2003 Dodge SX 2.0
2003 Dodge SX 2.0. Click image to enlarge


By Chris Chase

Photo Gallery: Chrysler Neon/Dodge SX 2.0, 2000-2005

It’s cool when a car’s name actually fits. The original Neon, with its froggy front end and the nifty “Hi!” ads that vaulted it into the car buying public’s consciousness, was one of these apty-named vehicles.

The second-generation Neon, introduced for 2000, was sold not as the Dodge (and Plymouth) it was launched as but as a Chrysler instead. This decision was part of Chrysler’s plan to keep all car models (except for the Viper) under the flagship banner and let Dodge concentrate on trucks. Not a bad idea in theory, but the result for the Neon was that the base price jumped by about $1,000. In 2003, the Neon was shuffled back to Dodge, where it was renamed the SX2.0, and the base price was cut by a whopping $3,500 and the car vastly decontented. Note that this applies to Canada only: the U.S. got the second-gen Neon as a Dodge (not to mention the rest of the company’s car lineup) all along.

Power for the 2000-2005 Chrysler Neon and Dodge SX2.0 came from the same 2.0-litre engine that powered the first-generation Neon. While its 132 horsepower was head-of-the-class when the Neon first went on sale, it was strictly average for the compact class by the time this second-gen car arrived. As in the first-gen car, a high-output version of the 2.0-litre could be had, boosting horsepower to 150.

While the base transmission was a five-speed manual, the optional automatic was a three-speed until 2002, when a four-speed was subbed in for it. According to Allpar.com (http://www.allpar.com/neon/neon2.html), however, the original four-speed was much of an improvement thanks to poorly-chosen gear ratios. Better ratios were swapped in for 2003.

Verdict

Highs: Low prices, good handling
Lows: Poor reliability reputation, three-speed automatic in early cars

Fuel consumption with a manual transmission was in the 8.0 L/100 km range in the city and in the low 6.0 L/100 km range on the highway. Consumption was slightly higher with the high output motor, but the automatic transmission was the real heavy drinker, bumping consumption to more than 9.0 L/100 km in the city (close to 10 L/100 km in earlier versions) and close to 7.0 L/100 km on the highway, regardless of whether the three- or four-speed transmission was installed.

The Neon and SX2.0 are frequently laughed at for its deplorable reliability. Certainly, dependability isn’t great by any stretch, but for 2004 and 2005, Consumer Reports gives the Neon a “better-than-average” used car prediction. There are a number of things to look out for, all the same.

2003 Dodge SX 2.0
2003 Dodge SX 2.0. Click image to enlarge

Watch for water leaking into the trunk around the taillights. There are a number of ways to address this with a little work (if you’ve got one that’s not under warranty); see this thread at NeonCanada.org to read some of these solutions.

First-generation Neons suffered from head gasket problems, but this seems to have been addressed by the time the second-gen car came along, according to the FAQ at Neons.org. Consumer Reports seems to back this up, reporting far fewer major engine problems with second-generation cars compared to the first-gen model.

Consumer Reports also notes lots brake problems, but I found little about details in the various Neon forums on the web. The publication also notes major transmission issues in 2002 and 2003, which seems like it could point to troubles with the four-speed automatic that went into service in 2002; looks like things got better in 2004, though. Indeed, the FAQ at Neons.org indicates that the initial four-speed was not as durable as the old three speed auto.

2001 Chrysler Neon R/T
2001 Chrysler Neon R/T. Click image to enlarge

Browsing Neon forums, one notices many threads about performance modifications and many posters asking questions about how to make their cars faster. This is a dead giveaway that these cars appeal to those more interested in the stoplight grand prix that saving on fuel; these cars are cheap, and are easy for young leadfoots to afford. This most certainly has an effect on these cars’ reliability: as I mentioned in my used Civic review a few weeks back, even a well-built car will fall apart if it’s treated like crap.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2000 Neon four stars each for front seat occupant protection and three stars each for front and rear seat side impact protection, and that rating remained the same through 2005. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the second-gen Neon a “marginal” rating. In Canada, side airbags became an option in 2001.

2002 Chrysler Neon LE
2002 Chrysler Neon LE. Click image to enlarge

As is the case for any compact domestic car, resale values are low: Canadian Red Book prices range from $3,200 for a 2000 Chrysler Neon to a high of $10,450 for a 2005 SX2.0 Sport. I’d advise going for a 2003 model or newer: the chances of serious problems will be lessened, and going 2003 or newer ensures automatic buyers the most up-to-date, and hopefully more reliable, four-speed automatic transmission. Canadian Red Book values a 2003 SX2.0 R/T at just under $8,000.

With a manual transmission, the Neon and SX2.0 are zippy cars, and handling is a lot of fun, too. Reliability hasn’t been great, but at least some of this reputation can perhaps be pinned on nuttier Neon drivers putting these little cars through their paces at every opportunity. Therefore, the usual advice applies: if the Neon/SX2.0 appeals to you, make sure it’s been well cared for and checks out with a trusted technician.


Online resources

The second-gen forum at NeonCanada.org isn’t the busiest spot on the web, but it has a decent amount of information considering it’s Canada-specific. The second-gen section at DodgeForum.com is busier, but I’d go to Neons.org first, as model-specific sites often are some of the best resources around. Plus, it has a terrific FAQ that will answer many of your questions about these little cars. Allpar.com has pages of good FAQ-ish info on the Neon, too. These people love their Chrysler products, and it shows. The Neon section at DodgeTalk.com is a good resource, too.


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Manufacturer’s Website

Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001119; Units affected: 61,719

2000-2001: On certain vehicles, the brake booster vacuum hose may swell and loosen from the intake manifold causing a loss of power brake assist. Correction: Hose will be replaced with an oil resistant hose.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000169; Units affected: 48,437

2000: On certain vehicles, extremely low temperatures (-30 degrees centigrade) and steady state driving conditions, may cause ice build up on the throttle blade preventing the throttle from returning to the idle position. This is due to the location of the PCV make up air, upstream of the throttle blade. Correction: The PCV make up air hose will be relocated from the throttle body to the air cleaner housing.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999108; Units affected: 70

2000: On certain vehicles, the front suspension lower control arms may have been inadequately welded between the pivot tube and the arm. The inadequate welding may allow the tube to separate from the arm. If this happens, a loss of vehicle control may result. Correction: Lower control arms will be replaced with ones built to current production standards.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999056; Units affected: 42

2000: On certain vehicles, the passenger side air bag stored-gas inflator may develop a crack along the ring/bottle weld line, providing a leak path, which could result in non-deployment of the passenger side air bag module. Correction: Existing passenger side air bag module will be replaced with a current production module.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001148; Units affected: 165

2001: Certain passenger vehicles equipped with the sport appearance package fail to comply with the requirements of C.M.V.S.S. 110, “Tire Selection and Rims.” Certain vehicles built with P195/50R 16 tires were equipped with the incorrect tire placard. The label specifies the wrong recommended tire size. This could cause the owner to select incorrect replacement tires. Correction: Owners will be provided with a new label, or, if the owner wishes, their dealer can install the label for them.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001054; Units affected: 16

2001: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 110 – Tire Selection and Rims. Vehicles are equipped with P195/50R16 tires but may have a tire placard (label) that indicates a different size tire. Correction: A correct tire placard (label) along with installation instructions will be mailed to owners of affected vehicles.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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