It’s back! Well, not really. The 2019 Dodge Neon is technically a rebadged Fiat Tipo, and it arrived in Mexico back in 2016. Although there were rumors that the Neon could make it to the U.S., those were dead once the Big Three abandoned sedans in America. But in Mexico, where the sedan is big and very healthy, a car like the Neon works well. During a recent trip to Mexico City, I had a chance to sample the Neon, and although this is an economy car, its compact size and generous interior have made it popular among Mexican buyers.
The Dodge Neon arrived in Mexico from Turkey, and it’s based on the same platform as the Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade. The original Neon from the ‘90s, which was built at the FCA plant in Toluca, Mexico, was a popular car in the country, and the automaker decided to bring back its name for the Mexican market in order to attract customers’ attention. Wearing Dodge’s corporate grille, the Neon has a few lines that are similar to the now extinct Dodge Dart, but it looks less aggressive and sports a more conventional design. In terms of size, it falls right in between the subcompact and compact sedan segments, making it a popular model for those who want more space for less money.
Its spacious cabin and affordability are its biggest pros, but it would be much nicer if it came with a more powerful engine. We sampled the punchiest of the two mills available—the naturally aspirated 1.6-liter E-torQ that only delivers 110 hp and 112 lb-ft of torque. And that’s simply not enough juice for driving in the city. Nestled in a valley in the center of the country, Mexico City stands at over 7,300 feet high, and the Neon was a victim of the high altitude, struggling every time it went uphill. Its six-speed automatic tranny only helped a little under manual mode, but the lack of power was evident from the beginning.
Besides not having enough power, the Neon’s transmission shifted smoothly and mostly at the correct rpms, though it would take long to downshift. On the twisty roads, the body roll was pronounced, but the suspension did a good job absorbing the rough pavement. The quiet ride was unexpected.
Because the Neon is an economy car and was developed for emerging markets, its list of amenities isn’t very attractive. The 5.0-inch touchscreen with Uconnect is pretty basic and it lacks any kind of smartphone compatibility, plus it feels small for today’s standards. A four-speaker audio system is as much as you’ll get for your music, and because rearview cameras are not mandatory in Mexico, the medium-spec Neon we drove came with rear parking sensors.
The back seat is spacious enough to transport four adults, but it felt a bit tighter in terms of legroom when compared to the City, Honda’s entry-level sedan in Mexico. As one can expect, rear-seat passengers don’t really get any kind of amenities—there’s no center armrest, USB ports, or air vents. And you’ll feel hard plastics everywhere you touch around the cabin. However, it was nice to have a leather-wrapped steering wheel and automatic climate controls.
Had the Neon made its way back into the U.S., FCA would’ve had to update much of its equipment before its arrival. But things have changed for sedans in America, and we don’t expect to see the Neon back on this side of the border.
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