Dodge Neon

When the first Neon was launched in 1994, it was praised as a breakthrough for the anti-Japanese car campaign. Myself was totally convinced with its lovely exterior look, its roominess and strong performance. But as time went by, people aware there were many design flaws. For example, the 2-litre 16 valves engine was rather noisy and harsh, the frameless side windows failed to insulate wind noise. The cheap looking plastic parts in the cabin were not tightly fit. At last, reliability problem always troubled its owners. No wonder American still favour the boring-looking but trouble-free Corolla and Civic.  

Predictably, Chrysler spent extra effort in the new generation Neon to cure these problems. We call it the new generation because it has a completely new chassis. 25mm extension in wheelbase makes a total of 2667mm, easily exceeds Ford Focus's 2615mm (the longest in Europe) and even makes Corolla's 2465mm seems laughable. Compare with the already spacious predecessor, the new car provides the rear passengers with 38mm more shoulder room and 58mm more hip room. What's the purpose ? American always love large cars. Obviously, Chrysler knows the sizes of its Japanese and European Ford's opponents (Focus will go to the States) are tightly bounded by the requirements of their domestic markets. Therefore, the larger new Neon will have a decisive advantage against its competitors.  

The new exterior design is still noticeable as a Neon, especially looking from the front. However, the base of the A-pillars are moved forward for some 80mm to make it more "Cab forward", thus decrease the slope of windscreen further and enhance the sense of aggressiveness. Starting from the C-pillar, you can see family resemblance with the Dodge Intrepid. The new Neon is still the best looking small car for sale in US.  

Although being enlarged, the chassis gains 26% in torsional rigidity. In addition to the recalibrated all strut suspensions, the car rides smoother and generates far less squeaks and rattles, a big improvement for refinement. On the other hand, handling is still agile and enjoyable. This is one of the good genes carried over from the first generation Neon.  

The single cam 2-litres 16 valves inline four is carried over with a little modifications such as new manifolds. It improves a little bit bottom end torque as well as raises the peak torque by 2 lbft. As the new body is no heavier, expect performance to be at least as good as its predecessor. On the down side, it still spins harshly and loudly above 4,500rpm.  

Apart from less wind noise, the cabin gets plastic of better quality which fits more securely. You may still criticise it as too basic, or improves too little compares with the European and Japanese. However, look at the price tag ! How could you ask more ? If it has reliability to match the otherwise goodness, new Neon will definitely be a great success. 

The above report was last updated in 1999. All Rights Reserved.

Neon SRT-4

The "SRT-4" here means "Street, Road and Track - 4-cylinder". We don’t have too much confidence in Chrysler’s performance conversion. We know its accountants always keep development budget tight, and always reject expensive components to be used. Neon SRT-4 was born under such constraints.  

To deliver maximum performance per dollar, the best method is to use the company’s not-too-refined 2.4-litre 4-pot, turbocharge it to 215hp and 245lbft. It is therefore very fast. 0-60mph takes merely 5.6 seconds, beating all rivals in the same price range, even eclipsing many cars double the price. For your information, the Neon SRT-4 is priced at the same level as Mazda Protege Turbo and Focus SVT Focus. 

The clutch, suspensions, tyres and brakes are all uprated, but they are perhaps too boring to talk about. One thing should be noted: the hot Neon does not have any limited slip differential, nor any electronic aid such as stability control or limitation to engine torque in low gears like Focus RS, therefore the driver has to deal with torque steer and wheelspin carefully by himself. While torque steer is relieved by the equal-length half-shafts, the front wheels do not generate sufficient traction to cope with the strong and flat torque curve. So, don’t use too much throttle at low-gear corners. 

Although the engine delivers less than 100 horsepower per litre, there is old-fashion turbo lag. When the turbine gets into operation, power surges, deteriorating steering feel and threatening the front tyres. Dear Neon reminds us many years ago how turbocharged engines used to be perceived as. 

Obviously, to match its lightning performance, SRT-4 deserves a better chassis. But it also cries for a better interior, better quality, better ride, better gearshift and ridiculously, a better turbo engine. If Chrysler do that, we won’t mind to accept a worse price. 

The above report was last updated on 23 Dec 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Neon 2.0 LX sedan
Neon SRT-4
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Size (L / W / H / WB) mm
4430 / 1711 / 1422 / 2667
Inline-4, sohc, 4v/cyl.
Inline-4, sohc, 4v/cyl, turbo.
1996 c.c.
2429 c.c.
132 hp
215 hp
130 lbft
245 lbft
All : Strut
All: Strut
185 / 65 R14
205/50 ZR17
1245 kg
1350 kg
Top speed
124 mph*
153 mph (claimed)
0-60 mph
9.8 sec*
5.6 sec**
0-100 mph
30.4 sec*
13.8 sec**
* Tested by Autocar
** Tested by Car And Driver
Copyright© 1997-2009 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine