Puerto Vallarta is a lovely vacation spot for fans of beauty and tranquility mixed with unique Pistonhead sightseeing opportunities. Take the Chrysler K-car: a stateside rarity, but not an uncommon vehicle in a country known for taking our tired, neglected automobiles, giving them a new lease on life. But I never saw a Dodge Caliber or Neon on the roads of Puerto Vallarta. Ever. While Iacocca’s turnaround machine never died in Mexico, the rest of Chrysler’s small car lineup drifted away. For good reason? Cue the Dodge Boyz’ rebadged Hyundai Accent: the Dodge Attitude.
But a Hyundai Accent is still the stuff of rental car fantasy, even in Puerto Vallarta. The Dodge Attitude is a tourista’s bottom rung rental, not a cheap and cheerful car for the masses. Then again, this Mopar doesn’t look cheap. Down Mexico Way, the Accent’s (sorry, Attitude’s) modern but inoffensive design isn’t lost in a sea of me-too subcompacts with typical Asian styling cues, it looks borderline flashy against the sea of, um, vintage American iron and Euro-subtle Volkswagons. Maybe calling it the “Attitude” wasn’t such a bad idea.
Or not: my tester wore Hyundai-branded wheel covers, and page seven of the (downloadable) brochure from Dodge of Mexico’s website has the same unacceptable sin. Other than that, the blatant re-badge is acceptable: especially since no (non-SRT) Chrysler product ever had an interior this good. If a Honda Civic is small car fillet mignon and a Dodge Caliber is tripe, the Attitude is day-old chorizo: tight panel gaps, borderline elegant textures in a sea of brittle polymers. Even worse, there’s no contrasting trim on the center stack to break up the monotony. The seats have more than adequate cushioning, far superior to any gen-u-wine Chrysler that’s even remotely close to this price point.
In the Attitude’s cabin, everything’s in its right place. Switchgear is intuitive and the buttonage moves smoother than the wet dream of a Chrysler Sebring. There’s enough room for four Americans, and the doors and folding rear seats close with a reassuring solidity I never expected from a car this cheap. The trunk is large enough for several carry-on bags, perfect for my traveling companions and our 24-hour sightseeing excursion.
Perhaps I can see myself commuting in this Dodge. And not completely hating it. The GLS-trimmed Dodge Attitude is a perfectly acceptable sedan, even when the airy greenhouse didn’t afford views of the Mexican Riviera. Luckily, they did.
And driving the Attitude in such a lovely setting masks it’s dynamic deficiencies. The standard tachometer revs quite smoothly to redline, with far less four-banger thrash than a Dodge Avenger. And there’s more than enough power (110hp) to safely pass (your neighbors’ former) Rangers or stay right behind that rich Hombre in his Bora. The Attitude even pulls strong on the highway with the A/C blasting, though that’s close to a speeding ticket and the obligatory Police bribe.
Downtown Puerto Vallarta has twisty, tight cobblestone roads: something the Dodge Attitude handles with little to no complaint with 14” wheels under WOT conditions. Get out of town and the Korean Dodge is out of place: more speed translates into duller steering responses, pronounced understeer and an occasional harsh in-corner kickback from it’s solid rear axle on bumpy roads. Which is perfectly acceptable for an economy car, but the “Attitude” of a Mazda 3 is distinctly lacking. Which meant my time spent on the Attitude wasted my precious remaining moments in a tropical paradise.
But just to make sure, I grabbed the keys to a Hyundai Accent in the cold and dreary climate of an American winter. Behold, the Dodge Attitude is more than acceptable for our roads and drab scenery too. This little Mopar is cheap, comes with a bass friendly six-cone stereo, is fun to thrash at the limit and has plenty of airbags if you screw the pooch.
Then I found myself behind the wheel of America’s “favorite” rental car special, the Chrysler Sebring. Aside from the extra space, better audio acoustics and ride improving bulk (in the finest Detroit tradition) the Dodge Attitude from my vacation was a far superior vehicle. Compared to the Sebring, the little Dodge doesn’t vibrate to pieces at idle, has a far less offensive interior, corners like a Corvette and sits like a Ferrari. No, really.
Back to Mexico: Ford and GM’s storefront and on-road product mix is strong, though neither has the presence of Volkswagen. Chrysler doesn’t even hit the radar, and re-badging Hyundais won’t change much. While the Dodge Attitude is a good car, it’s more proof that there’s no happy ending for Chrysler. If (when?) the “new” Chrysler runs out of taxpayer funded steam and files for Chapter 7, expect Hyundai to pick up an excellent distribution network in Mexico for Pennies on the Peso.