Over the coming weeks, I will be presenting to you a series on the many unique Mexican market Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth vehicles. This is Part 1.
In September 2016, production of the Dodge Dart ended. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne blamed slow sales and the failure to find a production partner for both the Dart and related Chrysler 200. The Dart’s discontinuation leaves Dodge without a compact offering for the first time in decades, but, south of the border, Mexican consumers have the choice of three. Two of those cars wear very familiar names.
The Mexican Dodge lineup opens with the Attitude sedan at $MX174,000. Don’t let the aggressive name fool you—this is simply a rebadged Mitsubishi Mirage sedan with the same 1.2 three-cylinder engine. The Attitude name was previously used on a rebadged Hyundai Accent, however Hyundai and Kia’s entry into the Mexican market in 2015 meant Dodge had to find a new source to tap. And that new source proved to be an old source, with Chrysler and Mitsubishi’s relationship going back many decades.
At least the masquerading Mitsubishi gets a neat crosshair grille. The next step up in the Dodge range is the $MX204,000 Vision, a Brazilian-built Fiat Grand Siena that has been rather awkwardly rebadged. Since Chrysler separated the Ram trucks into their own brand, the old ram’s head logo was replaced on Dodge vehicles by a simple text logo with two red stripes, situated to the side of a crosshair grille. However, the Vision retains the same badge slots front and rear as the Fiat Grand Siena, meaning the Dodge text – sans stripes – sits awkwardly within a black circle. A small detail, yes, but it doesn’t look right. At least most Mexican consumers won’t realize it’s a badge job—Fiat’s Mexican lineup doesn’t include the Grand Siena or, indeed, any sedans.
The Vision’s body is also rather awkward itself. Unlike the last Mopar product to wear the Vision name – the Eagle Vision – this rebadged Fiat, designed for developing markets, looks uncomfortably tall and high-waisted. The Grand Siena is the sedan version of the Palio and was last redesigned in 2012. Under the hood is a 1.6 four-cylinder with 115 hp and 117 ft-lbs. The Vision actually has a shorter wheelbase than the Attitude – 99 inches versus 100.4 inches – but is longer overall (169 inches vs. 167.4).
When FCA announced the Dart nameplate was returning, it was a surprise to many to see such an old name returned. For the Dart’s replacement in Mexico, based on the Fiat Tipo/Egea, FCA has reintroduced another heritage nameplate—Neon! The compact Dodge enjoyed a great deal of popularity in Mexico, something its Caliber and Dart successors failed to emulate. Unlike the Vision, the $MX245,000 Neon is based on a Fiat that has been created for both developing and developed markets alike – the Tipo is sold in Fiat’s homeland – and Mexican market models are sourced from Turkey.
Those waiting for a return of exciting Neons like the SRT-4 will probably have to keep waiting. The Neon is powered by the same 1.6 Fiat E.torQ engine as the Vision, albeit with only 110 hp and 112 ft-lbs. Unlike the Vision, there is no manual transmission available—Neon buyers can choose only a six-speed automatic. If those specifications sound rather milquetoast, you would be right—even the original Dodge Neon’s base 2.0 four-cylinder produced more power and torque (131 hp and 128 ft-lbs).
Neon (top), Dart (bottom)
Dimensionally, the 2017 Neon is 3 inches wider and 6.6 inches longer than the 1994 Neon; the older car has a wheelbase 0.2 inches longer and weighs roughly 300 pounds less. Interestingly, the new Neon weighs around 400-500 pounds less than the Dart although it is around 5 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower. It also lacks that car’s wide variety of engines and trim levels and features a more conservative exterior.
At this point, the Neon is not going to be introduced to North America. However, it is entirely possible it could be as the Dart’s axing will leave Dodge without a compact. Foreign manufacture can also keep costs down and profitability up. A couple of years ago, many feared the Dodge brand was facing the axe because of a lack of new product. Now, the Chrysler marque will be down to two models while Jeep thrives and Dodge is earmarked for a range of new rear-wheel-drive vehicles. Don’t be surprised if the Neon returns to illuminate the Dodge brand for younger consumers.
Neon photographed in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Vision photographed in Roma Norte, Ciudad de México.