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The Neon (also called the Dodge SX 2.0 in Canada) was a compact car built from 1995 through 2005 by DaimlerChrysler's Dodge and Plymouth brands. For a brief time in Canada and export markets outside the United States, it carried Chrysler badges. It was produced as a front wheel drive car to replace the Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance, as well as the Dodge/Plymouth Colt series. The Dodge Neon came in many different versions throughout its production, but the most lusted-after model is the Dodge SRT-4, because of its low price and class-leading performance.
1995 - 1999
The first generation Neon was introduced in January 1994 and manufactured for model years 1995 to 1999. It was available as a 4-door sedan or 2-door coupe. It was powered by either a 132 hp SAE (98 kW) 2.0 L SOHC or a 150 hp SAE (112 kW) 2.0 L DOHC 4-cylinder engine. The Neon was available with a 3-speed automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual transmission and was sold as a Dodge and Plymouth in the United States and Canada, and as the Chrysler Neon outside of North America.
Often neglected in discussions of the Neon is the relative horsepower compared to other cars of the day - the Civic DX at 102, the Civic EX at 125, the Sentra and Sunbird at 110, the Escort at 127, the Corolla at 115, etc. The Neon's torque output was also higher than competitors. At the Neon's release, then chairman of Chrysler Corporation Robert Lutz said, "There's an old saying in Detroit: 'Good, fast or cheap. Pick any two.' We refuse to accept that." Indeed, the Neon made a sizable profit - the only recent American car in its class to do so.
First-generation Neons are highly competitive in SCCA Solo autocross racing. The no-frills SOHC or DOHC-equipped ACR (ACR = American Club Racer, sedans and coupes, respectively) variants are well-known as affordable amateur racing cars. Both the ACR and the more feature-laden R/T (introduced in the 1998 model year) models, each available as either a sedan or a coupe, featured four-wheel disc brakes; performance-oriented suspensions with stiffer front springs, beefier swaybars, and fast-ratio steering; and a 5-speed transmission with a numerically higher 5th gear and final drive ratio for quicker acceleration. The computer-controlled top speed limiter was removed entirely on 1995 ACR models and raised from the standard 190 km/h (118 mph) to 210 km/h (130 mph) on both the ACR and R/T models for subsequent years. Even second generation Neons had a strong racing record.
Early Neons had a number of reliability problems, the most famous being head gasket failures. By November 1998, the head gasket had been replaced with a new MLS (Multi Layer Steel) design which proved to be much more reliable and was standard in most 1999 models and was also retrofitted to earlier models. Many early Neons suffered from poor paint finish quality, where the paint became brittle and peeled off in sheets, partly because of teething problems with a new environmentally-friendly "dry painting" process. Either way, by the end of the first generation, most problems had been sorted out and the Neon proved to be a reliable car. Unfortunately, the Neon's early reputation for poor reliability persists even today, possibly because Chrysler failed to adequately publicize its improvements or proactively reach out to customers who had experienced failures.
Neons also suffered from some interesting design choices, including the impossibility of gaining power windows in the rear doors, and a climate control system which had drivers move the fan knob in one direction for air conditioning and the other for vent. The latter caused less conscious drivers to drive consistently with the air conditioner on, which greatly hurt power and gas mileage, since the unit was quite powerful. Also, the car automatically turned on the air conditioning whenever the defroster was used, regardless of which side the fan control was set on. Owners often would disable the contact on the selector knob allowing them to use the defroster without air conditioning. The air conditioning evaporator proved to be prone to failure after warranties expired (a problem addressed in later years), which is an expensive repairing since it is relatively inaccessible.
Certain color Neons, such as red and black, had bumper covers molded in color rather than painted. These covers would not shine like paint, but they absorbed scuffs and scrapes with less notice. The mid-level Highline models were well known for their unique "bubble" hubcap design.
The Australian-market Chrysler Neon came in two models, the SE and the better equipped LX. Later, the LX model was replaced by the LE with the updated model in 1999. In the United States, the lineup started out as Base, Highline, and Sport, with different styles and options in each line, but the lineup titles changed frequently (other trim lines included Expresso, SE, ES, SXT, ACR, and R/T). In Europe, the car was also available with a 1.8 L engine.
2000 - 2005
Sales of the second generation model started with model year 2000 and production ended with the 2005 model year. The second-generation Neon was only available as a 4-door sedan. In some regions, including the United States, the sole engine was the 2.0 L SOHC engine, with an optional Magnum configuration (including an active intake manifold) that produced 150 hp.
The second generation was much more refined than the first-generation car. It was advertised that the second generation Neon had over 1,000 refinements from the original generation. The first generation's frameless windows (which would pull away from the door in a strong crosswind) were replaced with a full-framed door. Numerous other NVH refinements led to a much quieter and enjoyable passenger car. The more refined interior and greater size did, however, come at the cost of increased weight. This, along with the discontinuance of the DOHC engine, caused the second generation car to be less competitive on the race track.
When DaimlerChrysler discontinued the Plymouth brand in 2001, the Chrysler PT Cruiser replaced the Plymouth Neon as Chrysler's compact car. Also, the former Plymouth Neon and Dodge Neon were briefly sold under the Chrysler name in Canada until 2002. In Europe, Australia, and Asia, the car has always been sold as a Chrysler, as Dodge and Plymouth marque names were not marketed there. Besides the 2.0 L engine, it also used the same Tritec 1.6 L unit found in the BMW MINI prior to 2007. The 1.6 L unit is a variation of the 2.0 L SOHC engine designed by Chrysler and built jointly by Chrysler and Rover.
Originally, the second generation Neon featured a five-speed manual transmission using the former ACR gear ratios to make up for the acceleration loss caused by greater weight. However, this hurt gas mileage and made the car noisier on the highway, and eventually the original gear ratios were restored along with the original gas mileage. A four-speed automatic made its way into the Neon in 2002, with moderately poorly set up gearing. This was improved a year later. The Neon never did get rear power windows, making do with manual rear windows and front power windows.
In an attempt to rid the car of its reputation, the Neon's name was changed to SX 2.0 in Canada in 2003, though the Dodge Neon was eventually brought back. In Australia, the Chrysler Neon was discontinued in 2002, due to declining sales and expensive price compared to its competitors. In 2002, the front clip was changed to match the R/T and ACR front clip. The ACR model was discontinued for 2003; the R/T model for 2005.
DaimlerChrysler discontinued the Neon, with the final cars assembled on September 23, 2005 at the Belvidere Assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois. The Neon was replaced in the spring of 2006 with the 2007 Dodge Caliber, which is based on the shared Chrysler/Mitsubishi Motors GS platform. Like the Neon, the Caliber will have a turbocharged SRT-4 variant making 300 hp.