Vintage R & T Review: 1995 Plymouth Neon Sport “Tarnished By Opening Night Jitters”

By the time the Neon was launched in 1994, it was one more episode in Detroit’s unintended saga: “How Hard Can It Be To Make a Compact?”

Detroit wasn’t making it easy for the US automotive press, who had to cover these cars and try not to ruffle too many -advertising- feathers while doing so. And the May 1994 review of the Neon Sport pretty much states the Neon’s letdown from the get go, in so many words. After all, the Neon’s launch was filled with constant glitches, and how to keep your hard-earned readership without warning them so? Advertisers or readers?

Like all good sagas, the last chapters tend to be the most compelling, and in the case of Detroit’s compacts, the launch of the Saturn and Neon were the best up to then. Inching ever closer. Could they finally build a real world class compact? Would they improve on the foundation they had just built?

The foundation may have been alright, but as it was Chrysler’s wont when ‘design’ came into the picture, the Neon’s launch was botched with multiple recalls: Electrical shorts, failing ABS systems, not the kind of thing that happened with the trouble-free Civics and Corollas my California pals owned. At least lessons had been learned since the Pinto/Corvair days, and the company made much effort to accomodate ‘affected’ customers. Then again, regardless of efforts such matters probably didn’t create much good will in the long run.

Not that the Neon was without merit. It seemed an entertaining idea for those who followed cars (and hyped as such by Chrysler), and against the anonymous jelly-belly compacts of the period it stood out with a spunky and attention grabbing design. It also wasn’t unnoticed that after all the hoopla and many billions GM had thrown on the Saturn, the Neon appeared fully formed at a fraction of the cost thanks to Chrysler’s “platform team” development approach. In close inspection the Neon didn’t hold against the refinement of a Honda or Toyota, but it carried a lower price and that alone could seal the deal for many.

In spite of the Neon’s assembly woes, Chrysler did have a compelling group of engineers that knew how to put a fun car together. In regards of the Neon’s driving dynamics, most reviewers spoke nicely on its performance. And in sporty guise, doubts about interior noise and lack of refinement were easier to overlook in exchange for some spunk.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the Neon since day one. The package and concept -finally- seemed right; it was a matter of sticking to the plot and reach the end of the saga. Without further errors.

Well, we know how the saga ended. Which in hindsight, seems to have been more of a comedy of errors.