New Car/Review

1999 DODGE NEON R/T COUPE

By Tom Hagin

Daimler/Chrysler Full Line factory footage (39:14) 28.8, 56k or 200k Part 1 and 200k Part 2

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 11,480
Price As Tested (est.) $ 14,981
Engine Type DOHC 16-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
Engine Size 122 cid/1996 cc
Horsepower 150 @ 6500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft) 133 @ 5500 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length 104"/67.4"/171.8"
Transmission Five-speed manual
Curb Weight 2493 pounds
Fuel Capacity 12.5 gallons
Tires (F/R) P185/65HR14
Brakes (F/R) Disc /disc
Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type Five-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content 71 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) 0.34

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
city/highway/average
27/40/32
0-60 MPH 8.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.) 16.5 seconds @ 86 mph
Top speed 115 mph

* Sequential multi-port fuel injection

In 1994, Dodge planners promised that its then-new Neon compact would become very visible in amateur showroom stock racing and that almost anyone could race one to the winner's circle. American Club Racing, or ACR, was the name given to a special factory-prepared competition version and over 13,000 have been sold so far. The ACR also won the SCCA Class C showroom stock titles three years in a row, an enviable feat for an entry-level car.

The ACR Neon is fun to race but inappropriate for everyday driving. It does, however, serve as the basis for the Neon R/T, a less garish version offered in sedan or coupe form, with nearly all the performance equipment of the ACR Neon minus the flashy corporate graphics.

OUTSIDE - Eliminating two of the sedan's doors has altered Neon's shape somewhat, just enough to make it more appealing to younger buyers. Our coupe was Flame Red, with a pair of silver racing stripes sweeping over the hood, across the roof and onto the trunk. A spoiler stands proudly on its tail. The longer, heavier doors take a bit more strength to close snugly, and allow some wind noise into the cabin. Two less doors also means a thick rear pillar, which creates a blind spot to the rear corners. Bolt-on wheel covers are standard, but we were happy to have our test vehicle fitted with polished five-spoke alloy wheels.

INSIDE - Inside is the same cab-forward, no-nonsense interior that makes all new Chrysler-built passenger cars so sensible to own, with maximized space in small, efficient package. The view from the driver's seat is expansive, and the seats have more bolstering than other Neon models. The simple dash features analog gauges that are easy to read, and four well-placed vents. The climate controls and stereo are within easy reach, and a molded plastic center console offers cubby-hole storage. Access to the back can be tight, but the front seats slide forward when the seatback is released. The rear seats flips forward so long items like sets of skis can be transported inside. The R/T version has a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, cassette stereo, air conditioning and a tachometer as standard equipment.

ON THE ROAD - Neon R/T uses the same 150-horse 2.0 liter twin-cam four cylinder engine as the Neon Sport Coupe, though in the press kit we received, Dodge states that a performance-tuned engine controller is used in all R/T model Neons, but not in the Neon Sport. Noise, vibration and harshness have been significantly lowered in all Neons since they were introduced, though the engine is still "buzzy" when it's spinning fast. Enthusiastic drivers of the Neon R/T will probably be spending lots of time with the gas pedal pushed to the floor to the detriment of its gas mileage. A tidy 41 miles per gallon on the highway is what Dodge claims on the window sticker, and we achieved nearly 43 mpg during some long-distance freeway driving. It sprints quickly to 60 mph, and it's great fun to slip the standard five-speed manual transmission through its gears. The three-speed automatic gearbox that is offered optionally in other Neon models is unavailable on the R/T, a plus for us since it would sap power and make the engine sound "busy" at freeway speeds.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The Neon R/T suspension is typical of small cars these days. The front is suspended by MacPherson struts with Chapman struts in back. Coil springs, tube shocks and anti-roll bars are fitted at both ends. What makes the R/T version different is that it has stiffer springs, performance struts and thicker anti-roll bars. It holds firm in the corners, with virtually no body roll compared to other economy cars. The grippy tires, P185/65-14 Goodyear Eagles, are H-rated and use a stickier compound than that found on standard version of the Neon. They greatly improve the cornering abilities of this sportier model. The steering ratio is quicker than the standard Neons as well, and gives a firmer feel. Braking is better, too, since Neon R/T models have four-wheel disc brakes, instead of the disc/drum units of the standard Neon. Anti-lock brakes, however, are not offered.

SAFETY - Dual airbags and side-impact beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Customer Preferred Package: $2,870; Value Fun Group: $700.

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