent of that seen in the Volvo S40/V50 but is much more visually impressive and complex. It follows the bending contour of the dash and can be pulled out and pivoted to face either the driver or front passenger.

Seating can accommodate five, but the Rampage also shows, for the first time, an adaptation of Chrysler’s popular Stow ’N Go seating innovated in its minivans. The front passenger seat and 60/40 split rear seats can be folded flat into the floor.

Meanwhile, the rear glass window retracts into the “midgate,” which itself can fold into the cargo bed to accommodate long items. This midgate function is a prime feature of rival General Motors Corp.’s Avalanche, a variant of a conventional pickup.(See related story: Avalanche Descends on Chicago)

The cargo bed itself features a unique tailgate that can fold down past 90 degrees, exposing a pullout ramp – just the ticket for loading wheeled vehicles.

And a second storage area is exposed when the rear bumper fascia is dropped, creating a dry storage space that can accommodate the industry-standard measure, a standard-size sheet of plywood.

This is ‘clean storage,’” Krugger says, “something most pickups today don’t have.”

And to reduce exposure to bothersome heat and fumes while loading or unloading, the Rampage has specially trimmed vents located forward of the rear wheels.

“The Dodge Rampage concept vehicle offers a new vision for the American pickup truck and the active lifestyle people who drive them,” says Trevor Creed, senior vice president-design.

Chrysler officials, of course, are not telling whether there are plans to build the Rampage, but one source quickly reminds, “we’re not that fond of nonsensical concepts.”

– with Eric Mayne

bvisnic@wardsauto.com