Dan Holdridge wrote: The 2001 Neon ACR does not have a rear spoiler, nor does it have the door moldings running along the sides - or carpeting on the trunk door, air conditioning, radio, speakers, etc. The ACR has adjustable shocks and bigger wheel hubs than standard Neons or the R/T. It also has a real dual exhaust, though it has a single muffler (a setup similar to the current Corvette and Acura NSX).
The Neon R/T, like the Neon ACR, is essentially the same as the ES and SE, but with a more powerful engine, enhanced suspension, and some other goodies. While the ACR takes things off, the R/T puts them on.
The "Magnum" 2.0 engine produces 150 horsepower, though with all the tricks they put in, we'd expect more. Start with a revised camshaft which causes the engine to require premium gas, then throw in a low-restriction, throaty exhaust (2.25 inch diameter exhaust pipe and stainless steel header), and a electronically controlled dual-plenum intake. The result is a Neon as fast as, um, the 1995 Neon. Tires for the R/T are P195/50R16H Goodyear Eagle RS-A, an excellent combination (note the 16" wheels and low aspect ratio for maximum handling) to take advantage of the Neon's sporty suspension. The ACR comes with P185/60R15 Goodyear NCT3 tires.
ABS and EVBP brakes are included, with four wheel disks and traction control.
Both the Neon R/T and ACR have a wobbly plastic trunk lid-mounted spoiler. The R/T has fog lights and black headlamp bezels, unique low-back bucket seats, and other features. Leather is optional on the Neon ES and Neon R/T, and comes with side airbags.
Dan Holdridge noted that the R/T does 0-60 in 7.6 seconds, and the quarter mile in 15.8 (these numbers are from an r/t that is about 50-100 heavier than an ACR) - that compares with the stock 1995 Neon's 7.9 seconds to 60 and 16.1 second quarter mile.
In May 2001, Chrysler lent us a Dodge Neon R/T for one week. We compared it primarily with our daily driver 1995 Neon Sport (single cam, five speed).
It is, as one would expect, larger and quieter inside than the prior generation. Indeed, we have a host of comments on changes from 1995 to 2000 in our 2000 Neon review, so we won't cover the ordinary stuff.
Our test car had optional leather seats with side airbags; it also included, as all R/Ts do, unique low-back bucket seats which were very uncomfortable. The standard Neon seats felt much better to us, but then, that's a matter of taste.
We had a hard time figuring out where the R/T package came in from reading the sticker, which does not actually specify R/T anywhere in particular. The hi-po engine is there, the seats are there, and other options are there, but not R/T. Strange.
On the road, the suspension was firm (as we'd expect) but not uncomfortable. It was not stiff and jarring, unlike some competitors, but cushioned the road surface and bumps. It sounded and felt more solid than our older Neon. Handling was very good, thanks partly to low-profile Eagle RS-A tires. (Our 1995 also came with RS-As, albeit with a more normal profile. They lasted over 50,000 miles). Throwing the car around turns without regard to speed came naturally, more so than on other cars which, while they do better in skidpad tests, don't seem to be comfortable with rough treatment. On the other hand, there was some understeer, especially when accelerating and turning.
While the engine feels stronger than the stock Neon, this perception is probably due largely to the louder, more throaty exhaust note. The "Magnum" version of the 2.0 engine is described above, but we feel we should emphasize that it takes premium gas, and that gas mileage is probably the lowest in its class (aside from Korean vehicles). This is not the advanced engineering one would expect after seven years of effort. Indeed, thanks to lower quantities of sound insulation and a smaller size, the original Neon - base model - had similar acceleration (the R/T does have an edge, but it's not large enough for most drivers to notice except at the track).
Gear ratios are far different from the first generation, and also different from 2000 Neons (in second and fourth, at least). First gear is still a little high, so that a Corolla, which is considerably slower, actually feels faster one takeoff. The problem gear is fifth - overdrive - which is geared low to increase acceleration on the highway. This trick works well; pickup is fast, the air conditioner hardly slows the car down, and the engine noise is what one expects from a sports car. However, the driver pays the price in gasoline, which we suspect is the #1 reason why the 1995-1999 models got substantially better mileage.
The clutch made smooth and fast shifts easy, and the shifter glides into the right gear with ease.
Overall, some of the first generation's major issues were resolved in the 2000 rebirth - things like noisy exhaust donuts, noisy frameless windows, and self-destructing engine mounts - but new problems arrived for those who want performance more than comfort. The larger interior is a boon to the Neon as a family car, but it hurts performance. The engine was not appreciably upgraded, resulting in acceleration similar to the first generation, while other automakers have raised the bar. In short, it's a fine car, and very competitive; but with gas prices the way they are, you may be better off with a 1997-99 first-generation Neon - especially if you get an original Neon R/T. Those were, as far as we can tell, faster than the 2001 models.
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