As it has so often, Chrysler Corporation broke new ground regarding small cars when it unveiled the Neon, sold under the same name through Dodge and Plymouth dealers, for the 1995 model year. The small car rulebook to that point seemed to state that basic transportation was synonymous with subcompact econobox. It had to have a homely exterior that screamed cheap, its performance had to be sluggish and the ride uncomfortable. Forget all that. The Neon tossed out that rulebook, and its looks remain fresh two years after its introduction. Its design still rates as innovative in the way it creates more room for people and cargo. Its driving performance is spunky. And it's chock-a-block with personality. Yet it still is cheap, with a base price of just under $11,000 for a base coupe. Although there have been adjustments--ongoing detail improvements, an optional engine and new model variations--the Neon remains fundamentally unchanged. Mechanical refinements for 1997 focus on making the Neon quieter, while new interior features include a midline AM/FM/CD audio system, new fabrics and fresh color choices. The new colors for 1997 are Deep Amethyst Pearl and Lapis Blue. Also, the full armrest console is now standard on all models. Neon appears to have blazed a new trail for small cars, as many of the recently redesigned models have become more stylish and personable as well, most notably the recently updated Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer. Other rivals, and there are many, are the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Tercel, Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Sentra, and Mazda Protege.