Dodge Intrepid and Neon Replace Dodge Dynasty and Shadow
By this point, Dodge was ready to join C-P Division in introducing a succession of new models to rejuvenate its lineup for the late '90s and beyond. The changeover would be orderly but quite rapid, reflecting the efficient work of the "cross-functional platform teams" recently established in the image of Team Viper. As a result, Spirit, Shadow, and Dynasty were left to fade away with no further changes of note after 1992.
All these cars had served Dodge well, but the new stuff was far better. First up was Intrepid, one of the much-discussed 1993 "LH" sedans. Though ostensibly a midsize, it was close to full-size, offering bountiful interior space thanks to a lengthy 113-inch wheelbase and radical "cab forward" styling. The related Chrysler Concorde and Eagle Vision had this too, but they targeted different buyers with their own visual cues and model/equipment mixes.
Intrepid was the most affordable of the LH trio, but also the most-aggressively styled, with a Viper-inspired face, sharper roofline, and a bolder rear end with "Intrepid" writ large on a wide central backup lamp. The base model used the corporate pushrod 3.3 V-6, tuned for 153 horsepower. The sportier ES substituted a new overhead-cam 3.5-liter unit with 24 valves and 214 horses.
All Intrepids came with four-speed automatic transmission, dual airbags, a wide-track chassis with all-independent suspension, a fair helping of standard amenities, and worthy options like antilock brakes. ES achieved flatter, more-responsive handling with a firm "touring" suspension and wider tires on 16-inch alloys (versus 15-inch steel rims). It was also sportier inside, with shift console and higher-grade trim. Best of all, Intrepid cost about the same as the dull old Dynasty it replaced, the base model arriving at just under $16,000.
With all this, the standard-bearer for the "New Dodge" got off to a strong start, attracting over 81,000 sales for model-year '93. Intrepid jumped above 155,000 for '94 on the strength of standard air conditioning, a newly optional power moonroof, eight more horses for the 3.3 engine, and the advent of speed-variable power steering.
The spotlight then turned to Neon, which bowed in early 1994 to signal the end of Shadow for '95. Plymouth naturally sold it too, as in Omni/Horizon days, only Chrysler didn't bother with separate names, which saved some tooling and marketing money. In fact, Dodge's Neons differed from Plymouth's only in the color of their badges: divisional red instead of blue.
Such clever thinking was a hallmark of Neon's new "PL" platform, and was passed on to consumers as attractively low list prices: as early ads said, "about 95-hundred to start, 12-five nicely loaded." That was for the debut four-door sedan in bare-bones form. The nicer Highline and Sport versions cost a bit more; similarly priced Highline and Sport coupes arrived in the fall. Unfortunately, Chrysler's cost-consciousness also produced rather bargain-basement trim even for an economy car, though it also allowed room in the budget for standard dual airbags and niceties like cupholders and floor console.
Neon continued Chrysler's move to cab-forward styling (as suggested a few years earlier by a Neon concept car). Proportions were scaled down to a 104-inch wheelbase, which was still quite long for a subcompact and thus made for another relatively cavernous interior. Yet there was a winning cuteness to Neon not found in the bigger LH cars, particularly the friendly "face" with oval headlamps and a simple horizontal grille that almost seemed ready to grin. Announcement ads played up this charm with a fetching one-word headline: "Hi!"
Dodge built some 179,000 Neons as '95 models, but close to 131,000 for calendar '94. The latter is perhaps a more-accurate gauge of the car's popularity given its early introduction. The only engine at first was a new 132-bhp 2.0-liter overhead-cam four designed and built by Chrysler. A 16-valve twin cam version with 150 horsepower was gradually phased in for Sport models.
Transmissions comprised the usual manual five-speed or optional three-speed automatic. Though far from quiet, Neon was great fun to drive, thrifty, pretty reliable, and even speedy: a brisk 8.9 seconds for Consumer Guide®'s base-engine five-speed sedan. In all, Neon was a huge step forward from the old "Omnirizon," proof that Chrysler could still build an appealing small car on its own.
For more on the all-American Dodge, see:
- Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
- Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices