DaimlerChrysler's Neon received its first major model change for the 2000 model year, and what a difference that has made. The Neon, as before offered under both the Plymouth and Dodge nameplates, has always been a spunky performer with a good mix of economical operation and fun-oriented character. It hasn't always been synonymous with quietness and refinement. That, more than anything else, has been changed with the second- generation Neon.
"Neon" and "refinement" in the same sentence? Believe it. Full-frame doors and increased use of soundproofing materials help to give it the feel of a more expensive car. And its list of standard features includes items like a six-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo, infinitely-variable intermittent windshield wipers, plenty of extra- large-sized cupholders, and often-optional trim including floor mats, decent trunk lining, and a trunk light. The new Neon also has a useful increase in interior space underneath its sleek new body panels.
Not everyone wants a monster SUV or pickup, or even a midsized sedan. And not everyone is an Internet millionaire looking for a prestigious luxury car. Despite a distinct lack of notice, nearly a third of the cars sold in the U.S. today are small sedans in the Neon's class. The percentage increases overseas, where high taxes and fuel prices and limited space favor small cars. The Neon was designed to take on all competitors, worldwide.
The Neon is currently offered in sedan form, in two trim levels, base and LX if a Plymouth, or ES for the Dodge version. Other than the nameplates, there is little difference between the two. I recently spent a week with a Plymouth Neon LX, and was pleasantly impressed. It was a cut above the old Neon and most other small sedans in fit, finish, and feeling. Unfortunately, it looks to be one of the last cars carrying the Plymouth name. If so, at least Plymouth is going out with pride.
APPEARANCE: While unmistakably a Neon, the second- generation version is sleeker, with a more-pronounced cab-forward design and a greater slope to the windshield and backlight. It has more similarity than the old car to the larger DaimlerChrysler "LH" sedans - the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde, LHS, and 300M. Its low nose and high rear deck give it a sporty wedge- shaped profile. Although the front styling is evolved from that of the old Neon, the new "jewel" reflector headlamps are more elliptical. The boldly-styled rear panel features larger taillights, and is the most changed part of the car.
COMFORT: The Neon's added refinement is most noticeable inside. Here, "inexpensive" is not necessarily synonymous with "cheap." Interior fit and finish and materials are first-rate, giving the Neon a quality feel. The seats are far better than average for its class, with cloth upholstery. The rear seat is notably roomy, with a standard 60/40 split. The instrument panel is designed for visibility and functionality, with well-shaded instruments in front of the driver and climate and stereo controls in a separate pod in the center of the dash. Most interior surfaces in my test car were soft anti-glare plastics; the control pod and area around the shift lever were an interestingly-patterned hard plastic. Interior storage has been increased, both in the number of spaces and their size. Unusually for its price and size class, the Neon has a locking glove box. Theater-type automatically-dimming interior lighting adds convenience at night. As part of an option package, my test car had air conditioning, power front windows, power central locking with remote entry, leather covering for the steering wheel and shift lever, and more upscale amenities
SAFETY: The 2000 Neon has a strong body structure with side- impact door beams, dual "Next Generation" front airbags, and an available anti-theft system.
ROADABILITY: Even without the R/T or ACR performance packages, the new Neon not only measures up to its illustrious predecessor in the entertaining driving and fun categories, it surpasses it. Yes, better handling and, more importantly to most small car buyers, more comfort. The redesigned, fully-independent strut suspension has a greater ride height, more travel, and improved shock damping for better ride and handling characteristics. Increased chassis rigidity allows for the improved suspension, and, with new soundproofing materials and techniques, contributes to lower noise levels as well. The 2000 Neon is a very refined small car.
PERFORMANCE: The Neon's 2.0-liter single overhead cam four- cylinder engine has a variety of internal enhancements for better power characteristics and lower noise levels. It's much quieter than before, and its wider torque band improves its drivability, especially with the optional three-speed automatic transmission as found in my test car. Acceleration with the wide-ratio three-speed was surprisingly energetic; with the standard five-speed manual gearbox, the new Neon should be even better.
CONCLUSIONS: DaimlerChrysler has mad a good thing better with the 2000 Neon.
SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Plymouth Neon LX Base Price $ 12,460 Price As Tested $ 15,380 Engine Type single overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in. Horsepower 132 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 130 @ 4600 rpm Transmission 3-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 105.0 in. / 174.4 in. Curb Weight 2559 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 19.4 Fuel Capacity 12.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P185/60 R15 Goodyear Eagle LS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent Chapman strut Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city/highway/observed 25 / 31 / 26 0 to 60 mph 9.5 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 17.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Customer Preferred Package 22G - includes: Air conditioning, power front windows, power central locking with remote entry, power folding heated mirrors, sentry key theft-deterrent system, security alarm, power trunk lid release, 15-inch touring tires, tachometer, fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob $ 2,510 Smoker's group $ 20 3-speed automatic transmission $ 600 Destination charge $ 510 Customer preferred discount -($ 720)