Chrysler Neon 1996-2002

16 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Chrysler Neon 1996-2002
Chrysler Neon

David Morley

Make CHRYSLER Model NEON Model Variant LE,LX,SE,LE,SE Series MY01,MY01 Series Year 2002,2001,2000,1999,1998,1997,1996 Body Group 4D SEDAN

Great American underachiever

Chrysler’s latest passenger-car release in this country, the bold 300C, is a success. Even though it’s a heavy car with a V8 engine when petrol has never been more expensive, the 300C appeals with its bold design.

Which is in contrast to the mood in the marketplace when the much smaller Neon hit local showrooms in the late 1990s.

It’s not unknown for an all-new car to be ignored by the buying public, but the degree of indifference offered to the Neon was still a surprise. Until you drove the car, that is.

The Neon was, given its price and the vehicles it was attempting to sell against, off the pace. Its performance was below par, its assembly was ordinary and its specifications let it down.

A cursory look at the Neon was enough to convince you that American buyers (for whom cars such as the Chrysler are a second-car staple) don’t have expectations as high as ours.

It looked different from the rest of the pack but there was no way you’d have called the Neon an attractive car. The cab-forward thing didn’t work, nor did the front overhang combined with the shortened rump.

Inside, the plastics were below par with a cheap feel and poor-quality mouldings. A few years under the Australian sun hasn’t done those plastics any favours, so expect a car that has spent time outside a garage to be tatty-looking.

The front seats came up short, literally. Given the girth of the average North American, the lack of shape, support and size of the front pews is puzzling. On the move, it means a lack of support in corners.

Rear seating was tight on leg and headroom.

Power came from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, which, even in 1996 when the car was released, was already considered old-hat.

Although it had four valves per cylinder, it used a single overhead camshaft – quite common and not necessarily a problem – but in the case of the Neon the result was just disappointing.

Power peaked at 98 kW but torque was a lacklustre 174 Nm, which, as much as anything else, characterised the engine.

Even that wouldn’t have been so bad had the Neon been available with an adequate automatic transmission. The five-speed manual was OK but nobody in that market segment seemed to want to shift their own gears, so the viability of the auto was all-important.

The Neon’s was nothing like up to scratch, with three forward ratios when the industry standard was four or five gears.

Chrysler Neon

The transmission could be relied upon to do its best to spoil the drive. The Neon had trouble getting away quickly and needed to be wrung out in every gear if it was to avoid falling out of its powerband on the next upshift.

The ride was also poor. Short, sharp bumps could easily make it into the cabin and through the seats, and the body control that should have been the flip-side simply wasn’t there. As such, the Neon could feel roly-poly in corners and proved that budget American cars were still trailing the rest of the world when it came to suspension finesse.

For all that, the Neon was only reasonably equipped in the base-model, with dual front airbags but no standard anti-lock brakes or even power windows. You got power mirrors and an ordinary stereo (no CD player), and that was about it. At least air-conditioning was standard.

The better-equipped LE model gained anti-lock brakes, but other than that, only power windows in the front. Anybody in the back seat still had to wind their own.

The car’s other main problem was its price. At $24,880 for the base model, it was up against some very good Japanese competition and couldn’t compete in any remotely objective comparison.

Essentially, you had to be keen on a US-made small car to be interested in the Neon. And since most Australians were by then in tune with the products of Japan Inc, interest in the Chrysler was minimal.

Chrysler persisted with the idea until 2002, fitting the car with a four-speed automatic for the last couple of years of its life, but it was too little, too late.

What to pay

Even at today’s prices of comfortably less than $10,000 the Neon is still more of a curiosity than a legitimate player in the market. There are better cars for much less money and much better cars for the same money.

Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
Chrysler Neon
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