The American automaker Dodge is enjoying popularity privileges in today’s market, largely due to the success of the full-size Charger sedan, Durango SUV, and muscle-bound Challenger. But their cheaper options haven’t fared as well…the Caliber failed to sustain sales and the handsome Dart, due to initial shortcomings, was caught in a failure-to-launch situation. As a corrective measure, the suited boardroom men at FCA (FIAT Chrysler Automobiles) have decided to revive the Neon nameplate.
Recently, we were invited to the launch of the all-new 2017 Dodge Neon, a car we couldn’t have been more excited about. Yes, it sells as the FIAT Tipo in some markets but, as part of the Dodge brand, Mexico is the only country where the Neon is being sold. up until now. So, equipped with camera and pen, we made our way to the Arabian Ranches Golf Club, where the car was revealed. And these are our first impressions of the returning working-class hero.
DESIGN & AESTHETICS
After a light chat with FCA personnel and a quick sermon on the car by two of their spokespersons, they opened the doors to the all-new 2017 Dodge Neon parked outside, a beautiful red one, gleaming in the bright morning light. As cameras began clicking away, my first thought about this compact sedan was: is Dodge offering any neon paint schemes on the car? The answer is no – but there is a five-colour palette to choose from, which includes the usual suspects of red, black, silver, blue and white.
The Neon is a C-segment vehicle and, as per the norm, a compact commuter isn’t usually dressed to impress. But from where I was standing: sure, it was small, but it was a stylish entity on wheels – at least the top-trim SXT Plus being presented to us was.
It has a full-bodied design that maintains a confident stance even in the company of sceptical media men. The signature cross-hair grille, the swept-back headlamps and the subtle creases on the hood give the body lines tension, which creates a visual muscularity that echoes with the rest of the Dodge portfolio, especially the Charger.
We took a walk around it but didn’t find any awkward instances of styling in the stem of the car, unlike some past European designs. What you have here are clean crisp lines and, above them, the roof’s curvature that merges seamlessly with boot and bonnet – plus 17-inch twin 5-spoke alloys that look remarkably sporty, but are available only with the SXT Plus. The regular SXT gets smaller 16-inch alloys and the base SE gets 15-inch steel wheels – you don’t want that; nobody does!
We began gaining a liking for its proportions as the orientation continued, and were especially impressed with the design of its rump, which somehow magically conceals that massive 520-litre boot that the Dodge staffers were trumpeting about. Fair enough too, considering it outsizes those in most mid-size cars. The treatment to the rear lamps was similar to the Honda Civic’s C-shaped rear lighting and a chrome strip that connected them was present to keep the visual alignment and upmarket appeal.
This wasn’t a pay-to-touch kind of event, so we had the opportunity to open up the doors and have a good glimpse into the cabin as well. As the story goes, the interior has been lifted directly from its Italian-cousin, the FIAT Tipo – clearly, a good decision. The most striking thing we noticed was the two-tone fabric upholstery that has an interesting ribbed texture. Mind you, leather – or shall I say, leatherette – is not available on any of the trims and Dodge intends to keep it that way.
With eyes glued to the eclectic-styled dash, I entered the cabin with ease, but knocked my knee on the lower edge of the centre console. I had to make generous seat adjustments to fit my 6ft frame, like I would in most cars in this class. The dash itself has a simple but modern design that was anything but boring – European flair, I suppose.
The 3-spoke steering seemed to be pilfered straight from a hot-rod SRT model and it is accompanied by ergonomically shaped (and sized) steering controls. We also found those signature buttons for volume and stations concealed, behind the wheel, which added ease of control.
It was nice to see soft-touch materials on the dashboard, especially in this class, and a neatly and legibly styled instrument cluster and large HVAC knobs. Even more visually enterprising was the 7-inch infotainment system neatly integrated atop the centre console. It looked and felt like a modern-day hand-held game – and that works just fine.
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
They set us off in a convoy of Neons, all the way from the Arabian Ranches Golf Club to Al Lusayli. In our car, a comrade got behind the wheel, while I settled for the front passenger seat. It gave me an opportunity to further investigate the interiors. To my pleasant surprise, we found the fit and finish to be good (if not great), with plenty of soft-touch plastics and other trims, all put together well. I also enjoyed the general cabin comfort, which was a combination of a well-insulated cabin and a ride quality that was composed for the most part – albeit, there were noticeable vibrations coming from the low-profile 17-inch tyres over rough patches.
Turning around to check on the fleet, I noticed that the Neon behind us used halogens to pose as daytime running lamps, as opposed to the LEDs usually offered. It does make it look as if your headlamps are switched on even during the day, so we think it could be a design afterthought!
