Dodge SRT-4: Ultimate Neon
The Dodge SRT-4 was the second fastest current-production Chrysler vehicle, and one of the fastest Dodges ever made. Even with that mind-blowing acceleration, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 started in 2003 at under $20,000, making it cheaper than a base model Stratus (the 2004 and 2005 are under $21,000). While only 3,000 per year were originally projected for construction, production in 2004 reportedly reached 13,000 per year; exact figures were not released. Chrysler made a profit on the SRT-4, presumably because it was so closely related to the Neon - itself a performance leader.
SRT-4 was based on the standard SRT name given to vehicles modified by the PVO Group (Performance Vehicle Operations). SRT stands for, depending on which press release you read, "Street and Racing Technology" or "Strip, Road, and Track."
The second SRT4, the Dodge Caliber SRT4, went up to 300 horsepower but thanks to its heavier weight, ended up being bested by the Neon-based SRT-4 in numerous independent tests.
2004 models increased the power, added a limited slip rear differential option, and raised the price by just $500 - keeping the SRT-4 a bargain. 2005 models added a color and made other very minor changes.
Mark W. Davis wrote that there were 2005 SRT4 Commemorative Editions, numbered from 1 to 200, all white with blue stripes (according to Barry Hettler); they also have blue stitching on the seats and steering wheel, a number plaque, embroidered floor mats, and a small Commemorative Edition book that was given to buyers of commemorative Rams and Vipers as well. These may or may not have been the last Neon-based SRT-4s to be made; #106, belonging to Barry, was built in July 2005. Despite the legend, they did not come with the Mopar Stage 1 kit installed.
Acceleration figures (bone stock): 2003 models
Car and Driver: 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, top speed 153 mph
Sport Compact Car: 0-60 in 5.8 seconds, quarter mile 14.2 seconds.
Brooke McClelland wrote: This Neon puts out 223 HP and 250 lb-ft of torque at the wheels! They tested a 2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R, rated at 175 HP, and it put out just 141 HP at the wheels. Apex Technology has dynoed the SRT-4 and found 248 hp at the wheels!
The 2.4 liter engine (also used in the PT Cruiser, with and without the turbocharger) produced 215 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque. Due to its greater weight, the PT Cruiser GT went from 0-60 in around 7 seconds, even after modifications to the engine brought it up to 230 horsepower and (the same) 245 lb-ft of torque.
Produced at the Belvidere (Ill.) Assembly Plant, the Dodge SRT-4 listed at $19,995 in 2003, $20,495 in 2004, and $20,995 in 2005. Production increased quite a bit from original estimates.
Styling was credited to Eric Stoddard, Brandon Faurote, Julie Dolan, Lance Wagner, Donald Renkert, David McKinnon, and Khashayar Honarkhah.
Allpar’s first drive
The SRT-4 combines desirable Neon traits with desirable Dodge Spirit R/T traits, and in the process absolutely blows away most competitors, especially the Toyota Celica and Acura RSX. Acceleration is very strong but also very smooth, so that while it posts similar figures to the Spirit R/T, it does so without as much need for driver skill and cooperative roads. Acceleration is strong from any engine speed, with no need to be up in the high (4,000+) rpms before getting turbo boost and a kick in the pants. The interior is nicely done, with tasteful chrome accents and a visible if small boost/vacuum gauge. Construction seems tight and solid.
Handling is very good but ride is not compromised - again, a vast improvement over the Celica and RSX, not to mention the Camaro. As a modified Neon, the SRT-4 has a good-sized rear seat and trunk, too. The engine is fairly loud with a rumbling, Camaro-style sound that could easily be muted with a muffler if the owner desired a sleeper.
The seats are very supportive with clear sides which make it a little hard to get out, and may cause larger people some consternation, but help to keep people in the targeted size range very stable around turns. They can most likely be replaced with Neon seats quite easily.
This is a very enjoyable car, and Chrysler could probably sell three times as many, especially if they were to actually place television ads. (Full SRT-4 review)
More SRT-4 details
Ryan Jacobs, who pointed out a few facts in this page that needed to be updated, noted:
- The Neon SRT-4 has a Mitsubishi TD04 Turbocharger that boosts anywhere from 11 to 14 psi
- The SRT-4 weighed a mere 2880 pounds, so its power to weight ratio is one reason for its speed [the base Neon was considerably lighter]
- The SRT-4 was faster to reach 60 mph and the 1/4 mile than many acclaimed sports cars that cost much more, including the Porsche Boxster S, Beetle Turbo S, and the much-hyped Nissan 350Z.
The Dodge SRT-4 had the most "as delivered" performance for the dollar of any other production sport compact car available in the United States, foreign or domestic. With more than 200 horses under the hood, it was one of the most powerful four-cylinder cars on the market. SRT was an acronym for Street and Racing Technology (it used to be for Street/Racing/Track but apparently someone figured out that made no sense).
"Dodge SRT-4's performance characteristics put it in a league with vehicles priced at more than $30,000," said Marques McCammon, Program Manager - SRT-4. "SRT-4 offers continuous torque peak from 2000 rpm to 4800 rpm."
