People aren't buying subcompact cars like they used to - and that's a shame, especially when you consider the super value of the 2000 Dodge and Plymouth Neon.

We test-drove a Plymouth Neon LX with a $12,890 base price, including destination. A few options such as anti-lock brakes, fancy wheels and speed control bumped the total price up to $15,955.

We're focusing on the price because Anita was so pleased that she could get that much car for the money. Paul - being the enthusiast that he is - wished the redesigned Neon would have taken just a few more risks with design and technology.

She: I got a little choked up over the new Neon. It reminded me of the experience I've had watching my kids go off to internships and such over the summer. When you pick them up at the airport after being gone a few months, they really seem grown up. Same thing with the Neon. It was this kind of cute, teenybopper of a car that has matured into a really nice adult. Maybe they should have changed the name to Sabrina. Oh - I know. You're going to say it's masculine, not feminine.

He: Actually, the new Neon still has a great personality, but I'm not sure just what the gender is. It has the kind of equipment that appeals to enthusiasts - things such as a single-overhead-cam, four-cylinder engine that makes 132 horsepower and an all-independent suspension that's been redesigned to be more compliant without sacrificing the Neon's characteristic agility. But the 2000 model also has been refined and improved in hundreds of little ways. There is more interior room and trunk space, and you get lots of standard features, from four cupholders to an AM/FM stereo cassette.

She: One of the best things about the Neon is that it totally fools you. You don't feel like you've been condemned to a small car. It seems a lot bigger than it is. And the makeover the Neon got puts it in a league with superstars such as Honda. The dopey round headlights are now oval shaped. And the rear looks more like it belongs on a classy 300M. They've also done away with trendy colors such as chartreuse green. The tones are more subdued. We drove a four-door Neon - the only body style you can get this year - with a deep cranberry pearl coat that seemed to personify the move toward sophistication.

He: Chrysler also boosted the ride quality by stretching the wheelbase and widening the track, giving the Neon the feel of a larger car. By stiffening the body structure and making the doors fit better, it also reduced noise and vibration in the cabin. This all sounds terribly complicated, but what it means is you won't feel cramped, sore or tired after spending an hour or more in the new Neon.

She: You remind me that one of the most important points we have to make is about quality. The old bugaboo about Chrysler quality is going away. I found very little to nit-pick about the Neon. It looked well put together and like it would hold up over the long run. Of cours e, time will tell. But you can see a serious effort went into building this car. I do have a gripe in the safety area, however. No side air bags. And you can order them on a Toyota Corolla. So that would give me pause if I were shopping in this category - especially if I were buying the car for a kid.

He: While we're on the subject of safety, I'd like to see anti-lock brakes standard, like they are on the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire. On the Neon, you have to order a $740 package that bundles four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and a new low-speed traction-control system. Other than that, I can't find too much to complain about. I wish Chrysler would have pushed the envelope a little bit more with the styling. And it annoys me that the company still hasn't seen fit to offer a four-speed automatic on the Neon. Besides the standard five-speed manual, the only optional transmission is an old-style three-speed automatic. C'mon, folks. Let's get out of the dark ages.

Sh Because subcompact sales have slipped in the five years since the Neon was introduced, the company has had to scramble to keep customers interested. So buyers expect more. With the new Neon, they get more in terms of equipment and space, and it's still very affordable. I don't think people realize how much value is out there in the subcompact market, even with new products such as the Neon.

He: Forget Sabrina. Maybe they should name it Felicity.

2000 Plymouth Neon LX

Anita's rating: world class

Paul's rating: above average)

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger compact sedan

Price: Base, $12,390; as tested, $15,955 (including $500 destination charge)

Engine: 2.0-liter I-4; 132 hp at 5,600 rpm; 130 lb-ft torque at 4,600 rpm

EPA fuel economy: 28 mpg city/35 mpg highway

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,129 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Belvidere, Ill.

What we liked: One of the best buys in the market today; still one of the most distinctive shapes in the compact class; lively four-cylinder engine returns decent mileage; trim fits are getting better; lots of trunk space; still feels nimble, without the usual small-car harsh ride

What we didn't like: Redesign doesn't push the envelope technically or aesthetically (Paul); anti-lock brakes should be standard; no side air bags