by Hector Casarrubias
The Dodge Neon arrived in 1995; after its end in 2004, enthusiasts saw no replacement car from Dodge. The Caliber did not satisfy the need for a small, sporty compact car, and the Dart had both release flaws and powertrain shortcomings, so sales never picked up.
In Mexico, there are still many followers of the original Neon, the SRT-4 being their holy grail. FCA is trying to capitalize on that still-strong fan base by releasing a new compact car, really the Fiat Tipo, but called in Mexico the 2017 Dodge Neon.
The new car is not sporty in power; the manual transmission version had a 95-horsepower 1.4 liter four-cylinder engine and six speed manual transmission, and was dropped in September 2016. Now buyers get a six speed automatic with a 1.6 liter capable of 110hp at 5500rpm. You’re not looking at Neon “zoom” — even in 1995, the Neon was rated at 132 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque.
The price range goes from US$11,600 (all prices are at the July 11, 2016 exchange rate) to $14,970 for the best equipped version [the base level was dropped by Sept 2016 so the bottom of the range went up]. There are no add-ons or options, which simplifies manufacturing, reducing costs, and avoids having cars sitting in the lot for a while.
The 2017 Neon is a rebadged Fiat Tipo, built in Turkey (another reason to avoid options — it would take a long time for a special order to arrive). Engineering of the Tipo and the “Aegean” line in general is said to be a joint project, pulling in both former-Fiat and former-Chrysler engineers, though most likely the bulk of the direction is from Fiat, since they have the most experience in the class. The transmissions are Fiat units, while the larger e.torQ engine is a Fiat derivation from a Chrysler unit — originally created, ironically, for the Plymouth, Chrysler, and, yes, Dodge Neon.
The main objective of this car is reliability and cost effectiveness, to help FCA take a bite of the crowded compact segment, which includes cars such as the Corolla and Versa. Compared with the popular Versa, the Neon has more power with the optional engine (less with the standard engine) but also weighs around 100 kg more, likely slowing it down in comparison — the opposite of the original Neon.
This is big news, considering that this new Neon is built on the same platform we expect for a new small Chrysler 100, and the Neon’s success in Mexico may be the testing ground for future Fiat-based vehicles to come. There is some word that the Neon may come to the US as the Chrysler Neon, with a different engine and heavier, safer body.
Some confusion: the Dodge web site still shows the base engine and manual transmission being available, though we understand these have been dropped. The 1.4 “FIRE” engine is rated at 95 hp, 94 lb-ft. All the six-speed automatics use the 110-hp, 112 lb-ft E-TorQ motor.
What about the Civic and Corolla, which are in the “compare us to” part of the FCA México web site? Well, the Civic cost MX$300,900 in December 2016, so that doesn’t seem like a real competitor, but the Corolla is only 30,000 pesos ($1,455) more. You do get a lot more power and space for that extra cash! (Note: that’s for the base Corolla C which comes with a manual transmission. The base CVT starts at MX274,900 — quite a bit higher than the Tipo/Neon.)
The SE comes very well equipped, with air conditioning, capless fuel filler, 60/40 folding rear seats, remote, trip computer, front airbags, 205/50R16 tires on steel wheels, electric power steering with a city mode, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, brake assist and electronic balancing, audio controls on the steering wheel, rear defroster, height-adjusting headlamps, hill start assist (very handy for the Mexico City area!), and tire pressure monitor — along with the more pedestrian power windows and locks, and four-speaker BlueTooth™ stereo. It now costs around a thousand dollars more and comes with the bigger engine and automatic transmission.
Moving up to the SXT for $2,300 over the base car, you get the automatic and bigger engine, aluminum wheels with 205/55R16 tires, rain-sensitive wipers, parking sensors, automatic climate control, cruise, auto lights, fog lamps with cornering-light ability, auto-dimming rearview mirror, chrome inserts, and upgraded trim.
The top model, SXT+, costs $1,070 more than the SXT. It adds bigger wheels (225/45R17 tires), side airbags, rearview mirror, electric adjustments for the driver’s seat, leather inserts, and a navigation system.
Chrysler Mexico summary
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