by Jaime Haile
Made in Brazil, the Vision is basically a Fiat Grand Siena, a true economy car. It uses an E-Torq DOHC 1.6l four cylinder, descended from the Neon 2.0, now with an aluminum block and other upgrades, and comes with standard ABS, front airbags, cruise control, air conditoning, and parking assist. Visually, it makes few concessions to the Dodge nameplates.
An advantage of being the CFO of a big Chrysler dealer is that I get to play with the new toys, (except for the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, which is sitting in the showroom waiting for someone brave enough to buy it.) This week (January 2015), I laid my hands and the rest of my anatomy on the new 2015 Dodge Vision four-door sedan. This car is made in Brazil and sold under the Dodge label down here.
I cannot stress enough how important this car is for Chrysler Mexico, along with the Dodge Attitude. When Hyundai and Chrysler terminated their agreement, it deprived us of the highly regarded I10 by Dodge and the Attitude by Dodge. This market segment is the bread and butter of car sales in Mexico. Small, four cylinder cars with either manual or automatic transmissions, decent finish, and perhaps A/C and electric windows and door locks abound. These cars provide a solution to many millions of Mexicans who save their hard earned pesos, to get rid of our substandard mass transport. In 2014 Chrysler itself was out of that market, although we had several Fiat models and the Mitsubishi Lancer to fill the gap.
The Dodge Vision is aesthetically pleasing; the style is conservative which I think is good because it will appeal to several age groups, and even the geriatric sector may like it. The body is tall and ground clearance is tall as well, which is a nice feature to consider when you drive around Mexico City and other parts of the country, where pavement is called that because it must have a name. All the body panels fit well and the doors close with a solid thump as well as the trunk lid. The trunk can be opened with the car’s remote key fob. It has a piston that will open the lid smoothly.
The interior is roomy. The driver’s seat can be set manually to the desired height which is a good thing to have. It doesn’t have adjustable lumbar support but the seat has plenty of support, so I don’t think most people would need it. The rear seat is better than the Dart’s, especially where legroom is concerned. Getting in and out of there is easier too. Dodge claims enough space for five passengers, but I think four is more like it.
There will be only one version of the car, and it’s loaded with nice options. Electric windows on all four corners, the front ones feature one-touch opening and closing (something not found in some more expensive Chryslers); electric speed sensitive door locks, A/C, tinted glass and a stereo with Bluetooth, a USB that can read an iPod, CD player and auxiliary input, all with good sound. There are two cup holders located under the dash and ahead of the gear shift lever. There's another cup holder for the rear passengers behind the parking brake lever, plus others in the doors.
The dashboard has the speedometer on the left, tach on the right and a computer display in the middle that has several functions, nothing out of the ordinary but it’s very readable. The light switch and turn signals are located on the left stalk on the steering column, and the wiper switch is on the right.
The car has two airbags (as does the Attitude), something usually not found in cars of this category.
Curiously enough, the electric mirrors are operated from a knob located on the A-pillar. It’s clumsy to use and you have to lean forward. The fog lights and the trip computer are operated from switches on the lower left corner of the dash. This isn’t comfortable but then those controls are seldom used. The headlights, by the way, provide good illumination and that gets even better when the fog lights are on.
The steering wheel has a nice feeling to it. Not too thick, not too thin, with hand rests on it. It has volume and source controls too.
The plastics look and feel cheap. There are no rough edges though, fit and finish inside are good, but they could be better. The glove box is made of cheap plastic and it doesn’t close, unless you push the lock rather strongly. The fabric upholstery is good too.
The trunk is cavernous, to say the least. The wheel wells intrude some, but the floor is flat and since the trunk is deep and tall, people will be able to store plenty of stuff in there. The compact spare is stored under the floor along with the tools.
The fuel cap has a rather unusual feature. It may be opened from the traditional lever next to the driver’s seat, but there’s also a red cord inside the trunk that will open it as well, in case the cable freezes up over the years.
Chrysler tried to put the Dodge logos wherever they could. The rear of the car says “Dodge” and “Vision” loud and clear, as well as the front medallion on the grille. But a closer inspection reveals the “Fiat” name in the window glass all around and when you open the hood, the engine cover screams “Fiat” at you, lound and clear.
Under the hood sits a 1.6 liter engine, and I do mean “sits.” It doesn’t deliver. The 115 Brazilian ponies are available at 5,500 rpm. Torque is 117 lb/ft @ 4,500 rpm.
