New Car/Review

Plymouth Neon Expresso Coupe

by John Heilig

Plymouth
SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            2.0-liter DOHC four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 150 hp@6500 rpm/133 lb-ft @5500 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Three-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      25 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, 29.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         104.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    171.8 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    53.0 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     67.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       2416 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     12.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  11.8 cu. ft.
TIRES:             P185/65R14
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power sunroof, air conditioner, 
                   AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, 
                   dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $14,800

Every now and then a week in a road test car feels so right that we don't want to give the car up. This is understandable when I get some of those high-priced luxury or sports cars, but I wouldn't have expected it in a Neon Coupe.

Neon is, as we all probably know by now, Chrysler's economy car. It is built in the United States with 74 percent U.S. parts, and is selling lots. Neon is also a car with a personality. Take a look at those "Hi!" commercials and you can see that the marketing side of Neon is different as well. Neons come with Dodge or Plymouth badges, but they are essentially identical.

Our tester is a Plymouth Neon Expresso Coupe, and as such differs in trim from the base models. The engine for the Neon is a 2.0-liter DOHC four cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower. It is mated to a three-speed automatic gearbox.

On the highway, the three-speed transmission tended to downshift earlier than I would have expected it to. And the engine was a little buzzy, which you'd expect from a four cylinder. But the power was there, and the gearbox put the power to the road well. In most cases, there's no difference between a three-speed and a five-speed gearbox. You spend most of the time in top (or overdrive) no matter how many gears are below. It is in getting to road speed where more gears makes the trip smoother.

The week I had the car, I had to take a long trip to cover a football game. That trip took me on a 40-mile ride through a State Forest on a two-lane road that was absolutely magnificent. I would have preferred to cover the game two months earlier when the leaves were changing, but playoffs only happen in November.

The Neon handled every curve in the road easily. Granted, they weren't tough curves, but they were curves. It also handled the higher speed portions on the Interstate up to the 65 mph speed limit with no problems. The heating system was good, the brakes were good, and the sound system was good. The seats were comfortable and I felt the car looked pretty nice going down the road.

The suspension was firm, but not too firm. The Neon had what is called a "Touring Suspension," which includes MacPherson struts up front and Chapman struts in the rear. The struts in both cases are "competition-tuned." Ride quality was very good. There's often a trade-off between good handling and a good ride. The Neon is somewhere in the middle.

When I wanted to pass, I had the power to do it, and when I wanted to cruise along with the rest of the traffic, the car was capable of doing it.

Chrysler first came out with four-door Neons in Plymouth and Dodge forms. The coupes came out later. Our tester is a typical coupe with large doors. It also has very good rear seat legroom (interior space is greater than in the sedans) so that, unlike in many coupes, rear-seat passengers don't have to be contortionists.

Our only major complaint with the Neon was that the seat cover upholstery looked as if it came from an old airplane. It was grey with colored slashes in it. But the upholstery is in keeping with the Expresso theme of the car, it's great for younger people, and it doesn't show dirt. The seats were comfortable, with decent side support, and we didn't notice the upholstery after a few trips.

This was a "nicely equipped" Neon, based on the commercials, but it lacked ABS. At no time did we need it, but we weren't driving in winter, either.

My wife liked the Neon because it gave her a high seating position. One of her complaints about many of the cars we drive is that the seating position is too low. She likes to sit up and be able to see what's going on.

I had to give up the Neon after a week. I enjoyed the car very much. At its price level, it's a bargain and brings a lot of business to Chrysler and should continue to bring a lot of business. When they were developing the Neon they were looking for something unique and expressive. They've hit the nail right on the head.

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