I t looks like the front end of a Honda Civic mated to the rear of a Ford Mondeo. Chrysler describes it as ‘innovative cab-forward styling’. I’d describe it as odd, but pleasingly distinctive.
Whatever, Chrysler has sold Neons by the showroom load in its native America since the model’s 1994 launch, and it is confident that it can do likewise in the UK. The marque’s reputation for value-for-money has been soundly established by Captain Versatile, the exceptionally fine Jeep Cherokee; the Neon is unlikely to harm that image.
A Vectra for the price of an Astra? A Mondeo for the price of an Escort? That’s the Neon’s sales armoury. Internally, it compares to one of the former. Fiscally, it equates to one of the latter. The range-topping LX (£13,550) includes dual airbags, ABS and air conditioning as standard (not to mention remote central locking, a genuinely high quality stereo system, engine immobiliser, and electic operation of mirrors and front windows), with automatic transmission available as a rare no-cost option. The LE costs £12,150, minus ABS and air conditioning. By way of comparison, an Escort LX equipped to the same standard would cost over £14,000 . with a 1.6 engine, as opposed to the Neon’s 131 bhp, two-litre four-pot.
It is not blessed with cutting edge handling, but it behaves well in the context of what it is (all UK Neons are fitted with what the Americans regard as a sports suspension pack, to cater for local market tastes). Top speed is 117 mph; acceleration from rest to 60 mph takes 9.5s. Unusually, the automatic version is swifter (121 mph; 8.8s). Overall fuel economy should be around 37 mpg (manual) or 33 mpg (auto), which is just as well given that the fuel tank is only 9.3 gallons. This a not perhaps a car with which to inflame the heart; it is, however, one with which to please a) company reps and b) the bank manager. S A