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2001 Dodge Neon
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

Introduction
Performance - the affordable and fun-to-drive kind of performance - has returned to the Dodge Neon lineup. The Neon was completely redesigned and re-engineered last year and the result is a roomier, more refined compact four-door sedan.

But the performance models that were part of the fun of the previous generation had to wait until this year. For 2001, Dodge has re-introduced the high-performance R/T and competition ACR models. Model Lineup
Base Neons start at $12,715, but air conditioning ($1,000), side-impact airbags ($350), four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and aluminum wheels are all extra-cost options.

The Neon comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 132 horsepower and a 5-speed manual transmission. We prefer the manual transmission for this car, but a 3-speed automatic transmission is optional ($600).

An option package ($1,820) comes with air conditioning, nicer fabric, nicer seats, head restraints for the rear-seat passengers, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels, and a nicer looking instrument panel with a tachometer.

Most fun to drive is the R/T. The R/T package ($3,820) seems pricey at first glance, but it comes with the 150-horsepower High-Output Magnum version of the 2.0-liter engine, a sport suspension, P195/50R16 Goodyear RS-A tires, 16-inch aluminum wheels, 16:1 firm-feel steering, performance-tuned exhaust with bright dual tips, unique front and rear fascia, rear wing, front fog lamps, black headlamp bezels, color-keyed instrument cluster bezel, unique cloth seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The R/T package also includes a host of luxury options, including the power convenience group (power heated mirrors, power front windows with lighted switches), Sentry key security group (alarm, Sentry key theft-deterrent system, tachometer, power door locks with lighted switches, central locking, lockout protection, power trunk lid release), air conditioning, and the anti-lock brake group (four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake proportioning, and traction control).

For road racers, autocrossers and just plain serious driving enthusiasts, there's the American Club Racer or ACR package ($2,130). It passes on convenience features such as power windows as being heavy and complex. In their place, it adds the 150-horsepower engine, a competition suspension and the ABS setup with the four-wheel disc brakes. Walkaround
This is the second generation of the Neon, which was completely redesigned for 2000. It carries many of the styling cues of the 1994-1999 models, but has been thoroughly modernized. The ovoid headlamps, for example, look familiar, but now feature jewel-like reflectors that add sophistication. The design of the front fascia is more integrated. A new tail lamp design along with more pronounced wheel arches offer a crisp, less rounded look.

More significant is the change in the Neon's side profile. The base of the front windshield has been moved forward 3 inches. This major design change gives the car a more raked, cab-forward appearance that's in keeping with the Dodge Intrepid and other Chrysler sedans. The more aerodynamic windshield shape improves the Neon's ability to deflect water away and it helps reduce wind noise.

Overall, the Neon is longer and wider than the pre-2000 models. It rides on a longer wheelbase with a slightly wider track (the distance between the front wheels). These changes make for a roomier interior, but they also smooth out the ride quality and increase stability at high speeds. The ground clearance has been raised slightly to accommodate longer suspension travel, which further improves ride quality. Yet the floor pan has been lowered, which significantly increases trunk space.

The new body structure is much more rigid, which ultimately results in a smoother, quieter, more controlled ride. Full frame doors reduce wind noise and create a tighter seat of door to body. The latest sound-deadening technology helps isolate the cabin from engine and road noise. Interior
The interior of the new Neon was completely redesigned last year and is much nicer than before. For starters, there's more of it. The bigger cabin offers more front hip room and more space for nicer seats. The driver sits a little higher than before for improved visibility.

Back-seat passengers benefit the most from the larger interior with more head, shoulder and hip room. It's not a bad place to spend short- to medium-length trips. The trunk is significantly deeper than before. The rear seats split and fold down for carrying additional cargo.

