The former Chrysler Corp. (now the Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler AG) launched its Neon compact car in 1994, then remade it and renamed it for the 2000 model year. Then they renamed it again for 2003, calling it the Dodge SX 2.0.
The Chrysler people had hoped to move the Neon slightly up-market for 2000, but it was not a particularly successful effort. Nonetheless, 2000 Neons are quite different from the 1993-1999 cars they replaced – and the coupe version was completely eliminated.
The toy-like round headlights were out in 2000, as were the mountain bike road manners. What was new? More trunk room, shoulder space, and head, hip and leg room. The changes also made for a more refined, quiet ride and a computerized design process made the Neon simpler to build. In fact, for 2000 there was a 24 per cent reduction in parts (to 1,900 parts versus about 2,500 for the 1999 car). In short, the 2000-and-newer Neon arrived as a more substantial car, with an improved ride, less noise and a big reduction in the amount of hard plastic in the cabin.
Quality seems to have improved, too. While there were six Transport Canada recalls from 2000-2003, half were not for particularly serious issues. Service issues of note seem to involve drivability concerns that can be addressed by reprogramming the powertrain control module (PCM) and a variety of build-quality concerns.
But a nearly-new Neon may be a worthwhile used car choice if the one you’re considering has passed a thorough mechanical inspection. That’s because prices are quite reasonable in the used car market.
Certainly a late-model Neon is a much better choice than a pre-2000 Neon. The cab-forward look of the 2000-and-newer cars was accentuated by moving the base of the windshield forward 7.6 centimetres (three inches). That added extra interior space in a car that was already at the top of its class. More importantly, the design changes made entering and exiting the rear seat much easier. The wheelbase was stretched in 2000 by 2.54 cm (1.0 in.) while overall length grew 6.6 cm (2.6 in.).
The body itself was made stiffer in both bending and twisting and that makes a 2000-2003 Neon quieter than older versions. In addition, Chrysler threw in triple-sealed doors with full frames. They were a big improvement over the frameless door glass of older cars. But a Neon/2.0 SX still has a somewhat choppy ride. On the other hand, the handling is secure and the braking is very, very good.
For 2000 Chrysler also added more insulation, better fabric and plastic trim materials and a new instrument panel.
The 2000 Neon’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine was modified to reduce noise and deliver more off-the-line acceleration. Horsepower even today remains the familiar 132 horsepower, though. The base transmission has been and remains a five-speed manual while a four-speed automatic became available for 2001 (the old three-speed automatic was offered in 2000).
Chrysler’s attempt to go up-market with the Neon means most older Neons are pretty well equipped. So all told there is some value to be found in a two- or – three-year-old Neon.