SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide
The Dodge Neon has always had more spirit than is usual for small sedans, and gets even more this year with the re- introduction of performance-oriented R/T and ACR packages. Re-introduction? Yes. A few years back, R/T and ACR versions of the first-generation Neon were available. Now they're offered for the second generation of Dodge's smallest sedan.
"R/T" is a name that goes back far into Dodge's muscle car history. It stands for "Road/Track," and was first used for the 1967 Coronet R/T, which featured heavy-duty suspension and brakes and a 440-cubic inch V8. The legendary 425-horsepower 426 "Hemi" was an option. 1968 saw the introduction of the Charger R/T, and in 1970 came the smaller Challenger R/T, with a 230-hp 318 V8 or, for the serious, the Hemi.
The early 1970s saw the end of the Mesozoic muscle cars, but they were never forgotten. The Viper R/T10 paid homage to them when it was introduced in 1992, and, eventually, Dodge intends to have an R/T version of everything it makes. The Neon R/T and Intrepid R/T are only the beginning.
ACR? That's an acronym for "American Club Racer." Both it and the R/T use suspension and steering hardware developed in showroom stock racing, and a higher-output "Magnum" version of the Neon's 2.0-liter engine. The R/T has a long list of comfort and convenience features in addition to its sport suspension. The street- legal ACR, in the spirit of showroom stock club racing, foregoes the extra weight of comfort items that would be removed for competition anyway, but keeps the enhanced engine and adds more suspension goodies.
I've just completed a week with a 2001 Dodge Neon R/T. It's an enjoyable small car with a healthy dose of modern performance and attitude. If it's not the fastest thing on four wheels, well, it's more fun to drive a slow car (relatively) fast than to drive a fast car slow. At speeds where a Viper is hardly working, the Neon's working hard and enjoying every minute. Good fuel economy and a convenient, easily-parked size make it a daily driver in the real world, something that can't be said of a Viper R/T10 or a Challenger R/T Hemi. True to its heritage, the Neon can go face- to-face with any competitive import and hold its own.
APPEARANCE: The newest Neon, introduced for the 2000 model year, is a sleek little car that is obviously influenced in its look by DaimlerChrysler's large LH sedans, the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde, LHS, and 300M. The R/T package adds sports cues including a restyled grille, more aggressive air-dam-shaped lower front bumper fascia, side sill extensions, and a small wing on the rear deck. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels with 50-series performance tires and dual chrome-tipped exhausts complete the look.
COMFORT: My test R/T was about as fully-equipped as is possible for a Neon, with, among other options, leather covering the seats, steering wheel rim, and shift knob, a well-designed and useful full- length front center console, power front windows, mirrors, and remote keyless entry, air conditioning, and a four-disc in-dash CD changer to go with an AM/FM/cassette sound system. Put all that together in the newest Neon's stiffer, quieter body structure, and the result is a comfortably pleasant, surprisingly refined small sports sedan. The manually-adjustable R/T package front sports seats are reasonably bolstered for fast driving in comfort, and the 60/40 split folding rear seat has more head and leg room than average for its class. Black-on-white instruments add to the R/T's sports character, and good instrument and control placement and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel help make the Neon R/T a driver's car.
SAFETY: All 2001 Neons have a strong body structure with side- impact door beams and dual "Next Generation" front airbags. The R/T features four-wheel antilock disc brakes. Side airbags are available.
ROADABILITY: The latest Neon chassis is a good starting point for the R/T. It's more rigid and refined than the original, and features a more-developed fully-independent strut-type suspension. Normal versions are tuned more for comfort, but still are entertaining to drive. The R/T has stiffer struts and larger stabilizer bars, and larger-diameter wheels with low-profile tires. These changes improve cornering behavior and adhesion with only a minimal reduction in ride comfort. It's a good street-oriented sport suspension, and adds more fun to an already enjoyable car. For more serious handling, the ACR package features competition- tuned spring and damping rates, stiffer stabilizer bars, and adjustable-camber front struts.
PERFORMANCE: The R/T and ACR use the "Magnum" version of the Neon's 2.0-liter, 16-valve single overhead cam four-cylinder engine. Internal modifications raise the standard 132 horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque to 150 hp and 135 lb-ft. In the manner of many sports engines, the power is developed at fairly high engine speeds. So, to make best use of what is available, maximum use of the shift lever is necessary. Fortunately, quick, smooth shift linkage and an ergonomically-shaped shift lever encourage use of the five- speed gearbox. Just keep it above 3500 rpm and it's a happy engine with a classic four-cylinder snarl. It's got plenty of modern-day small-displacement attitude if not the brute force of the 440 Magnum in a 1967 Coronet R/T.
CONCLUSIONS: The new Neon gets a healthy dose of attitude with the introduction of the R/T model.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Dodge Neon R/T Base Price $ 12,715 (base Neon) Price As Tested $ 18,955 Engine Type single overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in. Horsepower 150 @ 6500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 135 @ 4400 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 105.0 in. / 174.4 in. Curb Weight 2559 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.1 Fuel Capacity 12.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91-octane unleaded premium recommended for best performance, 87 octane unleaded regular acceptable Tires P195/50 VR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc with antilock standard on R/T 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 27 / 33 / 29 0 to 60 mph 7.7 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.342 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Leather seat package - includes: leather seat covering, side supplemental air bags, full-length center console $ 1,010 Customer Preferred Package 25H (R/T) - includes: Air conditioning; low-back cloth bucket seats; 16" aluminum wheels and P19995/50 VR16 Goodyear tires; compact spare tire; Sentry Key theft-deterrent system; keyless entry with 2 transmitters; security alarm; 140-mph speedometer; door sill extensions and rear spoiler; sport suspension and steering; tachometer; power front windows, mirrors, door locks; fog lamps; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; dual bright exhaust tips $ 4,430 Power sunroof $ 595 Smoker's group - includes lighter and removable ashtray $ 20 2.0-liter sohc high-performance engine $ 250 Engine block heater $ 20 4-disc in-dash CD changer $ 375 Destination charge $ 560 Customer preferred discount -($ 860) Leather group discount -($ 160)