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CHELSEA, Mich. — Whip a small sedan around a test track unfettered by traffic and you will quickly understand how good, or how bad, it can handle such mundane automotive tasks as accelerating and braking, wrapping over rough pavement, and running at speed on a straight course.
Test it in sequence with every other sedan in the small-car class and you will quickly understand how good, or how bad, it can handle these mundane automotive tasks when measured against its many peers.
At the vast vehicle test facility of DaimlerChrysler in Chelsea, Michigan, a new second-generation Dodge Neon, looking sleek and sophisticated in a stunning new sheet metal shell, reveals through a series of road tests that it has the right stuff inside to edge ahead in terms of power, comfort, quietness, agility, and even safety.
Neon, these field tests show, feels more substantial now, and it behaves in a superior manner that's easily demonstrated in time spent behind the driver's wheel.
Although it debuted only in January at the Detroit auto show wearing the badge of a model-year 2000 car, Neon, in new format, rolls into the public market this month with a clear presentation of how far this compact has evolved since the original Neon showed up in 1994.
At that time the typical small car in this class had to be inexpensive because that was the point, forcing designers to scale down the engine and strip away comfort and safety systems. Yet Neon dared to be different — affordable but fun, small but spacious, cute but comfortable. It also brought unexpected assets, such as more power (it packed the largest engine), more cabin space (using Chrysler's innovative cab-forward interior concept), and more safety gear (Neon was the first small car to carry twin air bags).
Prices, while reasonable, were not the lowest, but consumers snapped up Neon, making it a success quickly and in the process proving that in this price-sensitive market buyers would spend a few more dollars to get more car.