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Dodge SRT-4 road test review, test drive
Bob Plunkett

2004 Volvo S80 sedanCrank that three-spoke steering wheel quickly to the left, then hard to the right, now left again to scoot through snaky chicane curves on a blacktop slalom course spread across pancake-flat sands of the desert.

On the straight stretch that follows, you can put your foot into the dimpled aluminum accelerator pedal and play the stick on a manual gearbox, but look out: This new turbo-charged sports sedan from Dodge runs up to high speed as fast as you can shift.

It's so swift, in fact, that Dodge ranks the performance of this car second only to the awesome Viper SRT-10 supercar in the current Dodge fleet because its zero-to-60 time is topped only by a Viper.

The new performance sedan, sized in the compact class and rigged with street-legal mechanical gear to run in the fast lane, also shares a name with the SRT-10 Viper.

Dodge casts it as the SRT-4.

The initials of SRT — Street and Racing Technology — mark new high-performance vehicles for Dodge, while the digit tacked at the tail indicates the number of cylinders in the engine. With Viper that means ten cylinders and for SRT-4 it denotes four cylinders.

But the four-pack in SRT-4 is not the plant that comes in a compact. There's a turbo-charger and aluminum inter-cooler attached to a dual-cam 2.4-liter four-in-line rigged for high output with a large-hole throttle body and high-flow intake manifold. It's rated up to 215 hp at 5400 rpm plus 245 lb-ft of torque available between 2000 and 4800 rpm. Translating all of that torque to speed is a heavy-duty five-speed manual shifter with equal-length halfshafts and a high capacity clutch.

How quick is it? Stopwatch times for a romp from zero to 60 in SRT-4 easily clip below six seconds.

Now tie the car's performance figures to its competitive price points to reach the sweetest spot, as Dodge sets the MSRP for SRT-4 at only $19,995. That makes it the swiftest production car in the American market priced below $20,000.

Think of it as an affordable route into the world of street racers customized off compact-class front-wheel-drive sedans.

Roots of SRT-4 trace back several years to a Neon SRT concept car that twirled on the turntable in a Dodge display at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. Using the compact-class structure of a Neon as the starting point, SRT resembled one of those customized sport compact cars from the street-racing scene in Los Angeles, as captured on the big screen in the "The Fast and the Furious" flick.

Subsequent reaction to the SRT concept on the auto show circuit was so strong that designers at Dodge soon went to work on a production version and the new SRT-4 is the result. It's now rolling out of a Dodge plant that also constructs the Neon.

To call the SRT-4 a Neon would be a mistake, however, since the two vehicles share few components aside from the core structure, although Neon has performance roots of its own with thousands of drivers lured into sports car races through the Neon Challenge series of SCCA-sanctioned events.

But SRT-4 goes far further than any Neon to fashion a street racer. First, it captures the look of custom job. Aggressive styling at the prow reflects cues of street performance machines with a deep fascia etched with multiple air intake ports and cross-hair grille plus a horizontal port carved into the shapely hood.

On flanks SRT-4 carries curvy sills that pitch the body low to the ground like a racer. Round wheel arches are large with wells filled by low-profile 17-inch tires rimming aluminum wheels that resemble pricy aftermarket rollers. At the tail a tall basket-handle spoiler flies off the deck and works at speed to exert force on rear wheels and pin them to the pavement.

A choice of four strong paint colors mark the SRT-4 in Flame Red, Black, Bright Silver Metallic or Solar Yellow.

Beneath its muscular skin, the souped-up sedan conceals special suspension tweaking with performance-tuned struts and springs plus heavy-duty sway bars. The tuning, tight and nice, keeps the body in an athletic stance to handle hard-wrought turns.

Steering, through a direct rack and pinion system, was designed to feel neutral but respond quickly to a driver's demands, as do the disc brakes with 11-inch rotors and upgraded brake pads.

Further, a computerized anti-lock devise brings more control when steering and stopping. Additional safety elements on SRT-4 include frontal air bags for driver and front passenger plus an optional pair of side-impact air bags.

The cockpit also comes with the look and feel of a customized performance car. Front seats, patterned after a wrap-around design for buckets in the Viper SRT-10, contain reinforcements in lateral and lumbar segments to support the torso when this car runs through a wiggly chute. Also, textured cloth fabric lines the face of each bucket for extra grip, with bolsters wrapped in vinyl.

The steering wheel in three-spoke style has leather on top looking like carbon-fiber material, while the design of the wheel allows the driver to keep an eye cocked toward dials in the instrument cluster.

Included is a turbo boost/vacuum gauge tucked beneath the brow of the panel. Gauges with silver rims reflect easy-to-read silver faces, and similar satin metal trim shows up on door handles and the center stack with rotary knobs for climate control. The theme continues in the foot well with all three pedals made of cast aluminum with dimple surfaces.

And a short-throw stick extending from the center console has a cue ball shift knob also in satin silver.

Standard on-board equipment ranges from air conditioning and a remote keyless entry fob to power controls for windows and door locks plus a stereo audio system with CD deck and six speakers.

Click here for more information on the Dodge SRT-4.
For the Dodge 2004 Model Guide : Click Here