SAN FRANCISCO: There
is another player in the growing youth vehicle market, and it's not a Honda or a
Volkswagen. This one is built in Belvidere, Illinois, America's heartland. Challenging the
Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta, Ford Focus, and a few others, is the new Dodge Neon R/T.
Now that Plymouth has been shown the door, Neons are sold only at Dodge dealers. The
car comes exclusively as a four-door sedan, but spans four models, including the SE, ES,
R/T and ACR (Automotive Club Racer). The Neon received a thorough redesign for the 2000
model year, so the 2001 models are tweaks upon the new overall package.
When it debuted in early 1994 as a 1995 model, the original Neon was one of Chrysler's
first "cab forward" designs, from the enlightened team of designers who have
penned some of the most beautiful and interesting cars of the last decade. That shape
lives on in 2001, but the body panels have been tightened up, with sharper fender lines,
turned-up taillights, and a more aggressive nose. In early ads, the Neon said,
"Hi." Today's car says, "How ya doin?"
The little Dodge is classified as a compact car by the EPA, so there is plenty of room
inside for you and your friends. The upswept side windows convey coziness even as rear
legroom exceeds many competitors. The SE model would make a pleasant commuter vehicle. But
the R/T model is this week's test car, in bright silver metallic, and it stands out from
the crowd with its full bag of goodies.
The most important, at least to the driver, is the 2.0-liter high-output Magnum engine.
It puts out 150 horsepower versus the 132 horsepower of the standard engine. That's
reasonably generous for a small car. The R/T comes with a sporting five-speed manual
transmission, which enables drivers to keep the car in gear all the way up to redline rpm
levels where it can make a difference. Fuel mileage is a respectable 27 city, 33 highway,
but the little rocket does opt for premium fuel.
The R/T follows the youth market hot sedan recipe with a sport suspension, which
includes unique springs, struts, shocks and antiroll bars. These are just the things that
young drivers love to add to their cars themselves, as are the Neon's 16-inch alloy wheels
with low-aspect-ratio performance rubber. There is also a performance tuned exhaust system
with bright exhaust pipe tips, and "Firm-feel" 16:1 steering. All 2001 Neons get
improved brakes, but the R/T sports four-wheel discs with antilock, traction control, and
electronic brake proportioning.
If the Prowler is Chrysler's factory-made Hot Rod, then the Neon R/T is Dodge's factory
compact Sports Sedan. The outside of the R/T wears unique front and rear fascias with air
dams, a towering trunk lid-mounted spoiler, and side sill extensions. The pieces don't
disturb the overall taut lines of the Neon, although some drivers may do a double take
when they see a 48-year-old guy with a graying beard driving a Neon R/T. Inside, the R/T
package adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a color-keyed instrument
panel bezel with white gauge faces, and unique bucket seats.
The Neon starts out at just $12,715, but my test car was loaded with options. A $1,010
package delivers leather seats and supplemental side airbags. The power sunroof costs just
$595 more. A four-disc CD changer is mounted very low in the dash, and along with the
stereo system itself, it sounds full and resonant, with plenty of bass response. The extra
18 horsepower adds $250. That brings the grand total to $18,955 after a welcome $860
"Customer Preferred Discount."
By far the largest upgrade is Customer Preferred Package 25H. For $4,430, it adds the
stuff most people apparently want, such as air conditioning, power windows, a 140-mph
speedometer, power heated/fold away outside mirrors, central locking, fog lamps,
illuminated vanity mirrors, lots of grab handles, and all those add-on pieces that make
the car look so cool. One oddity however is the Neon is the only car I have ever driven
that combines power front windows and hand crank rear ones.
Overall, however, the R/T walks the walk and talks the talk. In a world infatuated with
lowered, tricked-out Honda Civics, an all-American entry is rising up to grab some
attention. The Neon R/T, an American Pocket Rocket Sports Sedan. By Steve Schaefer ©
AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Dodge Home Page
Byline: By Steve Schaefer © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name: An American Pocket Rocket Sports Sedan
Topic: 2001 Dodge Neon RT
Word Count: 791
Photo Caption: 2001 Doodge Neon RT
Photo Credits: Dodge Internet Media
Series #: 2001 - 21
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