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Dodge Neon Sedan ES (2000)

SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 12,390
     Price As Tested                                    $ 16,680
     Engine Type              SOHC 16-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 122 cid/1995 cc
     Horsepower                                   132 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               130 @ 4600 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.0"/67.4"/174.4"
     Transmission                          Three-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2573 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  12.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                  P185/60R15 all-season touring
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.34


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            25/31/27
     0-60 MPH                                        9.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          17.5 seconds @ 82.0 mph
     Top speed                                           115 mph
                * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

The Neon has been on the market for almost seven years. It marked a new era for Dodge, one that brought the Intrepid sedan, Viper sports car, Dakota and Ram pickups, and a makeover of the Caravan minivan.

Now it's Neon's turn in the spotlight. It's all-new for 2000 and comes in either base, or as our tester for the week, the Neon ES.

OUTSIDE - The new Neon looks familiar, but seems more polished than before. It's longer than the original by 2.6 inches, and a bit wider. The new jeweled headlights look more upscale, and the body seems to be stretched tightly around the wheels. Its windshield has been moved forward three inches at the base, while the nose of the car continues to wear a happy smile. Major upgrades came from increased resistance to bending and twisting. This, in addition to lots of noise-deadening insulation and new triple-sealed, full-framed side windows, helps quiet the ride. Fourteen-inch steel wheels with full wheelcovers are standard, while 15-inch alloy wheels and performance tires are optional.

INSIDE - Neon's interior has grown as well. White-faced gauges are set deeply into a hooded pod. There is now a better grade of fabrics covering the seats and door panels, while the plastics used throughout the cabin appear richer in texture than before. Gone are the bright, confetti-laced patterns of the upholstery of the original model, which is further evidence that the Neon is growing up. There is a very usable 60/40 split folding rear seat that opens to a trunk that has grown by just over one cubic foot, and there is now more room for four passengers, five in a pinch. Its buttons, knobs and controls are easy to push and twist, and the headlight switch is now integrated with the turn signal stalk instead of the push-pull control of the first generation Neon. A great feature that is not normally associated with entry-level cars is variable-speed intermittent wipers, which come standard on all Neons. Other standard Neon features include a full-length center console, a six-speaker AM/FM cassette stereo and a rear window defroster. Neon ES adds power front windows, air conditioning, power trunk lid release, tilt steering, tachometer and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

ON THE ROAD - Underhood is a single-cam, 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine with four valves per cylinder. It produces 132 horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque, much of which becomes available at low rpms, so off-line pull is more noticeable. Refinements to the intake and exhaust systems have quieted the engine, the main source of complaints with the old car. Also, a new four-point engine mounting system has reduced powertrain-induced vibrations. Sadly, the dual overhead-cam, 150-horse engine of the Neon R/T has been discontinued, but it will be replaced by an upgraded version later this year. Mated to this is a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional three-speed automatic.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Neon rides on a steel unit body platform, as do most cars these days. Its suspension system consists of strut-type components front (MacPherson) and rear (Chapman), with re-valved tube shocks, lower-rate coil springs and anti-roll bars with stiffer bushings. There is now 15 percent more jounce travel up front and 30 percent more in back, which results in less bottoming-out and a smoother ride. This especially helps the suspension cope with a car full of passengers and cargo. The ride is smoother and more controlled and the redesigned steering system is sharper and more accurate, all of which adds up to a car that is great fun to drive in a "sporting" fashion - Neon's original mission. The standard braking setup includes discs up front and drums in back, although our optional four-wheel disc system is teamed with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic valve proportioning and traction control. We consider these "must buy" items.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags and side-impact door beams are standard; ABS and traction control are optional.

OPTIONS - Light group, $130; ABS, $740; automatic transmission, $600; speed control, $225, CD player, $225; alloy wheels, $355.