The newly introduced Dodge Neon R/T is possibly one of the best buys in a compact sedan today. This market is becoming very hot with import pocket rockets all trying to beef up horsepower and lure in younger sports car buyers. But there is one name that traditionalists will agree is one of the most intimidating to whatever segment it may be introduced, the Dodge R/T series. From hemi powered Charger V8's to tire melting Viper V10's, the R/T name carries a long trail of performance heritage along with it. Even though it may seem out of place in a compact econo-box car segment, Dodge has aimed to change how people look at affordable, economical transportation, and they have wonderfully succeeded with the 2001 Dodge Neon R/T.
It offers so much more than competitors current offerings in this market. It has performance (150 horsepower!), style (love those wheels!), and features (leather in a neon!?). It remains strong in not only one area, but in all aspects. While I'm not here to put down import competitors, I could never see the interior of a Civic Si or Sentra SE-R being nearly as inviting as that of a nicely equipped Neon.
The tuned 2.0L engine has a significant boost of 18 horsepower over the base Neon, and is only offered with the slick-shifting 5-speed manual transmission. Thankfully, because the automatic only offers 3 gears right now. The base model has good punch for a car in this class, so the bonus horsepower, sport-tuned suspension and speedy manual transmission go together to make a surprisingly quick compact. Although you won't beat any Mustang's at the stop lights, you will leave behind most any Nissan Sentra, Ford Focus, or VW Beetle/Golf. There are exceptions to those cars I just mentioned (like the 201 HP V6 Golf GTI, the Sentra SE-R at 180 HP, and the SVT Focus at 170 ponies), but they all cost much more than the Neon. Plus you don't get all the cool features of the neon, which I will talk about later. But it is a fast car - more than enough for what any backroad barron requires. Body roll is reduced thanks to the updated suspension, and the body effects make the car look sharp (the BBS 16" wheels look great). Equipped with some Pirelli P-Zero or Goodyear Comp T/A tires, this thing would stick to the road like glue. Nice handler! The car also offers lots of room in this class - as I have been mostly in older cars, it is simply astonishing how much more room designers are able to extract from a smallish car.
One negative aspect is ride quality. It is not going to jolt you, but imports feel stiffer and more solid in this aspect - the VW Golf GTI especially. It is not intrusive unless you are used to cadillac pampering, but if you are expecting a suave highway cruiser, look elsewhere.
This car has many available and standard features that you just can't find on other cars. The R/T comes standard with just awesome white-faced sport guages with a big tach and speedo big and center. You can get a power sunroof, power leather seats, 4-disc in-dash CD changer (cool!!!), and tons of other higher-class offerings. And, of course, all the usual like power windows and locks, heated mirrors, etc etc etc. There is storage everywhere in the Neon - huge map pockets in the doors, a unique center console that can hold CD's, sunglasses, and even napkins or a trash bag. A big glove compartment and huge trunk are just icing on the cake. Not only is this a fun backroad burner, it's a good weekend getaway car as well.
The interior is the best I've seen in this category of cars. Everything has a sport look and feel, and although some things look a little cheap, they all work great. The driver is not challenged by odd shaped controls or weirdly placed items - everything is right there and easy to use. As for the exterior, the R/T gets some ground effects, special 16-inch BBS-style wheels, sport tires, a rear spoiler, and black headlight surrounds. It all comes together to make it a very sport looking car. I think the design of the base neon is good, so the R/T just looks all that much better. It really stood out when I first saw one at an auto show, a nice black on black.
It's hard to tell reliability so far, but the car is definitely a good value when compared to it's more expensive friends. The new 5 year warranty is standard, so even if you are burdened with a bad one, you are still covered for 5 years, which is when most people trade in cars anyway. I'm not sure of the exact upgrade cost from regular neon to R/T (I think less than $2500), it is worth it. The only value disadvantage is that the tuned engine requires expensive premium fuel, which could be a big turn off to some buyers. But it still gets great gas mileage and won't take a bite out of your wallet at every fill up. Overall a great value.
This is a good car for college graduates, a sporty-yet-reasonably economical family car, or a mid-life crisis dream come true. It keeps the young image with a price that will keep grads out of debt. It gets great gas mileage, and has a responsible company backing it up for reliability. It looks good, offers lots, and packs a punch for less cost than most. Is that not a winning combination???
I would say the closest competition would be a V6 mustang or, if you can ever find one, an SVT Focus, both are more expensive. It all depends on how much power you really need for everyday driving, but for me, the R/T's 150 horsepower is plenty in a car that weighs a few hundred pounds less than a 'stang. It is just a good combination!
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