The race to build the first 2000-model-year production car goes to DaimlerChrysler with the all-new Dodge and Plymouth Neons. However, the company's claim that "the 2000 Neon will be the first car of the new millennium" is not accurate; remember, historians, the new millennium technically starts in 2001. But "the first car of the last year of the old millennium" is probably too wordy for marketing purposes.
DaimlerChrysler is also billing the 2000 Neon as "quiet, sophisticated and still a lot of fun." Fun seems to be the catch word for the Neon. It's used repeatedly by the manufacturer including, "fun-to-drive handling and steering" and "fun-to-drive attributes." Its maker obviously wants people to know that while the Neon has grown up, it hasn't grown old. It's probably worthwhile for them to stress the fun factor, since the coupe version has initially been scrapped, meaning that a four-door sedan will have to suffice for all the entry-level economy car thrill-seekers.
Under the hood is the familiar 132-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four, but improvements to the air induction and intake manifold system provide torque over a broader rpm range. A new exhaust manifold, cylinder head and timing-belt cover also decrease overall engine noise, further boosting the new Neon's civilized character. Unfortunately, the 150-horsepower DOHC engine is not available for the year 2000- and the automatic transmission still only offers three forward gears.
Thanks to increased wheel travel, the ride is smoother, and it's further enhanced with premium shock absorbers and rear sway bars. The power rack-and-pinion and revamped suspension also contribute to the cruising quality. Stopping power comes from a front disc/rear drum combo, but buyers may want to opt for four-wheel discs with ABS and traction control.
You won't have any problems distinguishing the 2000 model from previous Neons. Exterior changes include new, jewel-like headlamps, a smoother roofline and updated taillamps. By increasing the wheelbase and widening the track, the new Neon offers more interior room and a more stable ride than did its predecessor. And the Neon has a few interior "surprise and delight" features that include a radio/cassette and four Big Gulp-sized cupholders.
The small increase in price from a year ago is reflected in the Neon's lack of features. The top end model doesn't even have power rear windows or cruise control. If Chrysler wants to continue to compete in this market, they better up the feature content level.
Everything's new inside and out, as the second-generation 2000 Dodge Neon grows up, not old. A totally redesigned suspension and steering system, low-speed traction control, and a complete exterior redesign head up the notable changes.