The cars we loved.
Chrysler Corporation’s Neon coupe and sedans were the equlivant of the Rodney Dangerfield of the sports compact world. Dispite having cute buggeyed cars that said “hi” in it’s national debut ad campaings, the Neon was destined to become buy-here-pay-here car lot fodder. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The Neon was a solid performer when equipped with the ACR package in previous editions, but praise and recognition was confined to racing circles. Not even the tuner boys who were obsessed with turbocharged Japanese Iron gave the Neon a second look.
That was untill the SRT-4 came around in 2003. Dodge wasn’t even calling it a Neon, as if to hide it’s roots. The typical mechanicals of the garden variety Neon were completely replaced with high performance machinery that produced one fast drivers car. Fast as in 5.3 seconds from 0-60. So fast that Chrysler had nothing in it’s line up faster save for the Viper (which cost almost four times as much).
Based on the second generation sedan only Neon, the SRT-4 was essentially a model all unto itself. The SRT-4 was distinguished visually from other Neons by distinctive front end, subtle ground effects, hood scoop, 17 in wheels and a dual exhaust. Under the hood the car was initially offered with a turbocharged 2.4 L inline 4 producing 215 hp. The turbo was distinct and unlike the one used in the PT Cruiser. A revision made in 2004 produced 230 hp from the same 2.4 L engine from the year before. The rest of the mechanicals upgraded from the base Neon included suspension, brakes and the interior (although not by much). 2004 was the year that the SRT-4 received a limited-slip differential. That in addition to the power enhancements made it one of America’s performance car bargains. Soon, media outlets everywhere were praising the Dodge as The performance bargain of the year. In many test it trounced competition from Acura, Subaru and Toyota, all while costing less.
The Neon has always maintained an association with racing, and the SRT-4 was no different. In it’s first year, it dominated the SCCA Group 5 racing circuit, breaking up the monopoly once held by the Eclipse/Talon and Volkswagen’s Golf. To commemorate it’s racing success, a special ACR (American Club Racer) edition was introduced in 2005 with track ready 16 in wheels that were wider than the base SRT-4’s 17s. Another limited edition featured Viper like racing stripes in 2005. The SRT-4 started to catch on with the tunerboys as a used car. A popular modification was enlarging the turbo to the point of making over 400 hp. Unfortunately, the low volume SRT-4 was not as polished or refined as its competition and may have had performance too high for it’s target market to insure.
When the Neon was canceled and replaced by the ugly Caliber in 2006, the sprit of the SRT-4 lived on in the SRT version, but the charm was left behind.