- Aftermarket tuner car look.
- Unreal power and torque figures.
- Excellent handling and braking.
- Full-fledged racing seats are standard equipment.
- Jeez, look at the price!
- Rear wing limits rearward visibility for people under 5' 5".
- Engine makes a heck of a lot of noise.
- Typical front-wheel-drive torque steer if launched incorrectly.
- Shares the standard Neon's cheap interior bits.
- Racing seats may prove uncomfortable for "large" people.
Press Coverage :
The 2004 Dodge Neon SRT-4 is still powered by the PT Cruiser's 2.4L 4-cylinder boosted by a Mitsubishi TD04-L-16GK turbocharger, but it now includes a new NGC3 engine control module with an updated calibration that widens the torque range. The broader range reduces torque drop off, while providing more torque at lower rpm levels for less shifting under normal driving conditions. Larger fuel injectors also have been incorporated for 2004, which increase fuel flow. Ther are no major changes for 2005.
The 2003 original's horsepower and torque figures were grossly underrated. While rated at 215 hp, the actual figure is closer to 250 hp. For 2004, the engine has been rerated at 230 hp, which is probably still conservative. The original did not have an LSD to take advantage of all this front-wheel power, but it is now offered as a Mopar aftermarket accessory by Dodge themselves. The 2004 SRT-4 features a new torque-sensing limited-slip differential as standard equipment. Developed in conjunction with performance specialists Quaife, this feature provides more traction when accelerating out of the corners or anytime the throttle is floored. The torque curve peaks at only 2200 rpm and remains flat well into the rev range, while maximum boost, variable between 11 psi and 14 psi depending on weather condtions, comes on fairly quickly.
Dodge's own Mopar Performance has been offering several "stages" of performance upgrades for those who want to push their cars to the brink. The $399 Stage 1 turbo upgrade kit pushes the SRT-4's 2.4-liter turbocharged engine to an underrated 240 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. Next in the catalog is the Mopar Performance turbo blow-off valve, designed to prevent both premature boost leakage and compressor surge. The $1500 Stage 2 turbo kit boosts the engine up to 280 hp and 300 lb-ft in "high-octane" mode, while the Stage 3 raises the bar up to 355 hp and 365 lb-ft, costing you between $2700 to $3700 depending on what upgrades you've already installed. Other catalog parts include a short shifter and gauges, among other things.
New BF Goodrich KDW2 three-season tires also are standard equipment on the SRT-4. Other new features include a sunroof and side airbags as options. Blue paint replaces yellow for the 2004 color palette, which includes red, black and silver. Orange paint has been added for 2005.
There's more to the SRT-4 package than just a turbocharger, of course. Turbos generate heat, as well as boost, so the challenge is keeping the intake air as cool as possible. To that end, the SRT-4 gets its fresh air via an intake set into the car's left-front fender well. There's also some pretty serious intake intercooling going on, owing to an eight-row Valeo air-to-air unit spanning the space between the front frame rails.
The exhaust manifold is integrated with the turbine housing for better flow, tidier packaging, and quicker catalytic light-off. From the cat, the exhaust splits into two channels that culminate in two chrome exhaust-pipe tips. The unusual part is what's missing, as in mufflers. The result is an exhaust note that manages to be both authoritative and mellow - far from quiet, particularly at full throttle, but pleasing to an ear predisposed to enjoy the music of vigorous internal combustion.
Okay, it's got plenty of punch. Then there's the challenge of getting it onto the pavement - via the front wheels - without having the launch go up in smoke or snatching the steering wheel out of the driver's hands. The engine feeds its impressive thrust through a Sachs high-capacity clutch into a New Venture T850 five-speed manual gearbox and thence via equal-length half-shafts to the front wheels. The clutch and the gearbox are unique to the SRT-4, and the equal-length half-shafts do a remarkable job of quelling torque steer. There are hints of an alien force tugging at the wheel during full-tilt-boogie acceleration in first and second gears, but that's all.
Getting the best launch is tricky. As you'd expect, the SRT-4 has bigger footprints than its R/T counterpart - 205/ 50ZR-17 rubber versus 195/50TR-16 - but even so, it's easy to overpower them with a careless throttle foot. On the other hand, shameless wheelspin will be this car's biggest appeal for many owners. For all its wheelspin potential, though, the SRT-4 is a balanced package, capable of stopping and turning with the same kind of zeal it brings to going straight-ahead. Thus, the SRT-4 has upgraded knuckles, sturdier control arms, higher spring rates, firmer valving in the Tokico struts, a steering rack adapted from the PT Cruiser GT, and heavier anti-roll bars - 24 millimeters up front, 19 rear, versus 22 and 17 in the R/T package.
The brakes got the same treatment - bigger rotors all around, vented up front, squeezed by bigger pads than those employed in lesser Neons. All the foregoing adds up to a street-fightin' bad boy, and the PVO troops have done their best to make the SRT-4 look the part with unique front and rear fascias, side cladding, 6.0-by-17-inch aluminum alloy wheels wearing Michelin Pilot Sport tires, and a high rear wing claimed to be functional.
There are enhancements inside as well. Most noteworthy under this heading is the pair of racing-style bucket seats with oversize thigh and torso bolsters, adapted from the buckets used in the Dodge Viper. The high-grip textured upholstery carries over to the door panels, there's a carbon-fiber pattern tanned into the leather covering the steering wheel, the instruments - including a 160-mph speedo - are unique to this package, and there are a number of chrome accents, including bright instrument bezels.
That's the package. So what's it like to drive? Bitchin', thank you. Tramp on the go pedal, and the boost gauge snaps to attention - right now. Power comes on with a profound rush, and Frankeneon hurls itself down the street with a will. It's also capable of unwinding your favorite set of back-road kinks in a faster-than-average hurry, and it could probably be a good autocross weapon. Pushed to its limits, the SRT-4 will behave like its tamer Neon cousins (read "understeer"), but those limits are pretty high. They could be even higher with a little less tire sidewall and a little more starch in the suspension tuning. The SRT-4 is firm, but there's just enough compliance to soften hard asphaltic warts out there. Beyond that, the PVO boys aimed for a setup that would be a little forgiving. We'd say PVO nailed its somewhat divergent dynamic targets and also nailed the braking performance. The SRT-4 delivers sports-car stopping distances and keeps delivering, stop after stop, without fade, without drama.
Demerits? A few. For one, shifting the New Venture five-speed is more work than fun, owing to its stiff action. For another, those seats look cool and provide great lateral support, but they'd be pretty confining to live with day in and day out. Same goes for the exhaust note - mellifluous - but as your all-day companion it could be like listening to Roseanne singing the national anthem in a shower.
Launch the SRT-4 from low rpm with little wheelspin and it almost bogs before immediately coming on boost, thanks to its relatively small turbo. Then it snorts and pops between shifts, sounding more like a high-strung rally car than a production machine.
The suspension calibration is good, but we'd like to see a bit more rebound damping. Our mountain road pounding explored the limits of the design as much as its calibration. Travel isn't substantial, so excruciating attention to damping goes a long way in finding extra speed and safety margin when driving hard.
2001-2003 Dodge Neon R/T
2,000 cc / 150 hp / 135 lb-ft / 2700 lbs / 0-60 mph 7.6 sec.