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ROAD & TRAVEL's 2004 Entry Level Car of the Year -- Dodge SRT-4

If 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.

Now 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.

Honorable Mentions:

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.

Ford Focus PZEV
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) status.

International Car of the Year
Car of the Year
Cadillac XLR

Most Sex Appeal
Sports Car of the Year
Cadillac XLR

Most Respected
Luxury Car of the Year
Jaguar XJ

Most Dependable
Sedan of the Year
BMW 5-Series

Most Spirited
Entry-Level Car of the Year
Dodge SRT-4

Most Compatible
Minivan of the Year
Nissan Quest

Most Versatile
Crossover/Sport Wagon of the Year
Chrysler Pacifica
Most Memorable
Classic Car of the Year
Chevrolet SSR
Most Athletic
Pickup Truck of the Year
Ford F-150 FX4

Most Likely to Survive
SUV of the Year
Volkswagen Touareg

Class of 2004 ~ 8th Annual Awards Links