Neon SRT-4 | In-depth Neon 2000 reviews and competitive comparisons | 1995-99 Neon
The original Neon hit the ground running, with waiting lines at dealers, Japanese automakers dissecting the first cars to come off the line, and magazines (other than Consumer Reports) praising its class-leading handling, space, and acceleration — as the second fastest Chrysler car of time, after Viper. However, cost-cutting measures, according to one insider caused by CEO Robert Eaton, gave the car a reputation for poor quality, and a combination of rattly windows (easily fixed by glass shops, but beyond many dealerships) and bad head gaskets made the cars undesirable within two years.
With the second generation Plymouth and Dodge Neon, Chrysler sought to address the car’s shortcomings without its character of the car — an effort handicapped by the unexpected death of the project leader. They made the car larger, expanding both the cabin and trunk; and cut noise, vibration, and harshness. Two major problems of the Neon, frameless windows and the noisy exhaust donut, were eliminated, and engine mounts were sturdier to smooth the idle, quiet the engine, and last longer.
The added size and weight hurt performance, so the company used the aggressive ACR gear ratios in the manual-transmission model (for 2000 and 2001). This cut gas mileage and added highway noise, but kept performance parallel to the lighter 1995-99 models without adding variable valve timing or a dual-length intake, and eliminated the need to downshift for 60-mph passes. After 2001, more reasonable gear ratios were resumed.
Updating the Neon cost $703 million and took 28 months. It was now built in a single American plant; the Mexican factory which had made coupes (around one third of sales for the first generation) was retooled to make PT Cruisers. The Neon used waterborne paint, molded-in color fascias, asbestos-free brakes, and door water shields made from recycled plastic.
The body structure was tighter, with 37% better bending stiffness and 26% better torsional stiffness. One-piece body-side aperture panels had better fit/finish; the sill and center pillar reinforcements were improved, the engine compartment strengthened, and the floor pan and instrument panel stiffening beads were revised. Sound insulation included additional bake-on mastic and expandable foam baffles. The steering column was isolated to cut noise.
The suspension was redesigned to improve ride quality; front and rear jounce travel was increased by 15% and 30% for a smoother ride and less chance of bottoming. The ride height was raised slightly, with lower-rate springs and better shock absorbers to increase comfort. A more effective front sway bar and a now-standard rear sway bar kept handling and balance close to the original.
Brakes got a better pedal feel; front discs were universal, with rear drums on base models and disc brakes with ABS (which also included electronic brake proportioning and traction control, both contributed nearly free by the SCORE program.) The new Teves ABS system had less brake pulsation.
In the May 2002 issue of Grassroots Motorsports, seven cars under $20,000 were tested; each was autocrossed, timed from 0-60, and put onto a chassis dynometer (the Neon ACR, Mazda MP3, Volkswagen Golf GTI turbo, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Focus SVT, Civic Si, and the Hyundai Tiburon V6). The Neon ACR finished mid-pack for 0-60 (7.9 seconds), but finished the road course ahead of every other vehicle.
The magazine wrote that they loved the handling, saying that with the car dialed in right (the ACR has adjustable suspension components), the Dodge Neon had as close to perfect handling as it gets in this class; they found some handling complaints with every other car in the test. The Neon ACR was also the cheapest car in the test, by a good margin. (Thanks, Tommy Boy)
Power on the base engine (for the United States) remained at 132-133 hp (98 kW) at 5600 rpm, torque increased slightly to 130 ft-lb (177 Nm) at 4600 rpm. (66.2 bhp per liter). A 1.8 liter engine based on the 2.0 was available in numerous export markets; less common was a 1.6 liter engine designed jointly with Rover, which ended up in the Mini (in 2008, the factory that made those engines was sold to Fiat).
Engine differences beyond those mentioned earlier, were:
Body changes were:
A 60/40 split rear folding seat with head restraints allowed use of an aftermarket child seat, or keeping two rear passengers, without losing trunk access. Rear-seat access was easier, and a little more width was added (0.9 inches front, 1.5 inches rear), hip room (1.6 inches front, 2.3 inches rear) and rear head room (0.3 inches). Oddly, Chrysler kept the old climate controls, which were also used in the PT Cruiser, though many owners mistakenly kept the fan in air conditioning mode (the blue zone) when they just wanted regular air (white zone).
A summary of other changes:
Standard equipment was upgraded to include a six-speaker cassette player, self-dimming interior lamps that faded out, a locking glove box with molded-in pen and tire gauges, a chime replacing the buzzer, and a battery saver that shut the dome light automatically.
The Neon was sold at a price premium outside the United States, competing against cars which Americans would never consider alongside the humble Neon. While it did have some competitive advantages, including space and air conditioning, 2.0 fuel economy and small-engine acceleration worked against it.
Christopher Krisocki provided some information from a German 2002 car guide. The 1.6-liter engine in the Neon was listed as making 115hp (85kW) @ 5500 rpm, and 157 Nm torque @ 4550. A 2.0-liter Neon cost only 608 Euros more than a 1.6 but was subject to higher engine taxes in some regions.
In the UK, Chrysler wrote, “The five speed manual transmission version returns 44.8 mpg on the extra urban cycle and 35.3 mpg on the combined cycle, due in part to the lower idle speed (30.7 mpg combined cycle and 39.8 mpg extra urban for the automatic). Performance is lively, with a top speed of 124 mph and a 0-62 mph time of 10.8 seconds for the five speed manual, and 114 mph top speed and 0-62 mph in 12 seconds for the automatic.” (These are Imperial gallons, in US terms this is 35 mpg highway, 28 combined - at the cost of 2 seconds, zero to sixty. The US version was rated at 0-60 times in 8 seconds, with 28 city, 34 highway mileage).
The last Plymouth Neon — and the last Plymouth — was built on
June 28, 2001.
For 2001, the Neon R/T and ACR (ACR hadn’t been made in 2000) came with a new single-cam Magnum engine — with 150 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque, roughly matching the old DOHC engine. EPA fuel economy ratings were 28 city, 35 highway (manual transmission), the same as the standard engine; the differences were a new camshaft, electronically controlled dual-plenum intake, and dual exhaust/mufflers which include a 2.25 inch diameter exhaust pipe and stainless steel header. Both the Neon R/T and ACR were powered by the Magnum engine and had a trunk lid-mounted spoiler. The R/T had fog lights and black headlamp bezels, as well as a color-keyed instrument panel, and low-back bucket seats. The ES model also had a Sport version, with a rear spoiler, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and performance suspension. Leather and side airbags were optional on the Neon ES and Neon R/T.
Neon models were now SE, ES, R/T, and ACR. The SE had Goodyear Eagle GA tires (P185/65R14), with optional (standard on ES) P185/60R15 Eagle LS tires. The R/T came with P195/50R16H Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires, an excellent combination (note the 16" wheels and low aspect ratio). The ACR came with P185/60R15 Goodyear NCT3 tires. All models except the SE came with ABS brakes.
Running changes from July 2000 include a modified manual transaxle with new second-and fourth-gear ratios, and child seat anchors. For 2001 rear center passengers got a shoulder harness, and people locked in the trunk got an emergency trunk lid release.
2002 saw a four-speed automatic with gearing which was not tuned for the car, a problem resolved in the 2003 models. [2002 Dodge Neon SXT review] The Plymouth Neon was no longer produced.
For 2003, Dodge said 83% of first-time buyers would buy another Neon. Changes were:
For 2004, the Dodge Neon family included the base SE model, SXT, R/T, and the Dodge SRT-4, whose 2.4 liter turbo-charged engine produced 230 horsepower (172 kW) at 5300 rpm and 250 lb-ft (339 N.m) of torque from 2200 to 4400 rpm. SRT4 changes included a new engine control module to widen the torque range, a standard torque-sensing limited-slip differential, BF Goodrich KDW2 three-season tires, bright pedal pads, and an optional sun roof package.
The 2004 Dodge Neon SE had 14-inch wheel covers, bright grille highlights, and AM/FM stereo with cassette and four speakers standard. The Dodge Neon SXT added power mirrors, power front windows, air conditioning, CD/six-speaker stereo, remote entry, power trunk lid release, and better tires with aluminum 15-inch wheels. A sport appearance group included a spoiler, different wheels, fog lamps, and a body-colored instrument panel and automatic shifter bezel.
The 2004 Neon R/T had the Magnum engine, five-speed transaxle, four-wheel disc brakes, dual exhaust, performance-tuned steering and suspension, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and rear spoiler. A power sun roof and a leather interior group were optional.
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