ENTRY LEVEL CAR OF THE YEAR
ever there was a compact car that just exuded spirit, it would be the 2004 Dodge
Neon SRT-4. Starting with the already frisky Neon sedan (remember the "Hi!"
ad campaign of the mid-1990s?) and adding to it a hearty dose of The Fast and
the Furious, Dodge has come up with one of the most charismatic little packages
to hit the market since the MINI Cooper, and according to Dodge, it's the quickest
under-$20K car sold in America, with acceleration to 60 mph happening in less
than 6 seconds.
the Neon SRT-4 may look familiar, but assuredly, no past Neon ever offered quite
as much go-fast hardware and cosmetics as the SRT-4. A deep front air dam, big
17-inch wheels and a huge rear spoiler tell the world that this Neon shines brighter
than the rest. Behind the gaping air scoops in the front resides a turbocharged
four-cylinder engine that shames some V-8s. Inside, most of the Neon's goodness
has been left in tact, with the exception of some seriously bolstered front seats,
a short-throw manual shift and a couple of ancillary gauges. In total, it's a
serious little machine. A seriously fun little machine.
Subaru WRX STi
With a compact, lightweight
body and an engine with rally blood coursing through its pulsing veins, the drum-tight,
hyper-fast Subaru WRX STi ain't for the faint of heart (but then again, when have
we been accused of being faint of heart ourselves). The STi's 300-hp four-cylinder
motor conspires with its all-wheel-drive system to catapult your body forward
and the corners of your mouth upward at the same time. Fun fun fun.
The Ford Focus PZEV gets a mild cosmetic freshening to go
along with more significant changes inside and underhood. The most notable interior
change is a pleasing, symmetrical dashboard [finally], but the best news is the
fitment of a spunky four-cylinder engine that delivers more horsepower and torque
than before, while achieving environmentally-friendly partial-zero emissions (PZEV)