New Car/Review

1997 PLYMOUTH NEON SEDAN

by Tom Hagin

Plymouth
SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 10,395
Price As Tested                                    $ 12,615
Engine Type                            2.0 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 122 cid/1996 cc
Horsepower                                   132 @ 6000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               129 @ 5000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                    104"/67.5"/171.8"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2405 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/two-door
Domestic Content                                 74 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.33

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            29/39/27
0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.2 seconds @ 87 mph
Top-speed                                           115 mph
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

There's no denying that the Plymouth Neon is a fun car to drive. Ignore the fact that its main mission is to provide basic transportation for a buyer on a budget. It just happens to give as much driving excitement as sport cars costing much more.

Its base price of just over $10,000 makes it affordable to most, and with a few well-placed optional dollars, it can become quite plush.

OUTSIDE - Its retro-looking headlights and curved roof line are squarely targeted at Generation X, but after several years on the market, Chrysler has found it equally appealing to a more "mature" set, too. Neon was one of the Chrysler Corporation's first benefactors of cab-forward design, and with its 104-inch wheelbase, it pushes the limits between a compact and a mid-sized car. It has a short, stubby trunk, which is actually quite cavernous, and a low, pointed hood, which gives a van-like view. Plenty of glass aids in this visibility as well, and the sedan's long rear doors give good access to the back seat. Our base model Neon was fitted with the standard steel wheels with full wheelcovers, along with 14-inch all-season tires.

INSIDE - Five adults can ride inside Neon, with more room than most compact cars in its class. Six-foot-plus drivers will find just enough leg room for a comfortable ride, though we would like to see a bit more lower back support for the front bucket seats. We liked the map pockets on the front door panels, which were deep and easy to reach. We also appreciated the slide-out sunvisor extension on the driver's side, which came in handy more than once. And while the Neon Base model is priced exactly as its name implies, it is by no means "stripped." Some of its standard features include a full center console with an armrest and a covered compartment, which integrates into a pair of cupholders and a small storage tray. Tinted glass is standard, too, as are two-speed intermittent wipers and cloth/vinyl upholstery. Our test car had a few options, which included air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo, a rear window defroster and floor mats.

ON THE ROAD - Neon is powered by a 2.0 liter inline four cylinder engine. It uses a single overhead camshaft and 16 valves to produce 132 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are a bit higher than many of the imported marques, and it gives lots of zip. In fact, we were able to squeeze a healthy quarter-mile time of just over 16 seconds, which is almost a second quicker than many cars in its class. New this year is a structural oil pan, which Chrysler says will lessen vibration from its added rigidity. It offers a lively personality, though returns a considerable amount of noise in the upper limits of its rpm range. The standard five-speed manual transmission shifts solidly, and seems a perfect match for the engine. That is not the case, however, with the optional three-speed automatic transmission, which gives five miles per gallon less, and doesn't feel up to the task of moving the car in a spirited manner like the manual gearbox does. Our obvious choice is the five-speed.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - A wide track and long wheelbase keeps Neon solidly planted to the pavement. It uses four-wheel independent suspension with struts and coil springs tuned firmly, so poor road surfaces tend to bring unwanted shocks and noises into the cabin. Its steering system is of the power rack-and-pinion type and isn't too light, nor is it too heavy, so the driver receives a good sense of what the front tires are doing. Turning into a corner is crisp, until the limit of the tires' adhesion is reached, where understeer and tire scrub appear in large doses. It uses front disc and rear drum brakes, with a four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) offered optionally. Order the ABS and Neon comes fitted with four-wheel disc brakes, which are far superior to conventional drum brakes.

SAFETY - Dual airbags and side-impact protection are standard, while ABS is optional.

OPTIONS - Our test car had air conditioning which was $1,000 extra, while a rear window defroster cost $205. The AM/FM stereo added $335.

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