The transmission is the Fiat Dualogic five speed. In time, this will prove to be the nemesis of the car. People are not used to it and the sale will be difficult. The engine compartment is well laid out and is easily accessible, everything in there is clearly marked.
Down here in SOB (south-of-border), there’s a lot of American influence. But smaller cars are mostly European, like VW, Renault, and Peugeot, as well as some GM and Ford entries. Asian cars, with Nissan leading the segment, present tough competition, more out of reputation than anything else, but there they are. Hondas and Toyotas are expensive but have decent market penetration. Hyundai has done extremely well, selling around 10,000 cars in 2014, and they weren't even selling cars for the whole period.
A country like Mexico has a huge degree of American influence and automatic cars are something most people aspire to. Small cars with small engines coupled to auto trannies sell very well; especially since our perennial traffic jams are just terrible. Add to that the most important market in the country is located way up the sea level, and you wind up with less power than you imagined.
Fiat’s Dualogic has its strong points and its weak points. You have to learn how to use it. Starting from a full stop means pressing the gas pedal all the way down to get the car moving. The car stutters, tries to get a grip on itself and then it gets going. The rpms though literally take the day off when shifting at full throttle, as if the engine stops and then resumes (but that’s not the case).
Coming to a full stop (brakes are good but I think this particular car had some air in the system) and moving again make the transmission jolt, like if was trying to find which gear to use. In slow traffic, the car would just stutter. Going up a street, the car can actually go backwards even in gear. The brake pedal is narrow, considering that there’s no clutch pedal, so this can be risky.
The car is slow. Very slow. No 1.6 naturally aspirated engine is designed for performance, and this is no exception.
I took the car for a rather long drive to another one of our dealerships. The commute isn’t that far, say 12-13 miles, but in heavy traffic in some areas and reaching highway speeds on others, it’s not a nice drive. Add our infinite collection of pot holes all over the place and you’re set.
Mexico City is a rather off-road place better suited for Jeeps (I drove a Wrangler Sahara in that same route and I just loved it). The car’s behavior on the freeway was good. In auto mode, the transmission was smooth and most of the time I didn’t feel the shifts between gears. A convenient dash indicator let me know the gear the car was using. On the highway, going up and down the hills, the car also performed flawlessly. The stereo has a noise reduction feature that can be turned on or off from the car’s computer, so I listened to my Tchaikovsky CD and actually enjoyed it. Wind noise isn’t a nuisance although it’s there.
Back to the transmission. My conclusion about the Dualogic is to keep it in manual mode to have better control. I issue a caveat on starting on inclines in either auto or manual mode. And even driving manually, at times the car won’t let you change gears when you can overrev the engine. It may well be a deal breaker when trying to sell the car. It would be better to have a choice of a manual gearbox and a CVT automatic, which isn’t my favorite but there are more cars around that have it, especially from Nissan and Honda [Dodge Attitude uses one]. People are more used to it because it drives more like a regular automatic.
It’s worth saying that the steering is precise, pointing the nose of the car where one wants. The turning circle is tight, I don’t know how much so but the car is very maneuverable. The tires are 195/55 R16 and the suspension keeps them glued to the road; I expected far more body roll than I encountered and got plenty of stability instead. The car has a built-in electronic stability control, which few cars in its class have.
The car will sell because it is good value for the money, setting people back for around $13,500 greenbacks. It has everything to be the leader of its class, because it’s exceedingly well equipped for the price.
The tricky part is selling the Dualogic in a market where people are not car savvy.
It remains to be seen what will happen when the similarly equipped Dodge Attitude by Mitsubishi hits the showrooms next month. This three-cylinder car is the Dodge-with-a-trunk version of the Mitsubishi Mirage, which is selling well so far. Pricing is well differentiated between it and the Vision, although the queen-of-the-opera version of the Attitude overlaps in price with the Dodge. But the Attitude has a CVT transmission and although it’s not my favorite either, it may be an easier sell.
In summary, the Dodge Vision is a great little car with lots of equipment for the price. Its initial quality is decent. It’s aimed at the most competitive market segment in Mexico, where it may succeed. The only drawback is the Dualogic transmission. From my very personal point of view, and I stress the word personal, it would be a good idea to have a CVT and a manual transmission instead.
I hope that Fiat Brazil have done their homework on the long term quality of the vehicle. In general, Brazilian cars have terrible quality and are not appreciated around here. GM has had to stop bringing their Brazilian cars in the past, in favor of the same models made in Europe (at a huge price penalty). Brazilian Fords haven’t fared well, either. We’ll see. In any case, we’re back in business!
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