Sporty gauges grace a redesigned instrument panel with a wide dashboard brow. Premium door trim and materials that are soft to the touch provide a richer appearance and feel. The interior comes standard with four cupholders and AM/FM/cassette with six speakers. Everything is easy to use and works well except the stereo: It sounds mediocre at best and the buttons small and hard to operate while driving. Driving Impressions
The new Neon rides smoother and quieter than before. There's less wind noise, less engine noise, less road noise and less vibration. The Neon seems quieter and more refined than Chevy's Cavalier.

Chrysler redesigned the Neon's fully independent MacPherson-strut front and rear suspensions. The ground clearance was raised slightly to provide significantly more suspension travel. (Jounce travel was improved by 15 percent in the front and by 30 percent in the rear.) This greatly improves overall ride quality while decreasing the chance of bottoming under heavy loads. Softer springs and premium shocks give the Neon a smoother ride than before.

Neon's redesigned single overhead-cam 2.0-liter engine feels more powerful than its predecessor. A new air induction system broadens the torque curve, which makes the car feel more powerful around town. A new exhaust manifold, cylinder head cover and timing belt cover, and attention to a myriad of details reduce noise.

The brake pedal feels firmer. The brake system was redesigned for improved pedal feel. The thickness of the front brake rotors was increased and low-metallic linings were used to keep them from squealing. We recommend the optional four-wheel disc brakes with antilock brakes ($595). Whether slippery or dry, the antilock brake system helps drivers to maintain steering control in panic braking situations. Disc brakes are (in theory) less likely to fade out on mountain roads than the standard rear drum brakes. The ABS option also includes traction control, which helps the driver maintain control when accelerating on slippery surfaces.

The Neon rides nicely, handles well and is more stable than the old Neon. It's quite stable at high speeds. It soaks up road vibrations well and offers good acceleration and very capable handling.

The R/S model is more fun to drive. Handling response is much crisper and the engine is more responsive. Ride quality is acceptable. The steering is quicker with a 16:1 steering box replacing the standard 18:1 ratio. Increased horsepower was achieved without sacrificing fuel economy. Summary
While we welcomed the 2000 Neon for its increased sophistication, we're happy to see the arrival of the sporty R/T model to round out the line.

The Dodge Neon offers good value in a compact sedan. It's roomy and comfortable and it's smoother and quieter than pre-2000 models. The Neon offers a good value, but be sure to look past the base price. Air conditioning, antilock brakes, remote keyless entry, power windows and other conveniences we're beginning to take for granted are all extra-cost options.

Model as tested
R/T ($16,535)
Basic Warranty
5 years/60,000 miles
Assembled in
Belvedere, Illinois
Destination charge
560
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
12715
Price as tested
17095
Options as tested
R/T package includes Magnum engine, sport suspension, P195/50R16 Goodyear RS-A tires, 16-inch aluminum wheels, 16:1 firm-feel steering, performance-tuned exhaust with bright dual tips, unique front and rear fascia, rear wing, front fog lamps, black headlamp bezels, color-keyed instrument cluster bezel, unique cloth seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power convenience group (power heated mirrors, power front windows with lighted switches), Sentry key security group (alarm, Sentry key theft-deterrent system, tachometer, power door locks with lighted switches, central locking, lockout protection, power trunk lid release), air conditioning, anti-lock brake group

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Neon ($12,715)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, child-seat anchors, side-impact door beams standard; side air bags, ABS optional
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
high-output 2.0-liter sohc 16v inline-4
Transmissions
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
AM/FM/cassette stereo with six speakers, split folding rear seats, intermittent wipers, rear defroster, visor vanity mirror, floor mats, trunk light, tilt steering column

Engine & Transmission
Engine
high-output 2.0-liter sohc 16v inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
150 @ 6500
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
28/35
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Independent
Tires
P195/50HR16
Suspension, rear
Independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
4
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
39.1/52.4/42.4
Head/hip/leg room, rear
36.8/52.9/34.8

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
13.1
Wheelbase
105.0
Length/width/height
174.4/67.4/56.0
Turning circle
35.5
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
2000
Track, front/rear
58.1
Ground clearance
6.1
Curb weight
2559


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