The manual transmission-equipped Neon was the second quickest Chrysler-built car on the market when it was introduced, right after the Viper. A combination of speed and handling brought the Neon to numerous SCCA (true stock car racing) wins and championships.
With its new 2.0-liter, 16-valve 4-cylinder Chrysler engine, the Neon was capable of reaching 60 miles per hour from a standing start in just 8 seconds (most magazines recorded 7.7 to 7.9 seconds; Consumer Reports was far away from all others). The Neon's spirited performance came largely from its power-to-weight ratio of 17.7 to 1, putting the Neon above its major competitors.
Neon kept on at higher speeds, moving from 50 to 70 mph in 5.1 seconds and covering the quarter mile distance from a standstill in 16.9 seconds. These results were better than all Neon's principal competitors.
Neon had best-in-class base engine output with 132 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 129 pound feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. A double overhead cam version of the same engine was brought out in November 1994, with 150 horsepower and similar torque; acceleration was not considerably different, and the dual-cam engine was mainly useful in racing rather than day to day driving.
Despite its power, with the standard 5-speed manual transaxle, the Neon’s fuel economy rating was 29 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway. Ratings with the optional 3-speed automatic transaxle were 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway — the highway hit being due to higher revolutions per minute in third gear.
"There was no intent to bias the engine either toward horsepower or torque," observed Floyd E. Allen, executive engineer-powertrain for Chrysler's Small Car Platform Team. "We went after a good balance to achieve that fun-to-drive feeling." The engine had a relatively flat torque curve, achieving 90 percent of maximum torque at 2,000 rpm and moving steadily upward to its peak torque at 5,000 rpm.
The engine featured a distributorless ignition system and sequential fuel injection. The latter utilizes a "returnless" fuel system that eliminates the need to return unused fuel from the engine to the fuel tank.
The lightweight 242-pound 2.0-liter engine was designed almost entirely on computer, using the Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application (CATIA). Using CATIA, engineers were able to transfer data electronically to die-making sources, which helped facilitate the shorter development and tooling time objectives of Neon.
"There are very few parts on the 2.0-liter that we used from prior engines," explained Allen. "It is a new engine. The only link it has to our previous 4-cylinder engine family (2.2 and 2.5 liters) is that it shares the same bore centers. And we retained this dimension only so we could utilize some of the existing equipment on the block line. That helped us meet the investment targets."
The engine, built at Chrysler's engine plant in Trenton, Mich., had a cylinder block with an innovative bedplate construction. The cylinder block above the crankshaft center line was conventional, but below the center line was a one-piece structural bedplate which integrated the main bearing caps. "This construction gives us a significant advantage in engine noise, vibration and harshness," said Allen.
The thermoplastic intake manifold, which was lighter and less expensive than cast aluminum, and had a performance advantage due to the smooth interior.
Vibration was reduced by lowering the reciprocating mass of the pistons and connecting rods and through design changes. “For instance, on a relative bore size basis we have one of the lightest pistons in the industry. It's a relatively large bore/short stroke engine, which again is favorable from a secondary order vibration perspective. Also, the nodular iron crankshaft is fully counter-weighted for better balance, which contributes to the overall smoothness of the engine.”
Harnessing the power of the 2.0-liter Neon engine was a standard 5-speed manual transaxle, with an optional 3-speed automatic. The manual transaxle was totally new, engineered and built by New Venture Gear, a partnership between Chrysler and General Motors. The transaxle was a split-case design and, at 80 pounds, extremely lightweight.
Neon engineers spent considerable time and energy to determine just what it is about a manual shifter that makes a car truly "fun to drive," a major element of Neon's character. "We asked consumers whether they wanted short or long throws with the shifter, light or heavy effort, a precise or soft feel going into gear,' recalled Allen. After building several variations, engineers again sought customer feedback to confirm that they had a shifter that most people liked.
The automatic was a three-speed unit with a lock-up torque converter clutch. All shift controls were hydraulic. Allen noted, “Because of higher engine torque levels and, more specifically, the higher rpm of Neon's 16-valve engine, a number of internal components were improved to handle those increases. Additional improvements were made which reduced gear noise.”
(Does your clutch need work? See our type by step Neon clutch repair guide)
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