A compact vehicle that was produced from 1995 through 2005, the Dodge Plymouth Neon was also called the Dodge SX 2.0 in Canada. It carried Chrysler badges and for a short period it was sold in Canada and export markets beyond the U.S. The Dodge Plymouth Neon was a front wheel drive vehicle that was meant to replace the Plymouth Sundance, the Dodge Shadow and the Dodge/Plymouth Colt series. Many different versions were produced throughout its production period.
Wanting to prove that domestic car makers could still do well in the small vehicle market, the Dodge/Plymouth Neon was launched in the summer of 1994 as a 1995 model, and proved to be a great hit! The neon was voted as the 'Car of the Year' by the Canadian auto press. The Neon was produced in Toluco, Mexico or Belvedere, Illinois and was the replacement for both the Shadow and Sundance in both the Plymouth and Dodge product lines.
The least expensive passenger cars in the Chrysler Corporation lineup, the design of the Dodge and Plymouth Neons was an investment that cost just $1.3 billion for the Investors. An all-new vehicle, the Neon was not a down-sized version of any other platform.
First debuting in January of 1994, the first generation Neon was available as a 2-door coupe or a 4-door sedan. The Neon featured either a 132hp SAW 2.0L SOHC or a 150hp SEA 2.0L DOHC 4-cylinder engine under its hood. Sold as a Dodge and Plymouth in the U.S., as a Dodge and Chrysler in Canada, and as the Chrysler Neon outside of North America, the Neon was available with either a 3-speed automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual transmission. Both versions were sold in Sport or Highline trim levels, in addition to the base trim.
Constructed on a completely new Chrysler body platform, the Neon's ‘cab forward' and wheels to the comer design features were an innovative design. The 'Green Neon' was an ‘enviro' prototype that was a huge hit on the auto-circuit and many of its safety features were incorporated into the new model. The Neon came with some great safety features that included an air bag for both the driver and the front passenger. Adjustable shoulder anchors and child-seat friendly self-locking seat belt latch plates were also installed in the Neon. An anti-locking brake system and an integrated child seat were also included in the spunky neon.
Giving a feeling of spaciousness that is usually only reserved for larger vehicles; the Neon featured plenty of headroom and legroom up front along with a large steeply sloped windshield that furthered this effect. Other ‘Green' attributes included the use of water based paints; coded plastic parts and minimum use of painted plastic parts, for improved recycling, along with CFC free AC.
The Neon came with a torque that was considerably higher than its competitors, and also had a relative horsepower in comparison to other vehicles of the day. Unfortunately early Neon models came with a variety of reliability problems, the main one being head gasket failures. The head gasket had been replaced with a new Multi Layer Steel design which was much more reliable by November of 1998. For the 1997 model year, modifications included a switch to an aluminum oil pan, which made it quicker and much smoother. This was standard in most 1999 models and was also retrofitted to earlier models.
Two recalls for the first year included the steering column coupler that could become disconnected if the vehicle was involved in a severe impact, and accelerated corrosion to the rear fuel and brake tubes that can occur at a rubber isolator, that holds them in place.
Early Neon models also suffered from poor paint jobs when the paint became brittle and peeled off in entire sheets. Thankfully the end of the first generation sorted out the majority of the problems.
A late upgrade for the 2-door Sport, a high-output version of the base engine was added in 1995. Pumping out 150 hp, the high-output version red lined at 7,000 rpm. Transmission options for this update were a 5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic.
Neons were also criticized for never being able to gain power in the rear doors, along with the climate control being quite outdated. When the defroster was turned on, it automatically turned on the AC. Unfortunately after the warranties expired, the AC evaporator proved to be highly susceptible to failures.
For 1996, the second year of production for the Neon brought along NVH improvements, power steering being made standard on all models, and a bigger plastic gas tank. The ‘Expresso' package was all new and optional to all models. This package included a tachometer, body graphics and unique interior trim along with a rear spoiler. For 19997 the only real issue was that some models had a faulty air bag electronic control model (eventually recalled) that allows it to deploy accidentally when the ignition was turned off.
The R/T was introduced for 1998. A high-performance version of the Sport, the Neon R/T came with 4-wheel disc brakes, a stiffer suspension, alloy wheels and snazzy bucket seats.
Chrysler Neon that was sold in Australia came in two separate models, the well equipped LX and the SE. The LX model was eventually replaced by the LE with a revised model in 1999. The U.S. lineup started with the base model followed by the Highline then the Sport. In each line there were different styles and options, though the lineup titles changed rapidly. The Neon was available in Europe with a 1.8L engine.
The second generation Neon was introduced in 2000 and lasted until the 2005 model year. Only available as a 4-door sedan, the second-generation neon was a much more polished version of the first-generation model. In the U.S., the sole engine option for the Neon was the 2.0 L SOHC engine with an optional Magnum configuration capable of producing 150 hp.
Nearly 1000 updates had been made from the first vehicle introduced. A full-framed door replaced the frameless windows, and a variety of NVH refinements resulted in a quieter and more enjoyable passenger vehicle. Unfortunately the Neon ended up very heavy in weight due to all of these updates and refinements in size. The second generation of the Neon was not as competitive on the race track because of its enlarged girth, and the loss of the DOHC engine.
In 2001, DaimlerChrysler deleted the Plymouth brand. Until 2002 the Dodge Neon and the earlier Plymouth Neon were very shortly produced under the Chrysler name in Canada. The same Tritec 1.6L unit that was found in the BMW MINI before 2007 was also found in the Neon, along with the 2.0L engine. Designed by Chrysler, the 1.6 L unit is a variation of the 2.0 L SOHC engine that was built jointly Rover and Chrysler.
The new Neon at first came with a five-speed manual transmission that used the former ACR gear ratios that made up for the acceleration that was lost by the additional weight. Unfortunately this affected the gas mileage considerably and the vehicle was only noisier now when on the highway. Eventually the original gas mileage was restored along with the original gear ratios.
In 2002 the Neon was introduced with a four-speed automatic version, though the gearing was set up poorly. The Neon finally received front power windows, though the rear never received anything but manual windows.
In an attempt to rid the Neon of its negative image, the Neon was renamed to SX2.0 in the Canadian market in 2003. In 2002 the Chrysler Neon was deleted due to the hefty price-tag in comparison to other similar models, and declining sales. The front clip was changed to match the R/T and ACR front clip in 2002. For 2005 the ACR and R/T models were discontinued.
Daimler/Chrysler ended the Neon line in 2006, with the final cars being assembled at the Belvedere Assembly plant in Belvedere, Illinois on September 23, 2005. The 2007 Dodge Caliber replaced the Neon in the spring of '06. The Dodge Caliber was based on the shared Chrysler/Mitsubishi Motors FS platform.By Jessica Donaldson