1997 PLYMOUTH NEON
by Tom Hagin
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 10,595 Price As Tested $ 13,395 Engine Type 2.0 Liter I4 w/SFI* Engine Size 121 cid/1996 cc Horsepower 132 @ 6000 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 129 @ 5000 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 104"/67.5"/171.8" Transmission Three-speed automatic Curb Weight 2442 Pounds Fuel Capacity 12.5 gallons Tires (F/R) P175/70R14 Brakes (F/R) Disc/drum Drive Train Front/engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door Domestic Content 74 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) 0.33 PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 25/34/30 0-60 MPH 9.3 seconds 1/4 Mile (E.T.) 17.2 seconds @ 81.9 mph * Sequential fuel injection
The Plymouth Neon, introduced amid considerable promotion in 1994, is a success. Chrysler originally targeted the car toward young entry-level buyers, but the car's driver-friendly nature and blitzing ad campaign seems to have appealed to buyers of all ages.
The Neon comes as a sedan or coupe, with either Base or upscale Highline trim levels. And new this year is an "Expresso" trim package, which adds flashy upholstery and numerous interior upgrades. This week we test a Base model Neon with a smattering of optional equipment.
OUTSIDE - Neon's wide-set headlamps dominate its looks. As one of the original benefactors of Chrysler's cab-forward design, Neon's 104-inch wheelbase stretches the compact car into midsized territory. Its smooth shape helps lessen wind noise, and the front and rear overhangs are extremely short. Standard Neons come with 14-inch steel wheels with wheelcovers, while Highline models can be had with wider performance-oriented tires and alloy wheels. "Expresso" model Neons come with a sporty rear spoiler, special silver-colored graphics and wheelcovers, front fog lamps, and a special "power bulge" atop the hood.
INSIDE - Interior space is Neon's best feature. There is plenty of room inside for tall drivers to find a comfortable seating position, with clear sight lines to all of its major controls. We liked the pull knob for its headlights, and the horn activation, which can be blared by pushing anywhere in the center of the steering wheel. Three adults can fit nicely in back, but toe-room under the front seats is tight. Visibility is good, although our test car came without a right side outer mirror, which is optionally available. Its front bucket seats are generally comfortable, but lower support could be improved. Standard interior niceties include variable speed intermittent wipers, a small center console with a padded armrest and twin cupholders, and a handy extension on the driver's side sunvisor. Unfortunately, the Base model Neon comes without an audio system of any kind, but our test car was fitted with an optional AM/FM cassette stereo with eight speakers.
ON THE ROAD - Base model Neons come standard with a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine, with a single overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder. Its output is impressive at 132 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque, which gives it good off-the-line jump, and excellent passing power. Previous Neons have been criticized for loud, buzzy engine noise, but over the last few years, Chrysler has implemented running changes which include extra soundproofing, and a more rigid, structural oil pan. Neon Highline models use a spunkier twin-cam version of the same engine, which gives 150 horsepower and 133 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard equipment on both versions, and generally shifts well, but a short drive in one showed the gear selection action to be somewhat vague. Our car carried the optional power-absorbing three-speed automatic transmission.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - There is no denying that Neon is great fun to drive. Its wide track and long wheelbase really helps achieve fine road manners. Four-wheel independent suspension includes struts and coil springs front and rear, which work well to keep the car flat in corners. Base model Neons provide a safe, secure feeling on the road, and when the pavement becomes covered with snow and ice, Neon's front-wheel-drive layout gives superior traction and control. Power rack-and-pinion steering is standard on all models. For those wishing for more road-hugging performance, uplevel Neon models can be equipped with stiffer suspension components, quick-ratio steering and "grippier" tires. Braking on standard-issue Neons is accomplished with front disc and rear drum brakes, while optional braking adds discs in the rear, plus an anti-lock braking system (ABS).
SAFETY - All Neons come with dual airbags, side-impact protection, and three-point shoulder belts at all outboard seating locations. An integrated child safety seat is optional.
OPTIONS - The automatic transmission adds $600; air conditioning is $1000. Our test car's optional AM/FM cassette stereo was $595 extra.