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Dodge Neon SE (2002)

SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 14,015
     Price As Tested                                    $ 15,699
     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"/173.1"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2689 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  12.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                          P185/60R15 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                       Disc (front)/drum (rear)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 XX percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.34


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            27/33/30
     0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.5 seconds @ 86.0 mph
     Top-speed                                           115 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

The compact car market represents more than 2 million units sold each year. The Dodge Neon, that company's small car, is sold in 61 countries and for 2002, receives moderate updates. Its comes in Base, sporty R/T, SCCA race-ready ACR, up-level ES and its best-seller, our SE tester for this week.

OUTSIDE - Neon was redesigned in 2000, giving it a more mature look. Up front is a stylized version of the original Neon's nose, keeping its original mission of perkiness. Oval headlights, set back into the corners of the hood and fenders, are integrated into the front end. The short hood slopes upward to the inclined windshield, over the rounded roof line and back to the stubby trunk lid. Structural fundamentals have been improved, and with additions such as full window frames with improved sealing features, it's quieter and serves up less rainwater when you open the door to climb inside. Bolt-on steel wheel covers are standard, though our tester was fitted with optional five-spoke alloys.

INSIDE - Neon's redesign brought with it a larger interior. Slightly more shoulder and hip room all around are a result of a wider overall size, though squeezing five inside will refresh the memory that this is a subcompact. The pronounced downward drop in the rear roof line cuts into headroom in the back seat, so riders back there will want to remove their hats. The overall look of the interior is luxurious. Appearing as if it's a scaled-down version of Dodge's larger, more upscale LH sedan, the instrument panel is covered in a soft-touch material and offers large gauges that are deeply set into a hooded pod. Large, simple- to-operate stereo buttons control the six-speaker sound system. Fit and finish details are finally top-notch, with seams that are uniform and seemingly rattle-free. A 60/40 split folding rear seat gives ample storage for occasional long items, while storage cubbyholes and cupholders are liberally supplied.

ON THE ROAD - Neons can be had with one of two engines. The first, offered only in the R/T and competition slanted ACR, is a dual overhead- cam 2.0-liter inline four with 150 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque. The rest of the Neon line, including our SE tester, have a single-cam, 16-valve version of the same engine and produces 132 horses with 130 lb-ft of torque. Evolutionary changes over the years have reduced noise, vibration and harshness to levels on par with the imported subcompacts. Power delivery is impressive, with quick throttle response and a 0-60 mph time of around eight seconds. This is with a standard five-speed manual transmission, so expect slightly slower acceleration with the optional, and newly-available, four-speed automatic. Until 2001, Dodge offered only an anemic three-speed to buyers wanting an automatic. Freeway passing is unstressed since maximum power comes relatively low in the engine's rpm range.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Its stiff unit construction provides a solid platform and each successive Neon model year has brought with it improvements in handling and driveability. The MacPherson strut suspension was reworked for 2000, with more suspension travel, an increased ride height, lower-rate springs and revised shock valving, all in an effort to produce a smoother ride. Also added were "tighter" bushings for the front anti-roll bar, while the addition of a rear stabilizer bar on base model Neons has improved handling characteristics. The rack-and-pinion steering system is precise enough to provide quick turn-in and response, and years of improvements made with the race-ready Neon ACR have filtered down into the street versions. Braking is done with front discs and rear drums, while an anti-lock braking system (ABS) package would add rear disc brakes, ABS, low-speed traction control and electronic brake proportioning.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, child seat tether anchors and constant-force seat belts are standard. Side-impact airbags, ABS and traction control are optional.

OPTIONS - Buyer Security Group (Side air-bag, supplemental locks, security alarm, etc.), $1120. Alloy wheels, $564.