by Bob McHugh

1997 Plymouth Neon Highline
1997 Plymouth Neon Highline

When it was launched in the summer of 1994, as a ’95
model, the Dodge/Plymouth Neon proved that domestic
car makers could still do well in the small car
market. The cute, happy-face of the Neon was also a
hit with car buyers and the Canadian auto press, who
voted it ‘Car of the Year’.

Neon replaced both Shadow and Sundance in both the
Dodge and Plymouth product lines and was built in
either Belvidere, Illinois or Toluco, Mexico. Sold
initially only as a 4-door sedan, a 2-door coupe was
soon added to the Neon line-up. Both versions were
sold in Highline and Sport trim levels, in addition to
the base trim.

The Neon’s ‘cab forward’ and wheels to the corner
design features were a completely new Chrysler body
platform. Built to 1997 safety standards it also
included some attributes of the original ‘Green Neon’,
an ‘enviro’ prototype that had previously been a big
hit on the auto-show circuit.

Safety features include an air bag for both the driver
and the front passenger. The front seat belts have
adjustable shoulder anchors and child-seat friendly
self-locking seat belt latch plates. Safety options
included an integrated child seat and an anti-locking
brake system.

Lots of headroom and legroom up front and the large
steeply sloped windshield gives the Neon a feeling of
spaciousness that’s normally associated with a larger
car. ‘Green’ features included; CFC free air
conditioning; the use of water based paints; coded
plastic parts and minimum use of painted plastic
parts, for improved recycling.

The Neon’s two litre four cylinder engine out-powers
just about everything in this class. However, it’s a
bit noisy when cold and again at the high end of its
rev range, and it’s prone to head gasket problems.
Modifications to the motor for the ’97 model year,
which included a switch to an aluminum oil pan, made
it smoother and quieter.

A high-output version of the base engine was a late
upgrade to the 2-door Sport in ’95. It’s a screamer of
an engine that red lines at 7,000 rpm and pumps-out
150 hp. The transmission choices were a 5-speed manual
or a 3-speed automatic, a more robust unit than
Chrysler’s infamous 4-speed auto-transmission.

There were two recalls on the first year Neon. Some
have a steering column coupler that may become
disconnected if the car is involved in a severe
impact. And accelerated corrosion to the rear fuel and
brake tubes can occur at a rubber isolator, that holds
them in place.

The second year of production (1996) brought NVH
improvements, a bigger (plastic) gas tank, and power
steering was made standard on all models. An optional
‘Expresso’ package was also added. It included a rear
spoiler; a tachometer; body graphics and distinctive
interior trim.

Some ’97s have a faulty air bag electronic control
module (a recalled item) that allows it to deploy
inadvertently, when the ignition is turned off. A
delightful end to that drive home, after a tough day
at work!

The ’98 model year brought yet another version of the
Neon. The R/T is a high-performance version of the
Sport with 4-wheel disc brakes, alloy wheels, a
stiffer suspension and unique bucket seats.

Small yet spacious inside, the Dodge or Plymouth Neon
can be a good used car buy, as prices are reasonable
and performance is better than most in this class.

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.

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