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New Car Review


by Tom Hagin


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 11,155
Price As Tested                                    $ 15,265
Engine Type                     DOHC 4V 2.0 Liter I4 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 122 cid/1996 cc
Horsepower                                   150 @ 6500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               133 @ 5500 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                    104"/67.2"/171.8"
Transmission                          Three-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2541 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  12.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P185/65R14
Brakes (F/R)                                     Disc /drum
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 71 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                             0.335


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            24/33/28
0-60 MPH                                        9.1 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.5 seconds @ 84.5 mph
Top speed                                           120 mph
     * Sequential fuel injection

Among showroom stock automobile racing events, it seems as if the most visible of the venues are those that feature TV and screen actors.

For the serious drivers participating in the SCCA Neon Challenge, a professional racing series now in its third year, the competition is very real. The races feature only Dodge and Plymouth Neons, equipped with special competition packages. We want to try one of the race cars just for fun but this week we test Plymouth's Neon Expresso sedan.

OUTSIDE - The appearance of Neon in 1994 practically coined the term cab-forward, with its short hood, trunk, and front and rear overhangs. Each wheel is pushed outward to the corners of the car, giving it a long wheelbase and a stretch in interior room. Lots of glass gives good visibility, even for shorter drivers. Neon Expresso models feature specific exterior features that include Expresso graphics, special wheel covers, a body-color rear spoiler and a "power bulge" bump atop the hood. A body-color rub strip wraps the car, and the window trim and door handles are black. The aluminum wheels on our tester were optional, and came mated to grippy P185/65R14 Goodyear Eagle GA tires.

INSIDE - There has been some model shuffling for 1998. Last year's Highline model is now the base, or "D" version. It is adequately equipped with an AM/FM stereo, variable intermittent wipers, a fold-down rear seat, uplevel cloth/vinyl upholstery, a full center console and an inside trunk release. By adding the Expresso package, Neon comes with jazzy "Tango" accents in the upholstery. Our test car was fitted with many options which lofted this very basic transportation near the top of the Neon heap. The Customer Preferred Package ($1000) adds air conditioning, fog lamps, rear spoiler, passenger assist handles, a tachometer, wheelcovers, the power bulge hood, and Expresso badging. A Deluxe Convenience Group ($350) added speed control and a tilt steering column. The Value/Fun Group ($1435) added a power sunroof, windows, mirrors and door locks, a lighted passenger side vanity mirror and a cassette stereo.

ON THE ROAD - The Neon Challenge is grouped into two classes based on engine size and body configuration: Showroom Stock B is limited to Neon Coupe models with a 150 horsepower dual overhead cam engine that is optional in the street version of both the sedan and coupe. Showroom Stock C is open to four-door Neons with the base 132-horse single overhead cam engine that is standard equipment with all street Neon models. Two separate five-speed manual transmission are available - the standard version has "regular" gear ratios designed for "normal" use. The performance transmission features one for racing that features higher ratios for more top speed. Our car used a three-speed automatic which certainly makes shifting easy, but it downshifted too easily into second gear from third. It also delivers 5 miles per gallon less on the highway than the manual, so it could use an overdrive automatic.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Neon receives almost universal praise for handling. It features fully independent suspension that is traditional in its layout, but its wide track and long wheelbase allow it to carve through turns easily and predictably. The ride is definitely "sporting" however, as large bumps and potholes produce sharp jolts. A full load aboard smooths things somewhat. It is quite fun to drive, especially through twisting two-lane roads, and gives quick turn-in with little body roll. Competition-level Neons come with extra-firm suspension components that give even better handling, but drastically reduce ride quality. Power rack-and-pinion steering is standard, while special quick-ratio steering comes with the competition package. The standard Neon braking setup includes front discs and rear drums, while four-wheel discs with anti-lock braking (ABS) is optional.

SAFETY - Its "next generation" dual airbags now comply to Federal regulations that allow less force during deployment. Side-impact beams are standard while ABS is optional

OPTIONS - The automatic transmission and DOHC engine adds $750, while California emissions are $170. Alloy wheels are $355.