Future Classic: 2003-2005 Dodge Neon SRT4

These days, Dodge’s SRT division is all about big cars with big power, but in the early 2000s, the company courted a different kind of sports car buyer. The Dodge Neon SRT4 – later shortened to just Dodge SRT4 – was a red-hot entry in the budding sport compact segment, offering mega thrills for a relatively low price.

Despite only being sold from 2003 to 2005, the Neon SRT4 was a hit. Dodge only planned to sell about 2,500 examples annually, but by the time it went out of production, more than 25,000 SRT4s found homes. The sedan was and is popular with aftermarket tuners, as well. Too bad about the angry headlight mod, though.

Why is the Dodge SRT4 a future classic?

Dodge slapped a Mitsubishi turbocharger onto the standard Neon’s 2.4-liter inline-four engine, upping its output to 215 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual was the only transmission offered, fitted with a Sachs performance clutch. The Neon SRT4 had stiffer springs, Tokico shocks, larger front and rear sway bars and 17-inch wheels, behind which Dodge installed 11.0-inch front and 10.6-inch rear disc brakes. Standard 205/50-series Michelin summer tires helped put that power to the ground, and independent tests claimed 0-to-60-mph times of around 5.5 seconds. Not bad.

A large rear spoiler, extra front nostrils and unique side skirts gave the SRT4 an aggro vibe, and inside, the Neon had special seats modeled after the ones Dodge used in the Viper. Of course, we can’t help but laugh at the fact that the SRT4 had power front windows but manual rears. Cost cutting at its finest, right there.

One year after its introduction, Dodge gave the Neon SRT4 a bunch of upgrades, so we extend our apologies to anyone who’s still bummed about getting one of the initial 2003s. Larger fuel injectors and a recalibrated ECU upped output to 230 hp and 250 lb-ft, and the 2004 SRT4 got a limited-slip differential and BF Goodrich ultra-high-performance tires. This is also when “Neon” was officially dropped from the name.

What is the ideal example of the Dodge SRT4?

Obviously, the original 215-hp Neon SRT4 isn’t as desirable as later models, but the real sweetheart of the lineup came in 2005: the ACR. This version didn’t offer any more power, but it came with 16-inch BBS wheels, 225/45-series tires, a lower ride height, adjustable dampers, larger rear stabilizer bar, stiffer bushings and racing seats. Fewer than 1,200 ACRs were sold, making them quite rare.

Speaking of rare, a final SRT4 Commemorative Edition was also offered in 2005, but it wasn’t a performance-oriented updo like the ACR. Instead, this variant got blue stripes over its white body, blue accents inside and stainless steel door plates. Just 200 were made, and it even came with a special booklet, just like the Commemorative Edition Vipers and Ram SRT10s of the era. If you’re looking for exclusivity above all, this is definitely the SRT4 to get, with low-mileage examples commanding decent money. But we’d rather have the ACR for obvious reasons.

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Are there any good alternatives to the Dodge SRT4?

Compact sports cars were thick on the ground in the early 2000s, and the Neon SRT4 had some stiff competition. In the front-wheel-drive class, rivals included the Ford SVT Focus, Mazdaspeed Protege, Nissan Sentra SE-R and Volkswagen GTI, while adding all-wheel drive unlocked the excellent (and bugeye!) Subaru WRX

It’s hard to go wrong with any of these, but the Neon SRT4 was particularly special. As such, it won a number of high-profile comparison tests, earning top honors from publications such as Automobile, Car and Driver, Edmunds and Sport Compact Car.

Dodge never offered a proper successor to the Neon SRT4, save for the hilarious/horrendous Caliber SRT4 compact crossover/hatchback (maybe you’ll eventually see that highlighted in a similar article … but maybe not). Now, Dodge performance is all about 800-hp Challengers with yellow bumper guards ripping burnouts between stoplights. The Neon SRT4 was a one-and-done era of SRT performance that’ll likely never happen again.

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