American car brand Dodge is known for manufacturing vehicles that are truly “built to be driven.” Founded by the brothers Horace Elgin Dodge and John Francis Dodge in the early 1900s, Dodge’s car assemblies first began in Detroit. With the help of Todd Motors—a corporation also led by a set of brothers, the Todds—the first Dodge vehicles were assembled in New Zealand in 1935. By the next year, 1936, the bustling Christchurch factory that oversaw these car assemblies had already provided a sizable contribution to New Zealand’s economy.
Today, Dodge is known mostly for its line-up of trucks and full-sized passenger cars, foremost among them the Dodge Challenger and the Dodge Ram. And though Ateco Automotive, the official importer of Dodge cars to New Zealand, halted distribution of new models in 2018, Dodge’s most popular models are still a common sight on NZ’s roads. Moreover, Dodge parts and Dodge accessories in NZ are still in regular supply to Dodge drivers who need them.
For those curious about Dodge’s enduring popularity in New Zealand, here is a round-up of the brand’s seven most iconic cars. Kiwi Dodge owners will surely enjoy this cruise down memory lane!
1. Dodge Avenger (1994–2014)
The Dodge Avenger debuted in North America as a two-door coupe and was sold as such from 1997 to 2000. Eight years later, the Avenger brand was revitalized as a line of four-door sports sedans meant to replace the Dodge Stratus. The Avenger also has something of a pedigree in racing, as it was Dodge’s official entry into NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow” competition in 2007. It won its first race with former Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya at the wheel.
To the relaxed folk of NZ, however, the Dodge Avenger isn’t just a racing car. It is also a surprisingly good companion for traveling and picnicking, with two of its highlight features being cooled cup holders and a “Chill Zone,” space where one could store up to a dozen 350ml cans in the glove box compartment.
2. Dodge Caliber (2007–2012)
The Dodge Caliber is a five-door hatchback that was meant to fill the hole left by the Dodge Neon. The Caliber signaled Dodge’s entry into new distribution channels across Asia and Europe, as well as the brand’s return to the Australian market since the 1970s. Four Caliber models—the SE, the SXT, the R/T, and the SRT4—were released into the market. Drivers had a choice between a 1.8L and a 2.4L World Engine, and they also had the chance to enjoy a heavily modified GS platform that was co-designed by Mitsubishi Motors.
Just over 400,000 Dodge Caliber units were produced over its six-year run, and many happy drivers of this car were from New Zealand. One feature that stood out for Kiwi drivers was the Caliber’s continuously variable transmission or CVT2. This automatic transmission mechanism enabled drivers to switch effortlessly through a continuous range of effective gear ratios, which made parking easy and a pleasure.
3. Dodge Challenger (1970–present)
The Dodge Challenger, a pony car, is one of the brand’s most famous and long-running product lines. First marketed as a better-value version of the Coronet Silver Challenger in 1959, the Dodge Challenger as we know it eventually came into its own in the 1970s. The first generation of Challengers (1970–1974) yielded pony cars molded in Chrysler E’s platform, in either hardtop or convertible styles. The second-generation (1978–1983) is best known as the rebadge of the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda, a compact four-seater coupe. The third and current generation (2008–) is a serviceable pony car meant to compete with the likes of the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro.
The Dodge Challenger is celebrated for its strong performance, one-of-a-kind aesthetic, and reliability on the road. It’s no surprise that the Challenger remains one of the most popular muscle cars in New Zealand, as well as around the world.
4. Dodge Durango (1997–present)
The Dodge Durango is a mid-size sport utility vehicle (SUV) whose design is a nod to the Dodge Dakota, another vehicle with a distinctive body-on construction. Since its first generation, the Durango stood out for its generous load capacity—it could fit up to seven passengers and tow up to 3,400 kilograms if it was properly equipped. The second generation was launched in 2003 and shared notable characteristics with the Dodge Ram as well as the Dakota—notably its fully boxed frame. Production initially ceased for the Durango in 2009 with the closure of its home Newark assembly facility, but a revamped model was released in 2011 with a sportier, more modern unibody look.
Regardless of which Durango variant a Kiwi owner has, they’re assured of the car’s legendary safety, ruggedness, and practicality. A fully functional Dodge Durango will still make the ideal companion for a long road trip across NZ.
5. Dodge Journey (2008–present)
The Dodge Journey is a mid-sized SUV that is marketed with both right-hand drives and left-hand drives. It shares a modified platform with another vehicle in the Dodge family, the Avenger. It has undergone one major facelift since its launch in 2009, consisting of improvements to its suspension, steering, and power train. Its 2011 re-release also included LED taillights for SE trim levels and above. In 2020, Dodge Journey fans may anticipate two new trim levels: the SE Value and the Crossroad.
What Kiwis love about the Dodge Journey is its laid-back, but powerful drive. It is a Dodge vehicle that uniquely combines high horsepower engine performance and acceleration with the casual feeling of riding in a smaller car.
6. Dodge Nitro (2007–2012)
The Dodge Nitro first debuted as a compact SUV in the 2005 Chicago Auto Show. Visitors who saw it for the first time complemented its tasteful aluminum-themed interior design. The Nitro was a milestone car in that it was Dodge’s first compact SUV release since the Raider in 1990, and the first Dodge-branded automobile to be sold in the European continent. It was offered with either a 3.7L or 4.0L engine.
Marketing efforts for the Dodge Nitro came with their fair share of controversy, with some uproar over its television ad in the Netherlands. But despite its contentious history and its macho appearance, the Dodge Nitro is favored by Kiwis for its safety, comfort, and easy upkeep to its interiors.
7. Dodge Ram (1981–present)
Last but definitely not the least is the Dodge Ram full-sized pick-up truck, one of the longest-running and most iconic of all Dodge vehicles. The Dodge Ram is a six-time winner of Motor Trend magazine’s “Truck of the Year,” and sales for this truck have remained strong throughout its five generations.
The first line of Dodge Ram trucks (1981–1993) comprised a two-door pick-up, a two-door extended cab pick-up, and a four-door crew cab pick-up; the second line (1994–2002) boasted variants with roomier cabs and cargo beds, as well as the large grille that the Dodge Ram is now famous for. The third generation (2008–2009) sported major updates to the truck’s frame, suspension capacities, power train, interiors, and sheet metal—an investment that paid off when sales skyrocketed to more than 450,000 units. The fourth-generation (2009–) oversaw developments such as a four-door cab-style opening, a new Hemi engine option, and the trademark Rambox storage system inside the truck bed walls; the fifth generation, which kicked off in 2018, is now being offered in seven trim levels as opposed to the usual eleven.
The Dodge Ram is rightfully lauded by New Zealand drivers not only for its powerful look but also for its spaciousness and efficiency with fuel. There’s no doubt that a Dodge Ram will serve its owner well.
Kiwi fans of Dodge cars need not despair; it will be easy to keep up with new developments on the brand from the nearest dealership in neighboring Australia. In addition, there are plentiful resources to keep older Dodge models at their prime. As the owner of a Challenger, a Ram truck, or other vehicles on this list, feel free to “grab life by the horns” and embark on many more adventures with your Dodge!