Cars

The Dodge Neon SRT-4 Was a Terrible but Awesome Civic Si Rival

Although today it’s tough to find a Dodge vehicle that doesn’t offer a Hellcat engine, that wasn’t quite the case in the early 2000s. This was before the modern Charger and Challenger, and only slightly after the Viper’s release. In addition, this was a high-point of the import scene, when cars like the Civic Si, Acura Integra, S2000, and Miata first rose to prominence. American automakers didn’t really have a ready answer. At least, not until the Dodge Neon SRT-4 came along.

What made the Dodge Neon SRT-4 special?

Firstly, as Donut Media explains, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 essentially helped kick-start Chrysler’s SRT division. This was the same division that would be responsible for the Viper-engine Dodge Ram SRT-10, and ultimately the Hellcat models.

2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4
2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4 | Dodge

But, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 didn’t necessarily have special roots. As with the Civic Si, it was based on an economical commuter car. However, as The Drive and Doug Demuro explain, the SRT-4 model was significantly souped-up from stock.

To start, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 received a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Initially, Car and Driver reports, it put out 215 hp for the 2003 model year. But later models were bumped up to produce 230 hp, Autotrader reports. 0-60 came in 5.6 seconds, Road & Track reports, 2 seconds faster than the stock model.

2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4 engine
2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4 engine | Dodge

The car also got 17” wheels, a new 5-speed manual, and clutch, with strengthened and updated front suspension components to reduce torque steer. The brakes were also upgraded, with larger pads all-around and vented front rotors. The Neon SRT-4 could also be equipped with the ACR Package, which added larger anti-roll bars, and firmer strut valves and springs. Finally, in 2004, Dodge added a limited-slip differential.

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To help cool and funnel air into the turbo, it got a new grille and a functional hood scoop. The front sport seats were based on the Viper’s. And, because this was the early 2000s, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 also had a large rear wing, 6-disc CD changer, and a factory trunk-mounted subwoofer.

The Dodge Neon SRT-4: a flawed Honda Civic Si rival

2002 Honda Civic Si
2002 Honda Civic Si | Honda

On paper, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 had several advantages over the contemporary Civic Si. For one, the 7th-gen Civic Si only had 160 hp. And Popular Mechanics reports the Civic Si simply didn’t have the SRT-4’s grip.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth | Fiat

Also, Doug Demuro reports that even today, the Neon SRT-4 is still legitimately quick. 230 hp is more than the discontinued Fiesta ST or Fiat 500 Abarth had. It was also more than the Acura Integra Type R produced. Perhaps that’s why former SRT boss Ralph Gilles owned one.

2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4 interior
2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4 interior | Dodge

However, in terms of overall fit and finish, the Dodge lagged the Honda. For example, to save costs, SRT-4 had exposed bumper screws, no trunk liner, and an interior full of cheap plastics. To be fair, Japanese automakers used a lot of plastic, too, but the Dodge’s interior material quality was noticeably poorer. But perhaps the most egregious example of this is demonstrated by the windows.

The Dodge Neon SRT-4 only had electric power windows in the front. The rear passengers had manual crank windows. And, as you can see in the image above, they didn’t even roll down all the way.

In addition, although the Civic Si was slower than the Neon SRT-4, it was still fairly nimble. Car and Driver also reports the SRT-4’s transmission didn’t shift as smoothly as the Si’s did. Plus, R&T reports the 7th-gen Civic Si was actually cheaper than the SRT-4.

Pricing and availability

Unfortunately, stock examples of the Dodge Neon SRT-4 models are getting somewhat hard to find. These were popular with tuners and modifiers, which typically either crashed them or damaged the engines. Also, the Neon SRT-4 was only made from 2003-2005. But, as Demuro shows in his video if you are willing to look past the terrible interior quality, the Neon SRT-4 does have its own charms.

2005 Dodge Neon SRT-4
2005 Dodge Neon SRT-4 | Dodge

Perhaps that’s why these cars still show up at local car meets and shows. And even the relatively-pristine ones, Hagerty reports, regularly sell for less than $10,000. 2 sold on Bring a Trailer, as of this writing, in 2020 for less than that.

So, the Dodge Neon SRT-4: flawed? Yes. But still fun.

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