Paired with the SRT-4's turbo-charged powerplant is a high-performance five-speed manual NVG T850 transaxle and a muffler-less, dual outlet exhaust system with wider, 2.5-inch polished stainless tips. Adding to the performance capability are a larger diameter throttle body and a high flow intake manifold. New equal-length halfshafts, high capacity clutch and drive plate assemblies and unique engine and transaxle mounts round out the Dodge SRT-4 transmission system.
Almost unheard of in the compact car enthusiast arena, superior driveability from a production car was a Dodge Neon trademark that continued with SRT-4. Like autocross devotees, SRT-4 owners also will enjoy the car's agile handling capability made possible by 17-inch aluminum performance wheels, sticky 50 series tires, specially tuned strut and spring assemblies (front and rear), sway bars (front and rear), updated knuckles and a unique K-member; but the ride was not punishing.
"We wanted a car that had a nice, balanced feel through the corners without an overabundance of body roll," said Fernandez, who also worked on Shelby vehicles such as the legendary Omni GLHS. "With SRT-4, we created a car with a high dose of power that is also highly controllable."
"We've gone a little firmer on the spring rates, especially in the rear, so that we can lessen the rear end dive," said McCammon. "That allows the car to remain level and even drop down a little in the front to get you off the line faster."
Blending power and control was made possible by the interaction between the Dodge SRT-4 development team and performance operation engineers who cut their teeth in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing. Some of these weekend racers worked closely with the small vehicle team to make sure that their SCCA engineering experience found its way into Dodge SRT-4. "From the onset, employees from these two groups worked together to create a car that reflects our motorsports heritage, both from grassroots Neon ACR racing and the professional success of our Viper program," said Fernandez.
Neon SRT-4 prototype (photos by Chrysler)
Dodge SRT-4 also features ABS and four-wheel disc brakes with larger diameter calipers and rotors, which lie ready and waiting to stop all the power under the hood. The vehicle's standard 11-inch disc brakes with upgraded pads assure that SRT-4 can drop from 60-0 mph in less than 120 feet. Other safety features of Dodge SRT-4 include standard driver and front passenger air bags, as well as optional side air bags.
Even the Dodge SRT-4's sound system was designed with vehicle performance in mind. A best-in-class AM/FM stereo CD with six speakers is standard equipment on the SRT-4.
"We considered including a sub-woofer and an amplified sound system, but that would have meant adding almost 30 pounds to the vehicle weight which, besides adding to the overall cost, would have slowed the car's performance," said McCammon
Many other popular convenience features also are standard including air conditioning, power locks and windows, remote keyless entry and a lighting group package.
"Dodge SRT-4's design cues suggest more of a customized look right off the lot, but are not so overwhelming that they squelch the creativity of enthusiasts looking to personalize their car in the aftermarket," said Trevor Creed, Senior Vice President - Design. "There was a 'sweet spot' we wanted to hit by using a design theme that includes unique front and rear fascias, sill-mounted ground effects and a Mopar signature deck-mounted spoiler."
On the outside are a new front fascia and a unique steel hood with an integral air intake. Just behind the lower grille sits a cast aluminum intercooler.
"We deliberated about whether or not to hide the intercooler with grille textures or even paint it black," said Lance Wagner, Director - Exterior/Interior Design. "But tuners like to show off the components they've added, so we left the intercooler in its raw state to give the front end a more authentic, straight-from-the-street feel."
The SRT-4 features special 17-inch aluminum wheels, which were shown on the original 2000 Neon SRT concept car, and were purposefully designed to look like aftermarket wheels, with tape-on weights and fuller width rim sections. The spoke pattern allows for better airflow to the brakes.
Viewed from the side, Dodge SRT-4's clean design mimics the sleek look popular on the street. A special side sill and door cladding give SRT-4 the low, stealthy appearance of a car made for racing.
A new rear fascia and deck spoiler continue the performance look of Dodge SRT-4. "The boldness of the spoiler adds to the outrageous quality of the vehicle. It's like the exclamation point on the whole theme of the car," said Wagner. The taller, basket-handle type spoiler also improves vehicle handling by generating downforce.
Minimal satin silver badging completes the exterior performance theme and maintains the uncluttered appearance preferred by many enthusiasts. Like the Dodge Viper SRT-10, the number four in SRT-4 denotes the number of cylinders in the engine.
The Dodge SRT-4 was available in four exterior colors, Solar Yellow, Black, Flame Red, and Bright Silver Metallic.
Taking cues from the seats in Dodge Viper SRT-10, Dodge SRT-4 front seats have enhanced lumbar and lateral sections for better support during racing-type maneuvers (2004 models may have normal seats with side airbags, since many complained about the side bolsters, which work well only for those who fit between them). The new Agate-colored cloth on the body of the seats is textured for better grip through the corners. The side bolsters of the front seats are trimmed in vinyl and curve to stabilize occupants, further enhancing the performance racing feel of the vehicle. And passengers traveling in the back of SRT-4 aren't left out of the racing experience, since the car's rear seats also feature the textured fabric.
