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By Jim Flammang
March 21, 2005
Vehicle Overview Performance was the biggest news for Dodge's compact, front-wheel-drive, four-door Neon sedan for the 2003 model year, which marked the debut of a high-performance SRT4 offshoot model. The SRT4 is listed separately by cars.com. A 2003 face-lift for all models included new front and rear fascias, headlights and taillights.
The Neon compact sedan comes in SE and value-packed SXT trim levels, and each is powered by a 132-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Either a manual or an automatic transmission can be installed. Side-impact airbags are optional. The sporty R/T edition is gone.
At the 2005 Geneva Auto Show, Dodge unveiled a hatchback Caliber concept that could be the basis for the Neon's replacement, which is likely to debut in 2006.
Exterior Since its redesign for the 2000 model year, Dodge has offered only a four-door sedan version in its Neon lineup. Its overall length is 174.4 inches, which is an inch shorter than the Honda Civic sedan. Styling evokes a kinship to the original Neon, which debuted for 1995, but designers say they attempted to give the second-generation model a more mature, substantial appearance. Standard SE tires measure 14 inches in diameter, while the SXT gets 15-inchers. An SRT Design package with a power bulge hood, dual exhausts and a rear spoiler is available for 2005, and a new Kicker audio system may be installed.
Interior All Neons seat five people on a pair of front buckets and a three-place 60/40-split folding rear seat. A rear-window defogger and a center console with four cupholders are standard. Cargo volume is 13.1 cubic feet. Standard SE equipment includes a cassette stereo and Millennium cloth upholstery. The SXT adds a tachometer, air conditioning, power front windows and a CD player.
The steering wheel contains an aluminum Dodge medallion. An in-dash six-CD changer is optional in the SXT.
Under the Hood A 132-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder powers both Neon models and mates to either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission.
Safety Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are optional.
Driving Impressions Nimble handling and reasonably brisk performance help make the smallest DaimlerChrysler model appealing to compact-car buyers. The Neon sedan is particularly easy to drive and benefits from quick, crisp steering. It is somewhat bouncy through harsh urban pavement, but the ride is fine on the highway. The taut suspension is nicely controlled and seldom overreacts, but the sedan hits some bumps harder than expected.
Despite its undeniable merits, the Neon fails to stand significantly above the competition. Noise is one drawback. A quieter engine could make the Neon a stronger rival to such class leaders as the Civic. Rear-seat headroom is marginal, and the interior feels snug. The seatbacks � especially in the rear � aren't very comfortable.