2nd Gen Neon ACR
The first generation Neon took the compact car market by storm and Chrysler enjoyed excellent success for the little neon including a “Car of the Year” award in 1994. As the car began to age, competitors began to pull ahead of the Neon in terms of quality, ride comfort, and other basic features. It was time for Chrysler to make some modifications and changes to the Neon itself to stay competitive. In an effort to keep up with the Jones, they left some of the character and charm of the Neon behind. They enlarged the car, added window frames to the doors, and changed many other little things in an effort to make a more “up market” econo-car and to improve the quality and reliability. The engine was updated as well, though the horsepower ratings remained the same but there was a slight bump in torque.
The car was nearly 3 inches longer, was slightly wider, had a slightly higher ride height and a 1″ longer wheel base. The increased size also caused an increase in weight, which of course reduced the performance. Chrylser tried to make up for it by using the lower trans-axle gear ratio from the first generation ACR and R/T transmissions. This kept the performance at about the same as the non ACR first gen Neons, and of course, it hurt the fuel mileage.
Chrysler was able to achieve their goals for the 2nd generation Neon, but they lost some of the character, charm and performance along the way. Luckily, there were performance guys still working on the Neon project and the ACR package was again introduced in 2001 for the 2nd generation Neon!
When the original first generation ACR was introduced, Chrysler made every effort to reduce weight in order to improve performance, unfortunately, they really did not have the same ability to do so with the second generation car. This time around they took their best performing version of the Neon and then removed some of the trim and appearance items in a minimal effort to remove some of the excess weight. The ACR shared the Magnum engine, front fascia, anti-lock brakes, traction control and duel outlet exhaust with the R/T version of the Neon. But it did do away with the side skirts, side molding and even the fog lights. Notice the empty fog light holes on the pictures of the 2001 ACR on this page. The ACR was also available with a convenience package that included A/C and some other items like keyless entry, light package and power locks. It may not have been as hard core as the first gen ACR was… but they made up for it by working some magic with the suspension!
The suspension for the second gen Neon ACR featured a double adjustable strut setup sourced from Dynamic Suspensions. It also had stiff spring rates, thicker sway bars front and rear, and a firm feel steering box, the same that was found on the R/T. The adjustable struts were actually an inverted design with the hydraulics at the top of the strut, a design that leads to better durability and strength for competition use. They also had a wide range of stiffness settings for both rebound and compression that were adjusted together with just a single control knob located on the bottom of the strut. Dynamic Suspensions builds struts for the popular British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and the ACR setup was a similar design. Without a doubt, this suspension was the best handling suspension ever installed on a Neon from the factory. In numerous car magazine reviews, the suspension was praised for its ability to handle at sport car like levels, though it was stiff and not very comfortable when compared to a normal touring car.
In fact, when driven back to back, it is profoundly obvious that when you drive the ACR you are not in a normal sedan. When on its stiffest settings, the suspension is down right brutal, though it becomes mostly bearable when adjusted to the softer settings. Handling is quite amazing for an econo-box front wheel drive sedan and for a factory car is quite impressive. The seats were the same R/T sport style seats and the interior was a normal Neon interior with all the normal options available.
Overall the 2nd generation ACR Neon was not as extreme as the first generation car was, but it was still a very good proposition for a fun to drive car for the money. In fact, it would have still been a very good SCCA competition car if it was not for the fact that the SCCA purposely mis-classed the Neon ACR to keep it from dominating competition once again.