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Dodge SRT-4: Tommy C. Your Car Has Arrived

 

Tommy C. was the unlikeliest tough guy we ever knew.  No more than 150 lbs, he was a real Irish charmer and a big play maker with the ladies.  He was also the dude you wanted on your six when it came time for brawling.  His haymaker was a thing of legend, and he had an a unblemished record of victories - vast majority by one punch knockout.  With Tommy around, you feared little - for he was the ultimate pugilistic Q-Ship.  Often underestimated, never defeated.

 

Tommy C., your car has arrived.  The 2005 Dodge SRT-4.  It's the cutest, cuddliest little butt-kicker on 4 wheels, and words of wisdom to the big block crowd:  Watch out - because it might just clean your clock.

 

There has always been something of a jihad (holy war) between the owners of traditional rear drive Musclecars, and the import tuner crowd.  Both groups cling tightly to their beliefs, and each refuses to acknowlege the merits of the other's position.  We've always been Musclecar traditionalists, but we strive to stay open minded about all things automotive.

 

When MoPar introduced the Neon in 1995, there wasn't much to interest hardcore enthusiasts.  Despite a high-winding twin cam engine, above average handling (especially with the SCCA homologation ACR package) and a giveaway price - it was the rare enthusiast who embraced the platform.  Nevertheless, pioneers like Len Ayala and others suceeded in turbocharging, nitrous-injecting and tuning the little Neon into a serious 10 second platform.  Evidently, the engineers at Daimler-Chrysler noticed these grass-roots efforts, because they quietly built a little Neon hotrod all their own.  It's called the SRT-4 and it's the real thing.

 

With the 2005 Dodge SRT-4, the 2.0 twin cam is jettisoned in favor of the PT Cruiser's 2.4 litre DOHC stroker motor.  A Garrett turbo, gigantic front mount intercooler and dual exhaust are added, resulting in 230 horsepower and a whopping 250 Lb/ft of torque.  To contain and put down the power, MoPar also fits a heavy duty New Venture transaxle fitted with a Quaife limited slip differential.

 

 

The exterior is treated to a ducted hood, unique bumper fascia, huge "easter basket" rear wing and an aggressive set of 205/50/17 rolling stock.   The interior gets a supportive set of leather bolstered buckets, a handsome SRT-4 specific dash cluster and aluminum pedal pads.  Despite the large wing, the overall look of our flame red tester is quite striking and handsome.  If the car belonged to me, I'd ditch the wing and install a flat trunk lid.  Or, you could sell the wing on eBay to defray the purchase cost..

 

Our test car was fitted with the American Club Racer (ACR) option - which includes adjustable Tokico Alumina shocks/struts, 16" BBS CH wheels, aluminum hubs, larger anti-roll bars and quick ratio steering rack.  The smaller rolling stock of the ACR package reduce the exaggerated tail-up stance of the base SRT-4 and ostensibly reduce unsprung rotational weight for both better handling and acceleration.

 

Considering the pedestrian Neon roots of the SRT-4, Daimler-Chrysler has achieved nothing short of a miracle.  The SRT-4 is a very serious driver's car, and in all respects except price equal to cars costing tens of thousands more.  It is ballistically fast,  handles and brakes with tenacity and is a very practical car to live with on a daily basis.

 

The 2.4 Turbo motor has very minimal turbo lag and is acceptably smooth and refined even approaching the 6,500 RPM fuel shutoff.  From a standing stop, our G-Meter showed a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds.  Magazine tests have pegged the quarter mile times in the 13.7-13.8 range but on a cool day with dense air the SRT-4 ought to be good for a 13.5.  Top end  is in the neighborhood of 145 MPH.  Absolutely no qualifiers are warranted regarding the SRT-4's speed.  By any objective yardstick - V8 or inline 4 - this is a seriously fast car.  On more than one occasion we found aggressive Camaro Z/28 or Mustang 5.0 drivers crawling up our tailpipes, but we had no trouble dispatching them.  In fact, the SRT-4 is capable of running with just about anything outside of a C5/C6 Corvette, M3 BMW, Mitsubishi Evolution, or Porsche 911.  It was hilarious to watch the BMW 330i driver in the next lane - he was probably thinking the lowly Neon alongside would be an easy kill.  However, on the greenlight we gave him an easy seven course meal of SRT-4 tailpipes.  At the next light we watched the manhood slowly ebb from his body.  He just got SMOKED by a Dodge Neon.  If there's anything more amusing than humbling cocky BMW drivers we haven't yet discovered it.  

 

The handling is also quite excellent, with good feedback and just the right amount of push at the limit.  In the lower gears - torque steer is a concern - but we minimized it with 40 lbs of air in the front tires.  As with all Neons, there is considerable oversteer during trail braking.  Novices will certainly get in trouble here, but skilled drivers will enjoy the ability to rotate the tail.  Like the ill-fated chambered exhaust option on 1969 Chevrolet Camaros, The SRT-4 exhaust note is pretty darned loud and it grows tiresome quickly as the pipes pop and spit with changing engine RPM.  In some areas we can see police issuing citations for excess noise.

 

Compared with earlier Neons, build quality and interior fit and finish is good.  Most of the high gloss hard plastic is gone, and there were absolutely no squeaks or rattles at all.  NVH is drastically improved as well. The shifter is a notchy, flimsy piece of crap - so replace it with an aftermarket unit as quickly as possible.  Fuel mileage on our tester was pretty poor - about 20 MPG in mixed driving.  The SRT-4 requires premium fuel, as is customary with turbo cars.

 

On the balance, the little SRT-4 is a winner.  Like the original 1968 Plymouth Road Runner, you get massive performance in an very affordable and practical package.  You also get the confidence of knowing that you can truly run with the big dogs.  The styling of the SRT-4 is a bit boisterous - but like the Charger Daytona and Superbirds of 1970 this may add to the market appeal down the road.

 

The SRT-4 proves that MoPar hasn't lost its chops when it comes to performance.  Despite the front drive configuration, this car is close in spirit, value, attitude and performance to the legendary Musclecars that proceeded it.  As an added bonus you get to embarrass every yuppie that underestimates the SRT-4.  Tommy C. would certainly approve.

 

© Gyrhead & Sons Restoration Parts 2006.  If you like this, share this articlewith your friends. We worked hard on it so please cite the source.

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