As for the rear cabin, it is a narrow car, so you don’t get a lot of shoulder room back there. The car serves best as a 4-seater but there was a generous amount of legroom, similar to that of a BMW 5-Series. That doesn’t speak much for the German car, does it! Thanks to the space, I didn’t have my knees poking into the driver’s seat.
It was soon my turn behind the wheel, and the general outward visibility was good from the rear-view mirror; the side-view mirrors and the pillars didn’t bother me with large blind spots either. There is only one engine being offered in the Neon and it is a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre inline 4-cylinder E-torQ powertrain, which is the average displacement for cars in this segment. It churns out a modest 110 bhp at 5,500 rpm and some 152 Nm of torque at 4,500 rpm, which seemed meek – especially in comparison to the Caliber and Dart, which offer more power for roughly the same price. Even the Neon from 1995 was rated at 132 horsepower and 174 Nm of torque. So this is essentially a step down in that aspect.
Opening up the throttle completely, there is a moment of hesitation, post which the car starts accelerating in a rather slow manner. This laidback nature – apparent at almost any rpm at any speed – was present throughout the drive, thus accentuating the lack of horsepower and delay in kick-downs from the 6-speed automatic gearbox.
Another niggle is that the Neon looks more powerful than it is, and so you tend to build an image of its engine’s potency – which ultimately satisfies the needs of a commuter but not much more. For all its worth, under “hard” acceleration, there is a noticeable anger to its exhaust note, a snarl that satiates the ears. The engine operates smoothly and the gearbox is slick-shifting. The transmission also comes with a shifting mechanism called Autostick that allows manual shifts, but we didn’t have the opportunity to exercise the rights.
With erratic traffic and many speed breakers along the way, we had plenty of opportunity to brake hard and easy. The Neon did well to shave speed off, even with its drum brake set up at the rear, which answers our concerns of cost-cutting. Upfront though, you have disc brakes.
Fiddling around with the user-friendly Uconnect system, we got to try the fuel economy calculator, which allowed us to monitor its thirst habits. The digital needle stayed mostly between an indicated 7 and 9l/100km – a decent average that won’t hurt the cash-conscious bunch.
Unfortunately, for the duration of the drive, we had to be aligned with the convoy and couldn’t get a real feel for its handling prowess but, around a few roundabouts, we got up to speed and the Neon, with its 225-section tyres, held its line and maintained reasonable composure. There is a “City” button on the centre console; press it and it manipulates the electric power steering and supposedly makes it lighter to steer. More on that after a proper test drive.
FEATURES & FUNCTIONALITY
The Neon has a massive 520-litre trunk. It comes with a flat loading bay and an almost full-size spare under it. Bear in mind that all models get the folding rear seat, but only the SXT and SXT Plus get the ones that split. The SXT Plus comes with a 7-inch screen, but the ones with navigation will only be available later. The SE gets smaller 5-inch screens. The Uconnect system, which is Dodge’s infotainment interface, can be appreciated for its ease of use and quick response. Other standard equipment includes a 6-speaker 220-Watt audio system that delivers a fairly good range of decibels and frequencies.
You get a host of safety features that some Korean manufacturers were previously keen to skip, like six airbags, ABS, Electronic Stability Control, Emergency Brake Assist to help you with panic stops, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and even Electronic Rollover Mitigation. You also get more useful functions like Tire Pressure Monitoring system, cruise control and a rear camera. The standard fog lamps should come in handy too.
The 2017 Dodge Neon represents a new generation of compact sedans that pose as a more tastefully-styled alternative to the current crop of affordable cars. It elevates the experience of commuting by offering quality interior fixtures – a rarity in this segment – while respecting the priorities of middle-income groups such as fuel economy, cargo capacity – with a boot bigger than most mid-size sedans – and a wholesome 5-year warranty that can last 100,000 kilometres. While powertrain potency and resale remain questionable, we believe it to be not just a good overall commuter, but a good-looking one too!
Body type: 5-seater; 4-door entry-level compact sedan
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Peak output: 110 bhp @ 5,500 rpm; 152 Nm @ 4,500 rpm
Top speed: 185 km/h (drag limited; estimated)
0-100km/h: sub-11 seconds (estimated)
Price: Starting at AED 57,400
Good: A good size, inside and out; Acura-like furniture; very affordable
Bad: Gutless engine above 80 km/h; awkward placement of hazard button; low rear seats; no navigation
Author’s Rating: 7.5/10
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