The Chrysler Neon is a vehicle transformed, in many ways. It is longer and wider than before. It is no longer sold by Dodge and Plymouth, only by Chrysler. It is available only as a sedan; the coupe is no more. The 150-h.p. engine has disappeared from the options list. And the door windows now have a frame.
Interior and trunk
Most people can easily get in and out of the front seats but the short of stature may be bothered by the sharply inclined “A” pillar and the pointy door frame. The nicely firmed front seats are very comfortable though the head restraints are angled too far forward for some people.
Access to the rear seats is relatively good. The bench offers good seating at the outboard positions, but there is an uncomfortable hump in the middle. Head room is adequate for all but tall individuals, and with its slightly longer wheelbase, the Neon also offers more rear-seat leg room.
The roomy trunk has a small opening that limits the size of things that can be placed inside, and a high liftover. The latch ring juts up from the sill and can scrape objects as they are being loaded. The trunk lid does not have a remote release mechanism.
Safety and convenience
The passenger cell is quieter than before, and overall finish is much improved. However, the Neon is still noisy during moderate to heavy acceleration and on rough pavement. Wind noise, too, is often an annoyance.
Like most Chrysler products, the Neon is plagued by dashboard reflections in the windshield that are worse on sunny days. Chrysler is adept at good interior design and once again, the Neon has plenty of practical storage spaces and cup holders. However, the radio is placed low and under the vent controls, and only the front doors have power window controls.
Safetywise the Neon gets dual air bags, four adjustable head restraints (too low, however, to protect tall people adequately), bright headlights and optional four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The rear-view mirror creates a big blind zone for tall drivers.
Engine and transmission
Though not what you’d call smooth, the engine develops good power and interesting torque, but perhaps because of the automatic transmission, barely adequate standing and passing acceleration. The engine is noisy at highway speeds and in moderate and heavy acceleration. The automatic transmission has been a subject of controversy ever since the new Neon arrived on the market. Obviously, a car in this price range should have a four-speed automatic. In ordinary, everyday driving, the transmission shifts very smoothly. You have to tramp the accelerator often, however, and when you do, the transmission shifts abruptly, especially if it has
to downshift sharply. It is interesting to note that at 100 km/h, engine speed is similar to that of many other cars – 2,500 rpm – so in this respect, the transmission is well geared.
On the road
The suspension is on the firm side and provides a very smooth ride on good pavement. However, bumps and potholes make their presence felt, sometimes rather unpleasantly. The Neon has a firm, stable grip in corners and feels relatively solid, more solid, in fact, than several other Chrysler products. Steering is well tuned, direct and relatively quick, but with little road feel. The brakes are powerful and fade-resistant. An inspection at the CAA-Quebec test centre showed that the Neon is generally well built though a number of problems persist, including brake discs that do not have a backing plate, and on the underside, joints that are improperly sealed or not sealed at all, and unprotected wiring.
Compared to its predecessors, the new, improved Neon is better balanced, better built, more comfortable, quieter and roomier. Unfortunately for Chrysler, the Neon will have to compete against other vehicles with a higher level of quality, refinement and standard equipment, selling for the same amount—and sometimes less.