by Hector Casarrubias
After 2004, nine years from the Dodge Neon’s birth, the sporty little car’s enthusiasts saw no replacement from Dodge. The Caliber did not satisfy the need for a small, sporty compact car, and the Dart had some 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 for obvious reasons. FCA is trying to capitalize on that still-strong fan base by releasing a new subcompact “B category” car, calling it the 2017 Dodge Neon.
The new car is not sporty, at least in power, with the stick having a 95-horsepower 1.4 liter four-cylinder engine and six speed manual transmission (no longer offered as of September 2016). Anything above the entry level gets a six speed automatic with a 1.6 liter capable of 110hp at 5500rpm. Either way, 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 addons 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 B segment (Accent/Yaris/Versa/Fiesta/Rio). 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.
It is very unlikely that this car would ever make it to the U.S. and even if it does it would be more unlikely to have the name Neon. Nevertheless, 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.
* Neon is 1,205 kg with the automatic. Versa adds weight with higher trim levels, to 1,092 kg. 1.4 engine dropped around 9/1/2016.
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.
Paying around US$1,125 more gets the bigger engine and automatic transmission (sorry, no well equipped manuals), adding in a six speaker stereo.
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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