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Dodge Neon has been restyled for 2002 with a stronger Dodge identity. The new look actually shortens Neon by about an inch. More significant is the upgraded automatic transmission option, now a four-speed instead of a three-speed, for quieter running on the highway, and better fuel economy.
In fact, the whole Neon lineup has been re-shuffled for better value. A lower-priced base model packs nearly as much equipment as last year's SE, while the SE and ES models move up in content. The high-performance R/T and competition ACR models still deliver some of the most driving fun you can have in a small, economical car.
The current-generation Neon rides smoother and quieter than the earlier version of the car. There's less wind noise, less engine noise, less road noise and less vibration. This latest Neon seems quieter and more refined than Chevy's Cavalier.
The Neon's fully independent, strut-type front and rear suspensions are designed for high ground clearance and long jounce travel. This greatly improves overall ride quality while decreasing the chance of bottoming under heavy loads. Soft springs and premium shocks also contribute to Neon's smooth ride.
Neon's single-overhead-cam 2.0-liter engine feels powerful. Last year, a new air induction system broadened the torque curve, which made the engine feel more eager around town. Neon's exhaust manifold, cylinder head cover and timing belt cover are all designed for reduced noise.
The brake system was also overhauled in 2000, and the pedal feel in Neons built since then is greatly improved. At the same time, the thickness of the front brake rotors was increased, and low-metallic linings were introduced to minimize squealing. We recommend the optional four-wheel disc brakes with ABS ($595 on base, SE, and ES; standard on R/T and ACR). On slippery roads or dry, the antilock brake system helps drivers to maintain steering control in panic braking situations. Disc brakes are (in theory) less likely to fade out on mountain roads than are the standard rear drum brakes. The ABS option also includes traction control, which helps the driver maintain control when accelerating on slippery surfaces.
The Neon rides nicely, handles well and is satisfyingly stable at high speed. It soaks up road vibrations well and offers good acceleration and very capable handling.
The R/T model is more fun to drive. Handling response is much crisper, and the engine is more responsive. Ride quality is acceptable. The steering is quicker with a 16:1 steering box replacing the standard 18:1 ratio. And the R/T's increased horsepower is achieved without sacrificing fuel economy.
The Dodge Neon offers good value in a compact sedan. It's roomy and comfortable, and it's smoother and quieter than pre-2000 models.
The base model's sticker is temptingly low, but remember that air conditioning, antilock brakes, remote keyless entry, power windows and other conveniences we're beginning to take for granted are all extra-cost options.
The SE and ES models come with air conditioning and a higher level of equipment. The sporty and fun-to-drive R/T rounds out the line with heightened levels of performance.
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