May 1999 Plymouth Neon Rt 06 1674239358

From the May 1999 issue of Car and Driver.

The Neon’s replacement, arriving as a 2000 model, is called the Neon. Pausing to absorb this exciting news, then note that this is the first time in more than three decades that the Dodge and Plymouth compacts have been redesigned without changing their names. It’s a sign of an automaker’s confidence in its current product when it decides to port a nameplate for that product’s replacement.

In the Neon’s case, we understand this decision. For the first time ever, the cute Neon attracted thousands of sought-after Gen X customers to Dodge and Plymouth showrooms. In recent years, DaimlerChrysler says the Neon has also been one of the company’s best-built and most reliable domestic cars.

So it’s no surprise that the new Neon isn’t a radical change from the original model. It’s just 2.6 inches longer, 0.2 inches wider and an inch longer in wheelbase than the 1999 model. Gone, however, is the DOHC 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produced 150 horsepower, leaving only the 132-horsepower single-cam version mated to the same five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission. (An R/T version arrives for 2001 with a 150-hp SOHC engine.) The two-door was dropped (it accounted for just 23 percent of Neon sales last year, anyway), as the four-door kind of went. of design puberty. The front fascia with a happy face made a more prominent chin, and a new chrome mustache sprouted on the grille.

HEIGHT: Inviting, spacious and less·plastic interior; let’s-go-play handling; smooth new flanks; great brakes with ABS package.

Baby fat has disappeared from the all-new body, which stretches tight around the wheel wells, giving the Neon a family resemblance to the rest of DaimlerChrysler’s domestic car lineup. This reflects a more mature and serious image for the Neon.

Our first look at the 2000 (C/D, February 1999) documented these changes in detail. Since then, we’ve spent a lot of time behind the wheel, both on the road and at the track. What we learned points to a bright future for the Neon.

A lack of refinement was a problem with the first design. And this is the area where the new model has made the most significant progress. Wind whispers rather than whistles around the windows now. Bumps pass more calmly underneath, and the four-cylinder continues to hum. The drops in decibel level measured by our sound meter are five at idle, four at full throttle, and two while cruising at 70 mph, compared to our last SOHC Neon (C/D, December 1995). Many factors are at work here—a stiffer body, a redesigned four-strut suspension, and full-frame doors with triple seals that replace the frameless glass door design of before. On the engine, revised covers, manifolds and a new mounting system reduce the hollow, whining sounds that plagued last year’s four-cylinder. Note that we said reduce, not eliminate. Bury the throttle all the way to the 6500-rpm redline, and a familiar rumbling sound greets the ear—it’s just less annoying now.

LOW: Residual engine boom, more likely to get lost in a crowded parking lot.

The interior has taken a significant step forward. It is slightly more spacious in the front and back. Even better is the performance of its components. The hard plastic on the inside is still there, but it’s better hidden behind soft-touch and fake metal surfaces. Chrome latch handles with sturdy locking buttons adorn the doors. The LX models (and ES models at Dodge) have adjustable headrests for outboard rear seat passengers, and the trunk mats extend below the spare tire. After spending some time in it, this Neon felt a class above rivals like the Ford Escort and Chevy Cavalier.

2000 plymouth neon lx

Jim Caiozzo|Car and Driver

With its stiffer bodywork, revised shock valve and increased suspension travel, the 2000 Neon is even more fun to throw around than the previous model. The steering is sharp and accurate. Controllable four-wheel drive is a flick of the steering wheel away, and gross body movements are tightly controlled. The ride is noticeably firm—this is no Hyundai cushionmobile—but it never felt harsh.

The brakes are really improved though. Stomp on the pedal at 70 mph, and our all-wheel-drive, ABS-equipped test car brought itself to a stop in 175 feet. That’s five less than it took the Ford SVT Contour we tested, and it’s within a few feet of the stopping distance of a Mazda Miata or Chevy Corvette. The optional anti-lock system gained electronic brake proportioning and traction control, and improvements were made to fade resistance and pedal feel, but we didn’t expect it. Some credit goes to the optional Goodyear Eagle LS tires, which can summon 0.82g of cornering grip, matching the disc pad number of a BMW 328i. That’s exceptional cornering and braking for a $15,000 econocar. The possibilities of the upcoming R/T and ACR racing models make us itch with anticipation.

