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While fun to drive, the 2001 Dodge Neon lacks the polish and refinement found in other cars in the economy car segment.
Large interior, competent handling, attractive interior/exterior styling.
Noisy engine, archaic three-speed automatic transmission, lack of feature content in standard trim.
Available Neon Models
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The Neon R/T and Neon ACR, both models sporting a 2.0-liter 150-horsepower engine, make their much-anticipated return this year. Side-impact airbags and leather seats are now available in the 2001 Dodge Neon, as is a new interior color and four new exterior colors. An internal trunk release keeps young and old from being trapped in the Neon's cargo hold, and four new option packages, one of which includes a four-disc in-dash CD player, further widen its appeal to buyers seeking an American-made economy car.
DaimlerChrysler is billing the current-generation Neon as "quiet, sophisticated and still a lot of fun." Fun seems to be the catchword for the Neon. Its maker obviously wants people to know that while the Neon has grown up, it hasn't grown old. It's probably worthwhile for them to stress the fun factor, since the coupe version has been absent since the 2000-model-year redesign, meaning that a four-door sedan will have to suffice for all those economy car thrill-seekers out there. Available trim levels include the base ES, uplevel SE, sporty R/T, and performance-minded ACR.
The standard 132-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four received improvements to the air induction and intake manifold systems last year to provide torque over a broader rpm range, but the powerplant still makes too much noise at high rpms. Thankfully, with a refined suspension that offers plenty of wheel travel, the Neon's ride is smooth. The power rack-and-pinion steering and precisely tuned suspension also contribute to the Neon's cruising quality while making it an absolute blast when canyon carving. Stopping power comes from a front disc/rear drum combo, but buyers may want to opt for four-wheel discs with ABS and traction control.
A 150-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, absent in 2000, makes a celebrated return this year as standard equipment in the reintroduced R/T and ACR models. The feature-laden R/T model also features 16-inch aluminum wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, a sport suspension, special body cladding, a performance-tuned exhaust, and high ratio steering, along with a unique steering wheel and shift knob, power front windows, power door locks, air conditioning, and remote keyless entry. Options include leather seats with side airbags. Despite its luxury appointments, a five-speed manual is the only transmission offered with the R/T.
ACRs are targeted at the club racing faithful who have used their Neons for track events since the car's introduction in 1994. The 2001 model comes with 15-inch wheels sporting performance tires and all of the performance upgrades found on the R/T, but without the heavy luxury items that might slow Ricky Roadracer down while strafing cones at the local SCCA event. In this arena, the Neon has proven quite capable.
But whether buying a performance-oriented R/T or ACR model, or just the low-dollar base Neon, make sure you stick with the standard equipment five-speed manual transmission. Dodge has the cojones to charge $600 for its lame-oid and out-of-date three-speed automatic while the cheaper Hyundai Elantra and Daewoo Nubira offer four-speed autos. Whatever.
Items like a radio/cassette combo and four Big Gulp-sized cupholders are much appreciated, yet overall feature content is still lacking. We also give Dodge credit for creating an attractive and roomy cabin with available white-faced gauges and a swoopy dash that appears very upscale and Intrepid-like.
Unfortunately for Dodge, competitors like the Ford Focus, Mazda Protege and Nissan Sentra offer more bang for the buck in terms of both refinement and content while still providing enthusiasts a fun-to-drive car. If Chrysler wants to continue to compete in this market, the company will have to address the Neon's failings.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.