1997 DODGE NEON SEDAN
Used Car - 1997 Dodge Neon Sedan in Shreveport, La
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1997 Dodge Neon ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Chrysler's smart 'n sassy sizzler.
As it has so often, Chrysler Corporation broke new ground regarding small cars when it unveiled the Neon, sold under the same name through Dodge and Plymouth dealers, for the 1995 model year.
The small car rulebook to that point seemed to state that basic transportation was synonymous with subcompact econobox. It had to have a homely exterior that screamed cheap, its performance had to be sluggish and the ride uncomfortable.
Forget all that. The Neon tossed out that rulebook, and its looks remain fresh two years after its introduction. Its design still rates as innovative in the way it creates more room for people and cargo. Its driving performance is spunky. And it's chock-a-block with personality. Yet it still is cheap, with a base price of just under $11,000 for a base coupe.
Although there have been adjustments--ongoing detail improvements, an optional engine and new model variations--the Neon remains fundamentally unchanged. Mechanical refinements for 1997 focus on making the Neon quieter, while new interior features include a midline AM/FM/CD audio system, new fabrics and fresh color choices. The new colors for 1997 are Deep Amethyst Pearl and Lapis Blue. Also, the full armrest console is now standard on all models.
Neon appears to have blazed a new trail for small cars, as many of the recently redesigned models have become more stylish and personable as well, most notably the recently updated Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer. Other rivals, and there are many, are the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Tercel, Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Sentra, and Mazda Protege.
Innovative dimensions are what set the Neon apart from many of its competitors.
The Neon sits on a 104-inch wheelbase, which is long for this class. That, and a relatively wide track, are the keys to Chrysler's inventive cab-forward layout, which pushes the wheels to the far corners of the car. In addition to reducing front and rear overhangs, this configuration creates more room for the people inside the cabin and their belongings in the trunk.
The Neon's high roofline adds to the interior spaciousness, which provides ample headroom and relatively expansive glass for good visibility all around. The proportions also allow for large doors, with the rear doors wider than those on most small cars, for easier entry and exit.
Aside from its aerodynamically efficient chunky wedge shape, the Neon's most distinctive styling feature is the oval headlamp treatment straddling its smooth, rounded nose. The bug eyes are easily recognizable from a distance, and they've already become a familiar part of America's automotive landscape.
The Neon is available as either a sedan or coupe, and regardless of brand (Dodge or Plymouth) equipment specifications are essentially identical. The only divisional distinction lies in the badging.
In addition to the base model, the Neon is available with the Sport or the Highline package. The Sport package provides more expressive and, of course, sporty styling cues, including a rear decklid spoiler and a hood bulge to fit the dual overhead cam valvetrain of its more powerful engine--150-horsepower, versus 132 hp for the basic sohc edition.
The base powerplant is the most powerful standard engine in its class, and the 150-hp version is the most powerful you can buy in a car this size.
The real payoff in the cab-forward design and relatively long wheelbase comes inside the Neon where there is ample room for four adult passengers, five in a pinch. Despite new entries into the small car segment, the Neon still boasts more room than most vehicles in its class, coupe and sedan alike. The expansive glass and high roofline not only enhance interior volume but provide the Neon with an airy feel to its cabin.
The base version provides perfectly adequate accommodations, albeit just the basics in a fairly plain package. Its seats are hard and the materials used throughout are durable and inexpensive looking. Air conditioning and a clock are optional on the base model, and some options are not available at all on the base version. Indeed, the aim of the base Neon models is to offer performance and value in the $10,000 price range.
Standard items on all Neon models include dual airbags, 5 mph bumpers, child protection door locks in the rear, side impact beams, tinted glass, traveling seatbelt buckles and height adjustable front shoulder belts.
The Highline models (from $12,970), however, are outfitted in better quality fabrics, more comfortably supportive seats and additional amenities. Coupes and sedans both come with a 60/40 split folding rear seat for additional cargo carrying capability. Our test car's standard equipment included air conditioning, a trunk light, bigger tires, an AM/FM radio, rear window defroster, cruise control, tilt steering and lighting for the ash receiver, glove box, ignition, and visor mirrors.
The optional three-speed automatic transmission added another $600 and the pearlcoat paint was an extra $100.
Other available options for the Highline model include ABS, sunroof, power windows, mirrors and door locks and remote keyless entry system as well as a wider choice of upgrade upholstery.
The dashboard is simple, functional and sporty in appearance. The controls are large, easy to reach and well marked. Likewise, the instruments are big and legible.
Even with the optional three-speed automatic transmission our Neon delivered spirited performance, thanks to its low curb weight and plentiful power. It also delivers excellent fuel economy. At the same time, even with the automatic the Neon delivers outstanding fuel economy, rated at 25 mpg in the city and 33 miles per gallon on the highway.
However, a good many of the Neon's competitors provide a four-speed automatic option, and for all its power the Neon would deliver more civilized performance with this feature.
For that matter, we prefer the five-speed manual. It's not as precise as some, but it makes the most of the engine's output and also enhances the Neon's sporty personality.
The base engine, which was installed on the tested Highline version, is a 2.0-liter 16-valve sohc four cylinder that produces 132 horsepower, a leader in its class for engine output. The optional 150-horsepower engine turns the Neon into a fuel efficient pocket rocket.
Handling is nimble and the ride quite comfortable on the Highline version. The Sport model, which has stiffer shocks and springs, provides even crisper handling but ride comfort is sacrificed, making it better suited to weekend racing than round-town travel.
In fact, Chrysler offers a competition package which turns the Neon into a weekend warrior that's been very successful in Sports Car Club of America showroom stock racing. However, this edition, called the ACR (for American Club Racing), is stripped of all but essentials and is intended for competition use only.
Despite numerous changes to reduce the noise level, including several mechanical changes for 1997, the Neon still is the noisiest of its class.
The Neon is a far better car than when it was introduced. However, the competition in its class, with new introductions from Ford and General Motors particularly, offer worthy entries to consider. In fact, many of the Neon's competitors offer a more quiet, comfortable ride.
Nevertheless, if you like pep and personality, the Neon delivers more than anything in its class. Its blend of performance, sassy styling, roomy interior and all-around value are tough to beat.
Belvidere, IL; Toluca, Mexico.
Options As Tested
Automatic transmission, pearlcoat paint.
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