1995-1999 Plymouth, Chrysler, and Dodge Neon
The first-generation Neon broke the rules: it was far faster than competitors, roomier inside, handled better, and, most of all, was cheaper to make, becoming the first American small car to make a profit in many years. The Plymouth and Dodge Neon were an instant success on the track, where the pair swept the front wheel drive stock car races with their revvy engine, sharp cornering, and ACR race-prep package.
The Neon made automakers to scramble to add horsepower and room and fun. It put cheap plastic smiles onto competing cars' faces and served as a detailed guide for the next year's Geo Metro exterior and Chevy Cavalier interior; and it forced other automakers to finally bump up their standard-engine horsepower into three-digit territory.
With a manual transmission, the 1995 Neon was 13% faster 0-60 than the 2.5-liter Shadow, and 1.5% faster 0-60 than the 2.2 liter Omni/Horizon; 40-60 mph was identical to the 2.2 L-body and 4% faster than the 2.5 P-body.
Grade percentage at 55 mph was identical to the P-body, and 6% faster than the L-body. With an automatic, 0-60 was 14% faster than the P-body, 22% faster than the L-body; grade and 40-60 time comparisons were similar to the manuals.
Deeper looks at the Neon
We’ve expanded these sections, while editing out some of the more awkward language and duplication.
- Neon problems and common repairs
- 1998 Dodge Neon R/T: July 2009 Car of the Month (450,000 miles)
- Screening out leaves from the ventilation system
- Suspension, brakes, and “fun to drive”
- Handling, powertrain, and feel
- Environmental impact reduction
- Body: stiffness, design, styling, interior, specifications
- Engines: 2.0 SOHC | DOHC | 1.8 | 1.6
- Manual transmission
- Using computers (CAD/CAM) to design the Neon
- Participative design and engineering (greatly expanded; with photos of a 1995 Dodge Neon being built)
- Long-term (five-year+) reviews of the 1995 Neon
- When the Neon first came out, it was to feature two-stroke engines. What happened?
- Neons outside the US and Canada from Brazil to the UK
- 2000-2005 Neon.
- Brief video - extracts from the glove-compartment videotape in 1995 models
The competition (1995-99)
Don't even bother looking at the sluggish, unreliable (with Ford engine; the Mazdas seemed OK) Escort. Neon had a nicer ride, better acceleration, and much more space. The Neon also beat the Civic, especially after the Civic dropped its double-wishbone suspension; and you had to get a Civic EX to get even close to the Neon's horsepower, without coming close to matching the Neon's torque.
We strongly recommend a five-speed manual transmission with the Neon. If you get an automatic, you don't get the point. If you don't know how to drive a stick, learn.
The Neon's performance dominance has ended now, but as a used car, it still has a good balance of space, handling, acceleration, value, and comfort. Maybe that’s why we have so many testimonials...
J. Kelsey wrote: "I am the proud owner of a 1997 Neon SOHC. I just tripped 300,000 miles today. I am a courier and race autocross on the weekends. I have a lead foot and dog my car out everywhere I go. In addition to this I neglect my car's maintenance needs to the point of disbelief. For instance the last time I changed my oil was at 262k. If I am careful I can still get close to 40 mpg and it will still catch rubber in second gear. It is however starting to show some of its miles....such as the struts that really need to be replaced... This is an exceptional car and I plan to put another 200k on it."
Neon concept cars
These are rather tantalizing views of what could have been. We have no information on these, just some images of first-generation concept Neons — which Chrysler has in their database as having been released (the images) in October 2000, which must surely be a mistake.
First, the Neon GLH:
Then the Neon Coupster:
And, finally, the Neon oh!zone —
The Sport-Biker was apparently inexpensive enough to build...
Changes to the Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge Neon cars, 1996-99
Numerous changes other than those officially detailed in press releases were made throughout the Neon’s run. Many were minor (e.g. the revised turn signal assembly) and can only be found in TSBs or in old factory change orders, perhaps still floating around on Chrysler servers.
During 1995, the dual cam (DOHC) engine, which had started out as standard equipment on the Sport model, became an option; so a single-cam engine could be purchased on a Sport but the power bulge hood, only needed for the DOHC, was still used on all Sports.
For 1996, all models underwent revisions to reduce noise and vibration, and more standard equipment was added to base models, including the touring suspension, remote trunk release, tinted glass, and intermittent wipers. A larger gas tank (12.5 rather than 11.2 gallons) was fitted (still plastic), the computer and steering wheel were upgraded, and interior and exterior colors were added. ABS, which had previously only been available on higher models, was now available across the board, while Highline and Sport gained an optional power sunroof, and remote locks. The coupe could now be ordered in base trim (it had started as Highline), and the DOHC was no longer standard on Sport Coupe. A TLEV (low-emissions) version was sold in California states, and the Expresso package was introduced for Highlines, adding a power bulge hood, some special trim, a spoiler, and a tachometer, which had been limited to Sports.
The Sport model did not reappear for 1997, but a Sport package was optional on Highline models, which amounted to the same thing; buying a Sport let one choose between SOHC and DOHC engines at the same price. The oil pan was modified to cut noise, evaporative emissions were cut, dynamic side impact protection was enhanced on sedans, wheel covers were changed, a CD player was made optional, and color choices were changed.
In 1998, manual-transmission Neons outside of the US and Canada had a higher-mileage 1.8 liter engine based on the 2.0, with 115 hp. The Neon R/T model was added with a standard DOHC and the aggressive ACR five-speed. Side-impact protection was increased again, while redesigned seat belts made operation easier and impacts safer. Window seals were improved, noise again reduced. Gas mileage was up to 41 highway on (non-R/T, non-ACR) manual transmission models.
The Neon also had a new three-layer head gasket, and nearly every problem had been addressed, other than dealers not being able to adjust the windows properly. unfortunately, the damage had been done, and Neon sales were no longer as high, or as easy, as they had been. A new anti-lock brake braking system that was smoother and quieter, and softer rubber on the exhaust hangers to reduce exhaust noise and vibration.
The Neon Style arrived late in the year, with a sunroof, leather steering wheel and shift knob, body color painted door handles, four doors, and tango cloth fabric interior without the color swatches. Few have ever seen one.
For 1999, the final year of what some consider to be “the real Neon,” the Neon complied with CARB low-emission-vehicle rules, and dynamic side impact/intrusion protection was again enhanced.
* Neons were also made in Toluca, Mexico, but we do not have their production figures.
** Plymouth might include Chryslers for export
For considerably more sales data, see our Neon (both generations) page.