Legend has it that when former Chrysler Corp. CEO Lee Iacocca saw the first Neon clay model, he was dissatisfied with the front-end appearance. The story goes that he ordered stylists to replace the small rectangular headlamp lenses on that clay model with the circular units of the production car.
To make a long story short, that car became a smash hit. Its round headlamps, reasonable price, and peppy engine turned out to be just what many car buyers were looking for. But as Bob Dylan would say, "the times, they are a changin'." And the winds of change have swept away the old Neon.
The car that used to say "Hi" has been replaced by a more mature, sophisticated Neon for the 2000 model-year. The inexpensive feel and sounds that emanated from the old model have been replaced by a quieter interior and a tighter chassis, but the spunky spirit of the former car remains intact.
Still entertaining after all these years
Even with the narrow 14-inch tires of our test vehicle, the new Neon proved to be quite entertaining through the twists and turns of backroads. And that bodes well for the performance-tuned Neon R/T that DaimlerChrysler plans to sell in the 2001 model-year. If even a base Neon is this much fun to drive, we can imagine that the hot-rod version will be especially noteworthy.
2000 plymouth neon interior
A roomy, friendly interior has been improved with higher-quality plastics and finishes.
Presumably, one of the reasons the car has such a good road feel is because from the onset of development, DaimlerChrysler planned to sell the new Neon in Europe, where more emphasis is placed on a car's feel. Apparently, the company did its homework in the dynamics department, because the feel of the new Neon is improved significantly from the old car. The steering is more responsive, the ride is less harsh, and the brake pedal feels firmer.
But while the dynamic properties of the new Neon are much different from the car it replaces, the styling is not quite as dissimilar. It's much more evolutionary than revolutionary. Those lovable round headlamps are still the attention grabber up front. They are still nestled in a front end that has much the same look of the old model. In back, two taillamps are still separated by the sheet-metal expanse of the decklid opening, while the license plate rests in the bumper cover as it did on the previous model. From the side, the new Neon is distinctly reminiscent of a small-scale Dodge Intrepid. Considering the fact that styling was one of the reasons many bought the old car, DaimlerChrysler had no reason to mess with success.
One of the positive side effects of borrowing from the proportions of the Dodge Intrepid is that, along with borrowing an appealing look, the Neon borrows the cab-forward interior packaging of the Intrepid. That makes for a decidedly cavernous interior for a car with such compact exterior dimensions. It is easily capable of hauling four 6-foot-plus adults in relative comfort, something few other small cars are capable of.
Comfortable and more refined
All told, the interior of the 2000 Neon is a comfortable place to be. The base sound system is very good for such an inexpensive car. That's partially due to its instrument panel-mounted tweeters, a feature we can't recall seeing as standard equipment on any car in this price class. Despite its size and good sound system, inside the Neon is where its only faults seem to lie.
When equipped with power door locks and power front windows, we found that our knees occasionally became wedged between the steering wheel and the door panel when the steering wheel was tilted at a comfortable angle for driving. That's not a major fault by any means, but it did prove especially annoying to us. And while it is improved from the old model, we were still unimpressed with the amount of noise that escapes from the engine compartment into the passenger area when the engine is revved above 3000 rpm.
Right now, all 2000 Neons are powered by a revised version of the SOHC 2.0-liter 132-hp four-cylinder that was the base engine in the 1999 Neon. The DOHC engine is not available in the new Neon as of yet. If you want it, you will have to purchase a 1999 Neon coupe, which is still on sale. And if you're looking for a five-speed transmission with exceptionally short throws and direct feel, you better look elsewhere — the Neon's balky five-speed isn't the stuff hot-rod dreams are made of.
At a starting price of $12,390, the 2000 Neon is a good car for the money. The one we drove, equipped with a few options like keyless entry, power front windows, power locks, air conditioning and speed control, carried a sticker price of $15,065. A good deal, and considering the competition (Ford's coming Focus notwithstanding), a great performer.