What's New for 1996
Antilock brakes are optional across the line, and base models get more standard equipment for 1996. A value-packed Expresso package is aimed at 20-something first-time buyers. A base coupe is newly available, and all Neons are supposedly quieter than last year. A power moonroof joins the options list, and a remote keyless entry system with panic alarm is available.
Welcome to the new model year. The hype is over and the dust has settled. The cutesy advertising no longer saturates the media, and focus has shifted to newer Chrysler products. Nasty production glitches and early recalls are fading from memory. It is time to examine the Neon for what it is and how well it stacks up to the competition..
The Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer are flat outdated next to this Plymouth. The Toyota Tercel is 40 horsepower and a personality off the mark. Nissan's new Sentra is bland in comparison. Chevy's Cavalier feels heavy and ponderous; ditto the Pontiac Sunfire. The Toyota Corolla is a fine car, but can't compete with the sheer value offered by the Neon. Neither can the Geo Prizm. Mazda Protege and Honda Civic suffer the same problem.
What about reliability, though? Well, if the surveys conducted by several independent firms around the country are any indication, the Neon suffers from hit-and-miss quality. Edmund's has received mail from folks who think it's the greatest car they've ever owned, and from others who wanted to know if their problems qualified for any lemon law protection. Overall, the impression we've gained is a favorable one, though we are hesitant to recommend this scrappy compact to those who've traditionally driven imports with Japanese badging.
The Neon combines practicality, performance and personality into one very affordable package. For 1996, the Neon gains standard equipment and revisions to the options list, as well as a new transparently named Expresso package aimed at so-called Generation X buyers who supposedly spend all their time slacking off at the Coffee Plantation sipping java. Base models get 14-inch wheels, body color bumpers, tinted glass and intermittent wipers. Sport models used to have antilock brakes and alloy wheels as standard equipment; this year they are optional. Also optional is a power sunroof and a gutsy twin cam 2.0-liter engine for the Sport sedan.
Expresso models include a decklid spoiler, power bulge hood, white wheelcovers and graphics, along with interior trim from the Sport, air conditioning, tachometer and rear defroster. Sold for less than $12,000, including destination charges, the Expresso will be tempting to first time buyers on a budget. We think they should go for our favorite, which is the base sedan or coupe equipped with the Competition package. Add air conditioning, and you've got a livable version of the car that Chrysler sponsors in amateur racing events nationwide. Also available is a bona fide GT coupe. Called the Nineties version of the original Volkswagen GTI by the automotive press, the Neon Sport Coupe is the most fun you can have for $15,000, aside from a used Mazda Miata.
Supposedly, the Neon is quieter this year. Other news includes the addition of a base coupe to the model mix, increased fuel tank capacity, a remote keyless entry system with panic mode, and a four spoke steering wheel which replaces last year's frumpy two spoke unit. Power windows are now optional on the coupe, and two new colors join the palette. Sadly, Nitro Yellow is canceled.
If Chrysler Corporation can quell consumer fears about the reliability of this little car and keep prices in line, there really won't be any point in shopping around. Just drop in to any Plymouth dealer and drive off in one of the best small cars available today.