At 2644 pounds, the 2000 Neon is 148 pounds heavier than the last four-door Neon we tested. That car could sprint to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds; the new one needs 8.7. That’s only average for this class—a Mazda Protege ES needs 8.4 seconds, and a Saturn SL2 needs 7.6—but our test car was pretty green, with just 400 miles on the odometer. We think a broken-in Neon will be 0.3 to 0.4 seconds faster.

VERDICT: It’s a less distinctive car to look at, but a much more competitive car underneath.

Slower acceleration is about the only disappointment in an otherwise extensively improved car. Surprisingly, the price hasn’t changed much at all – base prices remain under $13,000, with the LX and ES versions coming in under $15,000. If reliability was respected on early production cars, this would be another welcome change from the previous model. If we can get a long-term Neon soon, we’ll be the first to let you know if that’s the case.


Counterpoint

The original Neon reminded me of Opie Taylor. Now Opie is deep into puberty and seems to have attended finishing school: The brassy, ​​buzzy engine note is largely muted. Interior surfaces are more tasteful and luxurious. This new Neon drives like a bigger car. And its clutch is light, with Honda-smooth engagement. (Too bad the shifter remains as clumsy as Barney’s cruiser.) I sure hope this Neon is better built than our long-termer (December 1995), which was riddled with loose cutting points, failed latches, and mysterious squeaks. What’s more, I had a friend whose ’95 Neon mechanical debris around the planet faster than the Mr space station. —John Phillips

The Neon and I took some 15-mph “speed tables” in a nearby subdivision at 30 mph, and the Neon’s button-for-’00 suspension was hardly challenged. If the roads weren’t so twisty and the speed tables so close together, my Neon friend and I would have pushed that envelope. You can feel and see the refinement in this second-generation Neon: The fit and finish are well executed in the new taupe interior. The shifter is notchy though; trying to engage reverse is a joke. The flashing light noise is loud and agricultural. And why the keyless button? Do we have no confidence in our Gen Xers’ intelligence? —Patti Maki

From its much richer dashboard to its softer, quieter ride to the soft surfaces my elbows touch the door panels, this Neon has moved up the automotive food chain. Still, while it loses the old car’s go-kart ride, the new Neon retains the quick reflexes and crisp handling that made the old one so charismatic and entertaining. Sure, the multi-massaged engine still emits a 4000-rpm boominess, the back seat is too low, and the automatic transmission with just three gears has no place in the Western world, but on balance the new Neon remains one of the more interesting small sedans on the market. —Csaba Exchange

Specifications

Specifications

2000 Plymouth Neon LX
Vehicle type: front engine, front wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

PRICE
Base/As Tested: $14,650/$15,955
Options: Anti-Lock Brake Group (includes traction control), $595; alloy wheels, $355; cruise control, $225; Light group, $130

ENGINE
DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 122 inches31996 cm3
Power: 132 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 130 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm

TRANSMISSION
5-speed manual transmission

CHASSIS
Suspension, F/R: struts/struts
Brakes, F/R: 10.1-inch ventilated disc/10.6-in disc
Tires: Goodyear Eagle LS
F: 185/60TR-15

DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 105.0 inches
Length: 174.4 inches
Width: 67.4 inches
Height: 56.0 inches
Passenger volume, L/H: 51/39 ft3
Hull volume: 13 feet3
Curb weight: 2644 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 8.7 sec
1/4-mile: 16.6 sec @ 83 mph
100 mph: 28.7 sec
Acceleration, 5–60 mph: 9.0 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 13.1 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 12.4 sec
Top speed (gov ltd): 119 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 175 ft
Road holding capacity, 300-foot skid road: 0.82 g

C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 24 mpg

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/Highway: 28/35 mpg

C/D TEST EXPLAINED

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