With a desire to compete with the growing popularity of small import cars, the Dodge Neon compact sedan first hit the US markets with a 1995 model year.
The Introduction of the Dodge Neon
"There's an old saying in Detroit: 'Good, fast, or cheap. Pick any two.' We refuse to accept that.” The words of Bob Lutz, Chrysler Corporation’s President at the release of the Dodge Neon, show the level of ambition the Neon strived for. And it did a pretty good job at delivering. The 2.0L 4-cylinder engine produced up to 150 horsepower in the top DOHC version, beating most other in-class competitors such as the Honda Civic, Ford Escort, and Toyota Corolla, with more than 20 horsepower to spare. Although many bold color choices were first available, the lack of demand led Dodge to cut most of them back. The Dodge Neon offered in the United States started off with three options in the lineup: Base, Highline, and Sport. Various trim levels were introduced over the years, including Expresso, SE, ES, SXT, ACR, and R/T. The R/T was packed with features not often seen on such low-price vehicles, including a rear spoiler, alloy wheels, leather interior, stainless-steel exhaust, and 5-speed manual transmission. European versions had an available 1.8L engine.
The Neon was the car to have it all: speed, quality, and perhaps most importantly, value. The small yet capable Dodge Neon sold around 200,000 units for more than five consecutive years. The affordable price tag, matched with class-leading features, kept it atop the lists for many. In 2000, Dodge introduced a somewhat bulky second generation Neon before giving it a powerful SRT-4 upgrade in 2003. As sales declined, the Neon was discontinued entirely in 2005. A third-generation Dodge Neon started production in 2017, but has been limited to the Mexican and Middle Eastern markets. Although plans to sell the Neon were in the making, those ideas have since been dropped due to stiff competition from both Ford and General Motors.
Dodge backed up its claims about the Neon being fast by selling the race-ready Competition/ACR package. The first year it was only available to those with a SCCA racing membership, but was subsequently sold to the general public. It included four-wheel disc brakes, bigger sway bars, heavy-duty hubs, and a 5-speed transmission geared toward quick acceleration. While it didn’t use excessive exterior styling to distinguish itself from the Neon lineup, there was little doubt that it performed significantly better.
Second-Generation: Heavy-Handed Improvements
Dodge reported more than 1,000 improvements in the second-generation Dodge Neon. While the 2.0L 4-cylinder engine remained basically the same, many interior and exterior improvements were made. The result for some trim levels was an increase in weight without an increase in power. The R/T package was still available, as were many other power-centered trim options, making sure that those customers who wanted something fast could still go for the Dodge Neon. Defining exterior features, such as a large rear wing and alloy wheels, did a bit more to set these apart. Eventually, the higher-trim options included an SRT-4 option with a turbo-charged 2.4L engine, 5-speed transmission, and horsepower at 215 for the first year in 2003, bumped up to 230 horsepower in the 2004 model, along with a limited-slip differential. Surprisingly, the 2004 Dodge Neon was the second-fastest Dodge available at the time, only behind the Viper. Not bad for a compact vehicle that kept affordability a major priority.