2001 Neon R/T
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“Returning after a two year absence, the 2001 Chrysler Neon R/T is a sportier version of the Neon four-door sedan. Its 150 horsepower engine is 14% more powerful than the standard Neon’s engine, and the R/T comes only with a manual five-speed transmission. Other unique R/T features include standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, ‘sport-tuned’ suspension, front air dam and rear spoiler, twin exhaust pipes, 16 inch alloy wheels, and low-profile 50 series Goodyear all-season performance tires.”

Sporty version of Neon returns for 2001

In 1998, Chrysler introduced a sportier version of the Neon two-door coupe called the R/T. It was discontinued in 1999 when the Neon was redesigned (as a 2000 model), but returns for the 2001 model year as a four-door sedan.

The R/T offers a ‘high output’ version of the same 2.0 litre SOHC four cylinder engine found in the regular Neon. The R/T’s engine has 150 horsepower compared to 132 horsepower in the Neon LE and LX. R/T’s also have a stiffer ‘sport-tuned’ suspension, standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS, alloy wheels and low-profile 50 series tires, and some key visual differences such as a front air dam and a rear spoiler.

The R/T’s additional standard features boost its base price to $23,000 – that compares to $18,375 for the Neon LE and $20,230 for the Neon LX.

Sporty styling

2001 Neon R/T
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The Neon R/T has the same four-door bodystyle as the regular Neon, but there are a few exterior and interior differences. There’s a new front air dam with integral fog lamps, blacked-out headlamp surrounds, extended side sills, a raised rear spoiler, and twin exhaust pipes with chrome tips. Standard low-profile Goodyear Eagle RS-A 195/50HR-16 inch all-season performance tires on lattice-style alloy wheels improve both looks and handling.

The R/T has the same ride height as the standard Neon – as a result, there’s a large gap between the top of the low profile tires and the fender wheelwells. In my opinion, the R/T would look much better if the ride height was lowered by one or two inches. It would handle better, too!

Inside, unique R/T features include well-bolstered front sport seats, a grippy leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob, and overhead map lights. For the first time, optional leather-faced seats and side airbags are available.

14% more horsepower

The Neon R/T comes with a standard 2.0 litre single overhead cam, 16 valve four cylinder engine that develops 150 horsepower @ 5700 rpm and 136 ft-lb of torque @ 4800 rpm. That compares to the standard Neon’s 2.0 litre engine that offers 132 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 130 ft-lb of torque @ 4600 rpm.

Astute readers will remember that the 1998 Neon R/T had a 150 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine with DUAL overhead camshafts instead of a single overhead camshaft. That engine has been discontinued, probably because of its limited sales volume.

Neon R/T’s have a standard five-speed manual transmission – the optional three-speed automatic transmission is not offered on the R/T. The R/T’s power-assisted rack and pinion steering has been tuned for a firmer feel than the standard Neon. Four wheel disc brakes with ABS, low-speed traction control, and electronic variable brake proportioning are also standard equipment on the R/T.

Sporty interior

Like other Neon’s, the R/T’s interior is quite roomy for a compact car, and offers good outward visibility to the front and sides, though the rear deck is quite high. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom for four adults, although I found that there’s not much foot room for rear passengers under the front seats.

2001 Neon R/T
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The sporty interior features white-faced round gauges (including a tachometer), artificial carbon-fibre trim in the centre console, and overhead map lights. Most instruments and controls are clearly visible from the driver’s seat, however, the 4-disc in-dash CD player is positioned at the bottom of the centre console, almost out of sight and out of reach. The standard AM/FM/cassette, however, is within easy reach in the centre control stack while the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel hub can be operated with the driver’s thumbs.

Front passengers have three cupholders, a 12 volt power outlet, an open storage bin with coinholders, and a centre padded armrest with storage for CD’s and tapes.

Like other Neons, the R/T has power windows for the front passengers, but rear passengers must make do with manual, roll-down windows – the rear windows roll down only about 2/3 of the way. For storage, rear passengers have mesh pockets on the back of the front seats, but there is no centre rear armrest. The front centre armrest lid flips over backwards to provide a cupholder and tissue holder for rear passengers.

Split, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks enhance storage capability, but they are not lockable for anti-theft purposes. The 13.1 cubic feet trunk is big for a small car, but I found the liftover height to be a bit higher than average. A remote trunk unlocking feature is included in the R/T’s keyless entry feature. New for 2001 is an emergency trunk release inside the trunk in case someone becomes trapped.

Also new for 2001 are front seat side airbags, and a three point safety belt in the centre rear seating position. My test car had dual ‘next-generation’ front airbags, four height-adjustable head restraints, childproof rear door locks, and three rear child seat tether anchors.

