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Dodge SRT-4: the Ultimate Neon

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Dodge SRT-4: the Ultimate Neon

The Dodge SRT-4 was the second fastest Chrysler car of its time; but even with class-beating acceleration, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 started at under $20,000. That made it cheaper than a base model Dodge Stratus, the mid-size car.

While only 3,000 per year were originally projected for construction, production in 2004 reportedly reached 13,000 per year; exact figures were not released. Chrysler made a profit on the SRT-4, presumably because it was so closely related to the Neon - itself a performance leader.

Neon SRT4, Car of the Month

SRT-4 was based on the standard SRT name given to vehicles modified by the PVO Group (Performance Vehicle Operations). SRT itself, depending on which press release you read, stood for "Street and Racing Technology" (the one they kept) or "Strip, Road, and Track" (the word they dropped). Most likely, the company started with the old R/T moniker and added an S.

The second SRT4, the Dodge Caliber SRT4, went up to 300 horsepower but thanks to its heavier weight, ended up being bested by the Neon-based SRT-4 in numerous independent tests.

For 2004, the cars had more power, a Torsen limited slip differential, and a $500 higher price, keeping the SRT-4 a bargain. 2005 models added a color and made other minor changes.

Replacing the cam sensor

Mark W. Davis wrote that there were 2005 SRT4 Commemorative Editions, numbered from 1 to 200, all white with blue stripes (according to Barry Hettler); they also have blue stitching on the seats and steering wheel, a number plaque, embroidered floor mats, and a small Commemorative Edition book that was given to buyers of commemorative Rams and Vipers as well. These may or may not have been the last Neon-based SRT-4s to be made; #106, belonging to Barry, was built in July 2005. Despite the legend, they did not come with the Mopar Stage 1 kit installed.

Acceleration figures (pure stock)

Car and Driver: 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, top speed 153 mph (2003)

Sport Compact Car: 0-60 in 5.8 seconds, quarter mile 14.2 seconds (2003)

Brooke McClelland wrote that dyno tests found more horsepower than Dodge's official figures. One site found 223 HP and 250 lb-ft of torque at the wheels (in comparison, a 2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R on the same dyno, officially rated at 175 HP, put out 141 HP at the wheels).
Apex Technology found 248 hp at the wheels.
The 2.4 liter engine (also used in the PT Cruiser, with and without the turbocharger) officially produced 215 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque. With its greater weight, the PT Cruiser GT went from 0-60 in around 7 seconds, even with ratings of 230 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque.

Produced at the Belvidere, Illinois Assembly Plant, the Dodge SRT-4 listed at $19,995 in 2003, $20,495 in 2004, and $20,995 in 2005. Production increased quite a bit from original estimates.

Styling was credited to Eric Stoddard, Brandon Faurote, Julie Dolan, Lance Wagner, Donald Renkert, David McKinnon, and Khashayar Honarkhah.

Allpar's first drive

We found that the SRT-4 combined desirable Neon traits with desirable Dodge Spirit R/T traits, and in the process absolutely blew away most competitors, including the previously-tested Audi TT, Toyota Celica, and Acura RSX. Acceleration was strong but also smooth; its 0-60 times were similar to the Spirit R/T, but without nearly as much need for driver skill and cooperative roads. Acceleration was strong from any engine speed, with no need to be up in the high (4,000+) rpms before getting turbo boost and a kick in the pants. The engine was fairly loud with a rumbling, Camaro-style sound.

Handling was quite good but ride was not compromised (unlike the Celica, RSX, TT, and Camaro). As a modified Neon, the SRT-4 had a good-sized rear seat and trunk. The interior was nicely done, with tasteful chrome accents and a visible if small boost/vacuum gauge. Construction seems tight and solid.

The seats were supportive, with clear sides which made it a little hard to get out, and may cause larger people some consternation, but helped to keep people in the targeted size range stable around turns. They can be replaced with Neon seats if one needs to do that. (Full SRT-4 review)

Dodge SRT-4 power and suspension

Ryan Jacobs noted:

  • The Neon SRT-4 has a Mitsubishi TD04 Turbocharger with a boost range of 11 to 14 psi
  • The SRT-4 weighed just 2880 pounds
  • The SRT-4 was faster to reach 60 mph and the 1/4 mile than many acclaimed sports cars that cost much more, including the Porsche Boxster S, Beetle Turbo S, and the Nissan 350Z.

The car used a five-speed manual NVG T850 transaxle and a muffler-free, dual outlet exhaust system with 2.5-inch polished stainless tips; the engine was fed by a larger diameter throttle body and high flow intake manifold. New high capacity clutch and drive plate assemblies and unique engine and transaxle mounts helped to handle the Dodge SRT-4's power.

With more than 200 horses under the hood, it was one of the most powerful four-cylinder cars on the market. Program manager Marques McCammon wrote that peak torque was continuous from 2000 rpm to 4800 rpm. "We've gone a little firmer on the spring rates, especially in the rear, so that we can lessen the rear end dive. That allows the car to remain level and even drop down a little in the front to get you off the line faster."

Prototype (above and following photo)

The car was easier to handle thanks to equal-length halfshafts, 17-inch aluminum wheels, 50 series tires, specially tuned front and rear strut and spring assemblies, special front and rear sway bars, updated knuckles, and a unique K-member.

John Fernandez, who also worked on the Omni GLHS, wrote, "We wanted a car that had a nice, balanced feel through the corners without an overabundance of body roll. With SRT-4, we created a car with a high dose of power that is also highly controllable."

Some of the Dodge SRT-4 development team and performance operation engineers were experienced in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing. John Fernandez wrote, "From the onset, employees from these two groups worked together to create a car that reflects our motorsports heritage, both from grassroots Neon ACR racing and the professional success of our Viper program."

Safety features included antilock brakes, four-wheel disc brakes with larger diameter calipers and 11-inch rotors, and upgraded pads to drop from 60-0 mph in less than 120 feet. The car also had optional side airbags. A best-in-class six-speaker CD sound system was standard. McCammon wrote that an Infinity system with a subwoofer was considered but the cost and extra 30 pounds of weight were not suitable. They did include air conditioning, power locks and windows, remote keyless entry, and a lighting package.

Dodge Neon SRT4 Styling

Trevor Creed wrote, "There was a 'sweet spot' we wanted to hit by using a design theme that includes unique front and rear fascias, sill-mounted ground effects, and a Mopar signature deck-mounted spoiler." The front fascia and steel hood, with an integral air intake, were both unique to the car; an aluminum intercooler sat behind the lower grille, undisguised and unpainted.

The SRT-4 wheels, shown on the original 2000 Neon SRT concept car, were designed to look like aftermarket wheels, with tape-on weights and fuller width rim sections. The spoke pattern was for better airflow to the brakes.

pecial side sills and door cladding give SRT-4 the low appearance of a car made for racing, and the new rear fascia and deck spoiler were also unique, the latter increasing downforce on the track.

There was minimal badging (in satin silver) to keep the appearance uncluttered. Four colors were sold at launch - Solar Yellow, Black, Flame Red, and Bright Silver Metallic.

The new seat cloth was textured for better grip; the side bolsters of the front seats were trimmed in vinyl and curve to stabilize occupants. The three-spoke steering wheel with "carbon fiber look" leather wrapping, unique to the car, was designed to give a better view of the gauges. The gauges were done in silver with satin ring accents; the pointer hubs had a metal finish. The same satin metal trim was used on the center stack and door handles. The aftermarket-style silver turbo boost/vacuum gauge presumably both added to the custom feel and saved money by avoiding a gauge cluster redesign. The shifter used a satin silver cue-ball shift knob and a boot made of the same leather as the steering wheel cover.

The Dodge Neon SRT-4 designers

Twenty-six-year-old Marques McCammon, small vehicle product team manager, came to work at Chrysler for one reason. "The Dodge SRT-4 - plain and simple....My dream was to make a car like that a reality."

One of McCammon's first assignments was to help develop a Neon with a list of performance features based on the sport compact cars that Tom Gale had seen at the 1998 Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas. He had a mechanical engineering degree.

Within weeks, a pack of young tuners began to form around Gale's request. Along with McCammon, the initial team included powertrain engineer Marc Musial and mechanic Dave Chyz, one of the youngest technicians to work on the original Dodge Viper. The team members shared first-hand experience in one form or another with the existing Dodge Neon.

McCammon said, "Mark brought his experience with turbos and superchargers, and Dave threw in his engine expertise, and before you knew it, we had built a car from scratch in just four months."

Often, that meant putting in long hours after they officially punched out. The group logged more than 1,000 test track miles after hours in less than two weeks. By November 1999, Gale had his car, and it had a spot on that year's SEMA show floor. Based on the positive response there, Gale decided to put the Neon SRT on the concept car turntable at the Los Angeles Auto Show the following January.

McCammon recalled, "When we heard Gale say, 'We need to make a production version in a brighter color,' we thought we were home-free."

Finding an approved engine, financing tooling, and keeping the price low enough presented new challenges to the neophyte group. At the same time, they also were secretly piecing together a second car using production-oriented parts and a design more adaptable to the existing Neon platform.

McCammon said, "Once we had the second car built, we snuck it into Tom Gale's parking spot in the executive garage one night, just to get it noticed. We figured he couldn't possibly ignore his own ride home."

Still, the Executive Committee rejected the proposal it in the fall of 2000. McCammon got new list - reasons why the car wouldn't fly. "We literally went to every lead engineer, item by item, and asked them to explain why the item couldn't be done or offer a solution to fix it. We just kept going until there was nothing left on the list."

Three revisions of the car later, responsibility was transferred to the Specialty Vehicle Engineering (SVE) team, which would soon be renamed to Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO). One year later, the plan once again was placed before the Executive Committee, and this time, it got the green light.

Responsibility was now with John Fernandez, Director of Performance Vehicle Operations, who had spent years in Neon ACR racing. "We pulled together everyone we knew who had first-hand experience with vehicles like the SRT-4, either through grassroots racing or hitting the streets every weekend in their own performance-tuned cars."

The new team included some, like Stephan Zweidler and Brad Dotson, had worked indirectly on the Neon SRT concept car. Program manager Dotson had raced with Team Shelby and the Neon ACR in SCCA, including a stint as crew chief. Zweidler raced Solo II SCCA autocross throughout college and was active in the Neon Enthusiast Club. Vehicle Synthesis Engineer Jeff Reece worked on the championship-winning Dodge Viper GTS-R. Engine Engineer Tom Wierzchon (also on the Viper GTS-R team) and Electrical Systems Engineer Judy Willoughby round out the core.

Dotson said it "wouldn't have been possible without the cooperation of other departments throughout the company. It's amazing to see other racing enthusiasts come out of the woodwork to lend their support for this program."

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