2004 Dodge SRT-4
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Story by Chris Chase, photos Laurance Yap

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In 1995, the then-Chrysler Corporation introduced the Neon as a replacement for the Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance twins, two of the last examples of the many K-Car derivatives that helped saved the automaker from financial ruin.

That original Neon, backed up by spry handling and a cheeky ad campaign, was a sales success even if lacklustre reliability hurt its reputation as a long-term investment. A 2000 redesign aimed to move the Neon upmarket, as did a new marketing plan to badge all Neons as well-equipped Chryslers. Budget conscious Canadian shoppers shunned this newest iteration of the Neon, and in 2003 DaimlerChrysler re-badged the Neon as the Dodge SX 2.0.

A year later, D-C delivered the first true high-performance car based on the Neon platform to Canadian dealerships. That car was the Dodge SRT-4, the subject of this week’s used car review.

Despite a reputation in some enthusiast’s circles as “just another Neon,” the SRT-4 shared little with the low-rent Neon and SX 2.0 other than its basic shape and some interior fittings. In place of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder that powered the SX 2.0, the SRT-4 got a turbocharged 2.4-litre four-banger that was originally rated at 215 horsepower, a number that was soon upgraded to 230.

As mentioned, the Neon and SX 2.0 have never enjoyed a terrific reputation for reliability, and one might surmise that cramming a boosted engine and stiff suspension into the car would do nothing to help. Generally-speaking, though, it appears that D-C’s SRT (short for Street and Racing Technology) skunkworks did its homework with this little monster of a car. One sports car enthusiast magazine literally took apart an SRT-4 engine and discovered that D-C fitted a raft of reinforcements to the motor’s dirty bits to help it hold up to the rigours of turbocharging.

2004 Dodge SRT-4
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While the SRT-4 appears to be quite solid mechanically, owners have reported some smaller issues. The sunroof, which is a sliding affair that slides back, up and over the roof when opened, can be bent and damaged by winds at high speeds when it’s open. The result is a leaky roof. Also, hard running (particularly in cars with aftermarket engine modifications) can cause vacuum hoses in the engine compartment to come loose. While this will rarely cause damage to the car, it’s more than a little inconvenient. Related to this, several owners have reported difficult-to-trace leaks in the turbocharger plumbing that can prevent the car from performing to its full potential.

The soft rubber bushings that isolate the car body from the rear suspension can cause unsettled high-speed handling; owners report that replacing the bushings with stiffer aftermarket pieces helps dramatically. Interior squeaks and rattles are fairly common, thanks to so-so interior build quality combined with a stiff suspension.

An SRT-4 owner at SRTforums.com discovered that the brake light wiring harness is routed directly behind the clutch pedal arm, causing damage to the wires, possible short circuits and sometimes preventing the clutch from disengaging completely. While many other owners followed up, reporting a similar problem, it’s unclear whether D-C ever took any action to remedy the problem.

2004 Dodge SRT-4
Click image to enlarge

Just as the SRT-4 offers more performance than its more budget-oriented SX 2.0 cousin, it also uses more fuel. Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption figures for the SRT-4 are 10.8 L/100 km in the city and 7.2 L/100 km on the highway. Keep in mind those numbers are achieved using NRCan’s very conservative test methods, and real world consumption, particularly in spirited driving, will be significantly higher. Factor in the premium fuel the SRT-4’s high-compression engine commands, and the cost of using one of these cars as a daily driver would get expensive quickly.

Crash test results are mixed, with the SRT-4 scoring four stars each for front seat occupant protection, respectively, in frontal impacts and three stars each for front and rear seat occupant protection, respectively, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the SRT-4 a marginal rating in its frontal offset crash test, and a poor rating in side impact tests. The SRT-4 was not available with side airbags.

Price-wise, Canadian Red Book values are far lower than real-world asking prices for these cars. Red Book pegs used values for 2004 and 2005 models at $17,450 and $20,200 respectively, sellers routinely ask for as much as $25,000 to $29,000 due to the car’s relative rarity and performance potential. Still, that’s a lot for a used version of a car that originally sold for around $27,000 before options.

While the SRT-4 is less refined than high-performance offerings from many import automakers, this rip-snorting little Dodge is still a formidable performer, and very much worthy of its sport-compact classification. Even with real-world used prices that tend to be significantly higher than book values, the SRT-4 can still be considered a reasonable deal considering the performance it offers.

Online resources

www.srtforums.com – Calling this site busy would be like, well, stating the obvious; there are more than 41,000 members here. Technically, the site covers all Dodge SRT vehicles, but the focus is the SRT4. Check out the SRT Technical Discussion section, where you’ll find lots of useful information on these pocket rockets.

http://www.dodgeforum.com/ – There are close to 35,000 members at this forum, which caters exclusively to Dodge owners. The SRT-4 gets its own section, which happens to be among the busiest.

www.dodgetalk.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=153 – There are more than 71,000 members here – a positively huge number – thanks to the site’s wide focus on the entire Dodge lineup. Here, the SRT-4 forum is less busy than at other sites, but there appears to be a good amount of useful info all the same.

www.allpar.com – Allpar.com is a terrific resource for owners of any DaimlerChrysler vehicle, past or present. Here, the SRT-4 shares a discussion section with the first- and second-generation Neon/SX 2.0. For lots of useful info, check out this page:

forums.neons.org – With more than 21,000 members, Neons.org’s popularity echoes that of DaimlerChrysler’s small sedan. SRT-4 info can be found in a dedicated section.

Forum.neoncanada.com – Here’s a site that caters to owners of the Dodge SX 2.0, Canada’s version of the late model Neon. There are more than 3,000 members here, a good number for a Canadian-based forum centered on a single model. The SRT-4 gets its own discussion section.

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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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