Driving impressions

With more power, better brakes, a sportier suspension, and better tires than the Neon LE and LX, the Neon R/T offers a more lively driving experience while maintaining the roominess and practicality of the four-door bodystyle.

The R/T’s 150 horsepower engine offers a 14% power increase over the standard Neon’s engine, and a marginal increase in torque while maintaining almost identical fuel economy: 9.2 l/100 km (31 mpg) in the city and 6.7 l/100 km (42 mpg) on the highway. Premium fuel is recommended, but it will run on Regular gasoline too.

Independent performance tests by the Automobile Journalists Association show that the R/T zips from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.4 seconds, about half a second faster than the Acura EL sedan and about the same as the Nissan Sentra SE and VW Golf Gti 1.8T.

The Neon R/T’s standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS allow the R/T to stop from 100 km/h to 0 in 44.7 metres (147 feet). That’s about 3.3 metres more than the Sentra SE sedan, 1.2 metres more than the VW GTi 1.8T, and slightly less than the Acura 1.7EL.
The R/T’s turning diameter of 10.9 metres (35.6 feet) is wide for a small car, but good enough to make a legal U-turn.

Like other Neons, the R/T has a standard four-wheel independent suspension with front MacPherson struts and a rear multi-link setup. However, the R/T has slightly firmer shocks and springs, larger sway bars, and wider 50-series 16 inch radials. The R/T leans less in the corners and has a crisper turn-in and better lateral grip than the standard Neon. Front/rear weight distribution is 61/39, but brake dive is well-controlled and handling has a tendency to neutral understeer and is easily controllable. Though the suspension is stiffer, ride quality is surprisingly good and the Neon’s body feels tight – the latter due in part to structural improvements and new full-frame doors added in 1999.

The Neon R/T’s weak point, in my opinion, is its thrashy engine. Above 4,000 rpm, the engine sounds noisy and unrefined. It’s not the kind of engine you enjoy pushing to its rev limit. On the plus side, the engine has enough torque at lower revs so that gear changes can be done at relatively low engine speeds. Around town and at highway cruising speeds, the R/T’s engine is fairly quiet – at a steady 100 km/h in fifth gear, the engine does only 2,900 rpm.

One caveat: my car had the optional tilt/slide sunroof, which when open, creates quite a wind roar at speeds above 80 km/h.

The standard manual transmission has easy, direct, but slightly clunky shift action, while the clutch pedal action is light. The steering is pleasantly firm, not heavy, and the brake pedal offers good modulation.

Outward visibility to the front and sides is very good, but the high rear decklid obscures rear vision somewhat. Fortunately, the standard rear spoiler doesn’t make things worse because it’s raised and you can see under it.

When shifting into reverse, it’s important to release the handbrake before shifting. Reverse gear is over to the right and back, about where the handbrake lever is. I scraped my fingers a couple of times before I learned to release the brake before shifting into reverse.

Standard and optional features

For its base price of $23,000, the Neon R/T includes the 150 horsepower 2.0 litre SOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine, 5 speed manual transmission, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, electronic brake proportioning, P195/50R-16 tires and alloy wheels, fog lamps, front air dam, side skirts, rear spoiler, and twin chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.

Standard R/T interior features include air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette and in-dash 4-disc CD player with four speakers, power front windows with driver’s one-touch down feature, power heated mirrors, power door locks with remote keyless entry, and tachometer.

The only options available are leather seats, tilt-slide sunroof, cruise control, and side airbags. The side airbags are offered as part of an option package with the leather seats.
All 2001 Chrysler automobiles now come with a 5 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty as well as the standard bumper to bumper 3 year/60,000 km warranty.

Competitors for the Neon R/T include the Nissan Sentra SE, Acura 1.7EL, VW Golf Gti 1.8T, and Subaru Impreza 2.5RS.

Neon R/T’s are built in Belvidere, Illinois.

For more information about the Neon R/T, check out Chrysler’s Canadian web-site at www.daimlerchrysler.ca

Technical Data:

2001 Chrysler Neon R/T
Base price $23,000
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0 litre 4 cylinder, SOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 150 @ 5700 rpm
Torque 136 ft-lb @ 4800 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Curb weight 1164 kg (2567 lb.)
Wheelbase 2667 mm (105.0 in.)
Length 4430 mm (174.4 in.)
Width 1712 mm (67.4 in.)
Height 1422 mm (56.0 in.)
Trunk space 371 litres (13.1 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 9.2 l/100 km (31 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.7 l/100 km (42 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 kms

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