Monday, August 4, 2014

Daydreams: Dodge Neon SRT-4

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
Over the last few weeks, I have seen quite a few Dodge Neon SRT-4s on the road. Seeing the sudden influx of these cars on the road got me thinking back to my college days when I had wanted one of these cars. It was not a very visually exciting vehicle (it is a Dodge Neon after all), but the sound the car made was what made it special. The Neon SRT-4 did not come with mufflers, giving it a very throaty exhaust note and a very audible burbling and popping during down shifts. It was the car's unique exhaust note and performance numbers that made this car appeal to me.

Image Courtesy of Motor Trend
The Neon SRT-4 only existed because Tom Gale, former Executive VP of Chrysler Product
Development and Design, saw the potential of marketing a compact and sporty vehicle to the younger generation. Seeing the current crop of sport compact cars after attending the 1998 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, Gale recognized the opportunity to build a sport compact that would appeal to the younger generation that grew up on tuner cars. Gale assembled a team and in the year 2000, the team built a concept, the Neon SRT, based off of Chrysler's Neon compact car. Unfortunately, the Chrysler executive committee rejected the proposal to make the Neon SRT a production car. Rather than giving up on the project, Gale's team listed all the reasons why the car was rejected and continued working. After building a few more prototypes, the Chrysler executive committee finally gave the car the production green light in 2001.

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When the car first made its debut as a 2003 model year car, it came with 215 horsepower, 245 lb./ft. of torque, and was capable of sprinting to 60 mph in about 5.6 seconds, and completing a quarter-mile run in 14.1 seconds. These were admirable numbers for a compact car sending its power to the front wheels. For the 2004 model year, the Neon SRT-4 got more power by way of larger fuel injectors and revised engine computer tuning. Power was now up to 230 horsepower and torque up to 250 lb./ft. The car also received a limited-slip differential from Quaife, stickier BF Goodrich g-Force T/A KDW 2 tires, and had the name "Neon" removed from the car's full name. The additional power mean the car was now doing zero to 60 in 5.3 seconds and running through the quarter-mile at 13.9 seconds. Very impressive numbers for what started life as just a plain Dodge Neon.

Image Courtesy of Car and Driver
What also made the SRT-4 special was that it was not just fast in a straight line. The SRT-4 was also a very capable handler as well. This is a car that was often praised for its ability to handle canyon roads and be used as a potential autocross machine. The 2004 and 2005 models equipped with the Quaife limited-slip differential fixed a lot of the typical front-wheel drive cornering and acceleration issues as well. In the end, it is still a front-wheel drive car with a ton of torque being send to the front wheels. Luckily, SRT (still known as Performance Vehicle Operations or PVO) made sure that this car's limits were very high. If I remember reading correctly, the only complaints about the handling were that this car could have used a slightly stiffer suspension setup.

Image Courtesy of Car Pictures
In 2006, the Neon was replaced by the new Caliber. As a result, the SRT group (Chrysler's in-house performance vehicle team, formerly known as PVO) built the Caliber SRT-4 for model years 2008 and 2009, which was supposed to be even more wild than the Neon SRT-4 it replaced. At 285 horsepower and 265 lb./ft. of torque, the Caliber SRT-4 had more power and was faster than many sports cars of the same year. It was a lot of horsepower being thrown at the front wheels but the guys at SRT managed to tame the potential torque steering nightmare of applying that much power to the front wheels. Unfortunately, SRT missed the mark on the handling front with the Caliber SRT-4. The car was often panned as being a body rolling nightmare.

Image Courtesy of Motor Trend
In 2013, the Caliber was replaced by the Dodge Dart. This new Dart is built on Fiat's compact platform, which is shared with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Currently, I have not heard of any plans for Chrysler to build a hot version of the Dart. Despite the lack of any news on a performance version of the Dart, the SRT versions of the Neon and Caliber both debuted a few years after the introduction of the base model. Will there be a hot version of the Dart in the vein of the Neon SRT-4? I guess we will find out in another year or two.  

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