A new carbon-fiber-look leather wraps the top of the Dodge SRT-4 steering wheel for greater control. The wheel's unique three-spoke design also provides a better view of the instrument cluster gauges, an important feature for performance-minded drivers, especially SRT-4 owners who want to know when they—ve hit the "sweet six"- - accelerating from 0-60 mph in just 5.9 seconds.
Unique gauge designs in Dodge SRT-4 feature special silver faces with satin silver ring accents. Gauge pointer hubs also have a metal finish, giving them the feel of finely tuned precision instruments dedicated to performance. The same satin metal trim also is featured on the instrument panel center stack, around heater, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) knobs and on door handles. A silver turbo boost/vacuum gauge is to the right of the instrument cluster, and a new satin silver cue ball shift knob tops a shifter that is surrounded by a boot made of the same textured carbon-fiber-look leather as the steering wheel.
The Dodge Neon SRT-4 designers
Twenty-six-year-old Marques McCammon, project manager of the small vehicle product team, came to work at Chrysler for one reason. "The Dodge SRT-4 - plain and simple....My dream was to make a car like that a reality."
In 1998, with a Mechanical Engineering degree from North Carolina A&T University in hand, one of McCammon's first assignments was to help develop a Neon with a list of performance features based on the sport compact cars that Tom Gale, (then Executive Vice President-Product Development and Design) had seen at the 1998 Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas.
Within weeks, a pack of young tuners began to form around Gale's request. Along with McCammon, the initial team included powertrain engineer Marc Musial and mechanic Dave Chyz, one of the youngest technicians to work on the original Dodge Viper. The team members shared first-hand experience in one form or another with the existing Dodge Neon.
"Mark brought his experience with turbos and superchargers," recalls McCammon. "And Dave threw in his engine expertise, and before you knew it, we had built a car from scratch in just four months." [The older engineers at Chrysler, who apparently were not brought in much, had developed the five turbocharged 2.2 and 2.5 engine setups which made Chrysler the all-time largest producer of turbocharged four-cylinder engines.]
Often, that meant putting in long hours after they officially punched out from their "day jobs." Between the three of them, the group logged more than 1,000 test track miles after hours in less than two weeks. By November 1999, Gale had his car, and it had a spot on that year's SEMA show floor. Based on the positive response there, Gale decided to put the black vehicle, (then badged the Neon SRT), center stage on the concept car turntable at the Los Angeles Auto Show the following January.
"When we heard Gale say, 'We need to make a production version in a brighter color,' we thought we were home-free," recounts McCammon.
But taking a concept car to the level of a production vehicle proved a test of the young team's mettle. Finding an approved engine, financing tooling, and keeping the price low enough to appeal to tuners like themselves presented new challenges to the neophyte group. At the same time, they also were secretly piecing together a second car using production-oriented parts and a design more adaptable to the existing Neon platform, all in the hopes of winning production approval for their dream car.
"Once we had the second car built, we snuck it into Tom Gale's parking spot in the executive garage one night, just to get it noticed," says McCammon. "We figured he couldn't possibly ignore his own ride home."
Despite the effort, the Executive Committee rejected the production car proposal when the team appeared before it in the fall of 2000. So, for the second time, McCammon got another list - this one full of reasons why the car wouldn't fly. But even that didn't deter the team.
"We literally went to every lead engineer, item by item, and asked them to explain why the item couldn't be done or offer a solution to fix it," says McCammon. "We just kept going until there was nothing left on the list."
Three revisions of the car later, responsibility for the still unapproved project was transferred to the company's Specialty Vehicle Engineering (SVE) team, or as it would come to be known, Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO). In the spring of 2001, the plan once again was placed before the Executive Committee, and this time, it got the green light.
As an approved project, responsibility for the newly christened Dodge SRT-4 production car fell in the race-steady hands of John Fernandez, Director of Performance Vehicle Operations, who had spent years in Neon ACR racing. "We pulled together everyone we knew who had first-hand experience with vehicles like the SRT-4, either through grassroots racing or hitting the streets every weekend in their own performance-tuned cars."
The result was a second group of young tuners ready to continue the initial team's work. Some of them, like Stephan Zweidler and Brad Dotson, had worked indirectly on the Neon SRT concept car. Program manager Dotson had raced with Team Shelby and the Neon ACR in SCCA, including a stint as crew chief. Zweidler raced Solo II SCCA autocross throughout college and was active in the Neon Enthusiast Club. Vehicle Synthesis Engineer Jeff Reece worked on the championship-winning Dodge Viper GTS-R. Engine Engineer Tom Wierzchon (also on the Viper GTS-R team) and Electrical Systems Engineer Judy Willoughby round out the core of the PVO Dodge Neon SRT-4 team.
Dotson said it "wouldn't have been possible without the cooperation of other departments throughout the company. It's amazing to see other racing enthusiasts come out of the woodwork to lend their support for this program."
With a starting sticker price of just $19,995, the Dodge SRT-4 remained the quickest production car available for the price in the United States.
The turbo-Neon's engine put power to the ground with a heavy-duty, five-speed manual NVG T850 transaxle and a dual-outlet exhaust system with stainless tips. New equal-length halfshafts, high-capacity clutch and drive plate assemblies and unique engine and transaxle mounts kept power to the ground.