The Chrysler Neon was on sale in Australia from 1996 until 2002. It was designed to make an impact on the compact car market and build on the success that Chrysler had begun to enjoy with the Jeep Cherokee. Although the Neon was not a roaring success, it made steady sales and has gone some way to underpinning the recent boom in Chrysler’s popularity.
The Neon benefits from a cab-forward design, providing extra space within the compact cabin and additional stability when cornering on the road – thanks to the forward driving position and the positioning of the rear wheels so close to the back. The resultant aesthetic is not displeasing, if a little boxy.
The finish in general is overshadowed by some of the lower-priced Japanese models of the same size; it feels slightly flimsier and looks slightly more plastic. The seat design on the basic model leaves something to be desired, so if you are thinking about using the Neon for anything more than short hops, do give some consideration to opting for the LX trim which sports higher spec seats.
Unsurprisingly, interior space is rather at a premium, though this isn’t particularly news for a compact car of this type. It does sport a decent-size boot, and with the back seat down, there is plenty of room to transport some hefty gear.
The Chrysler Neon came to market in two model formats – the SE and the LX with its higher spec and trim. The LX was later replaced by an updated LE model for the 1999 model year. One of the key selling points that was to differentiate the Neon from the competition was its pokey 2.0L engine, which in paper at least was pretty impressive when compared to the 1.8L, 1.6L, and 1.5L options that most of its counterparts were offering. That said, the standard 3-speed automatic transmission went some way to offsetting this advantage, although the 5-speed manual fared somewhat better.
The Neon gives decent power at speed but is a bit slow on the uptake when you put your foot down, again not helped in the automatic model by the limitations of the gearbox. The base model features disc brakes to the front and drum brakes to the rear, while the LX benefits from disc brakes all round along with ABS (anti-lock braking system). The ride within the cabin is not the quietest, but then cars have come a long way since 1996; if a tranquil journey is high on your agenda, you’re probably in the market for a different car altogether.
It’s certainly not all doom and gloom for the Neon. A study undertaken by the Monash University Accident Research Centre back in the Neon’s launch year, 1996, assessed 239 vehicles from road accident data collected between 1992 and 2007 and found the Neon to be amongst the safest, alongside the Ford Focus, VW Golf, Mazda MX5, and Peugeot 307 as other small cars in this bracket. For this reason, if you are looking to purchase an older second-hand car, the Neon certainly is worth consideration from a driver and passenger safety point of view.
The Neon came with a choice of manual or automatic transmission and a higher level of standard equipment than many of its competitors. Expect to find twin airbags, air-conditioning, power door locks and mirrors, radio/cassette player with 4 speakers, power steering, split-fold rear seat with 60/40 option, tinted glass, rear fog lights, and illuminated sun visors with vanity mirrors. If it’s the LX option that catches your eye, add to this a leather steering wheel, additional front fog lights, power windows to the front, additional built-in speakers for the radio system, colour-matched bumpers and handles, and higher spec seats.
The Chrysler Neon’s competition is broad, coming from every end of the spectrum. Japanese, European, and other American brands all give it a run for its money, leaving many feeling that sadly the Neon comes up a little short. If you are keen on compact American cars, it will of course be deserving of a place on your shortlist; however, if you are simply in search of a compact that offers comfort, pace, and value for money, there are others that will leave it behind. Consider the Ford Focus, Ford Laser, Mazda 323, Peugeot 307, Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Excel, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan NX, Toyota Corolla, or a whole raft of young pretenders.
The Grand Voyager has found its own niche in a market where there are a number of decent competitors from which to choose. If you are in the market for a large-sized people transporter, the Grand Voyager should definitely be on your shortlist. Others to consider include the Toyota Tarago, possibly the most popular car of this type, which has a decent reputation but a higher price tag than you might expect from Toyota. The Honda Odyssey could also make the cut. The Odyssey is easy on the eye and a pleasure to drive, but it does come up short in the space stakes when you take into account the Voyager’s full seating quota of seven adults plus some hefty baggage. You might also consider the Mitsubishi Grandis, which comes at a competitive price that matches its lower market profile.