Classic CARmentary: 1998 Dodge Neon R/T

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

This piece ran on April 1, 1998, and was my first experience with a stick-shift Neon.  I’d driven several since they were popular rental fodder back then, and always enjoyed myself despite the antediluvian 3-speed automatic.  I only wish I had a better memory of it because lately I’ve been thinking about finding one of the few R/Ts left out there and adding it to my non-existent collection of cars.  I think it’d be fun weekend runabout.

Even though this was only my fourth review, my editor made very few changes, and even those were hardly noticeable.  She even left in my Monica Lewinsky jab.  The only change I didn’t like was where she wrote that the Dodge Neon had a “cousin in a Plymouth family.”  The Lincoln Corsair is a cousin to the Ford Escape.  The Plymouth and Dodge Neons were identical twins, and I’m not quite sure why she felt what I wrote was not accurate.  I added my original sentence in strkethrough so you don’t think I’m an idiot.

In addition, you have to take the “sports-car fast” comment within the context of the time.  And, yes, I know that the hood-to-deck stripes date back to the Shelby Cobra.  However, it was the Viper that was aping the Cobra.  The Neon R/T was aping the Viper.

The cute, compact Dodge Neon has never lacked appeal. In some respects, it’s vaguely reminiscent of the Volkswagen Beetle, with its round headlamps and curved roof.

Introduced in January 1994, the Neon was originally sold in identical Dodge and Plymouth versions.  The Neon was introduced January 1994 with a cousin in the Plymouth family. As the Neon nears the end of its product cycle and sales of compact cars decline, both divisions have created packages to attract buyers. Plymouth, the value/economy division, added a “Style” model that offers luxury features previously unavailable on the Neon, such as power windows, locks, and moonroof.

For those who like a little Tabasco in their lives, Dodge, Chrysler’s performance division, added an R/T package (those letters can also be found on the heart-stopping Viper R/T 10).

Besides the two Viper-like hood-to-deck vertical stripes, the $2,140 R/T package, available on both the coupe and sedan, includes air conditioning, 150-horsepower engine, four-wheel disc brakes, quicker steering ratio, sport seats, sport suspension, rear spoiler, fog lamps, cassette stereo, and larger tires.

Acceleration is sports-car fast: Dodge says 0-60 in 7.6 seconds. The Goodyear Eagle tires stick to the road like reporters on Monica Lewinsky. Around town, I took corners faster and faster and still couldn’t find the Neon’s upper limit. The 5-speed manual transmission is smooth and precise, impressive for a company that was known for some of the worst manual transmissions in the industry.

As in any other sports car, the major sacrifice is with noise and ride. The R/T is quite loud at highway speeds, and the ride is rough. Other problem areas include poor rear visibility due to the up-swept trunk and rear spoiler.

On the plus side: the high trunk is roomy, and the 60/40 fold down rear seat adds even more space. With the seat up, two can fit comfortably in back.

Overall, this Neon is worthy of the R/T moniker, and a lot of fun for the price.

For more information contact 1-800-4-A-DODGE


Type: 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 150 horsepower, 2.0 liter I4
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual
EPA Mileage: 29 city/38 highway
Tested Price: $15,810