TL;DR Uncut: Dodge Neon

This is TL;DR Uncut, a more detailed look at the title vehicle. For the original TL;DR Review, click here.

I bought this Neon as a temporary “loaner” at 18 while the engine in my truck was being repaired. After many swings and many misses with Craigslist cars, my dad and I were driving along without much hope when we came across this car just sitting on a front lawn.

My Neon. Is that a hood bulge or are you just happy to see me?

It was the first time I had driven a manual, so it came with all the fun experiences of learning to drive stick, such as: the whiplash of jerky gear changes, the irrational fear of hills, the embarrassment of stalling at a stoplight, and the frustration of snubbing it 5 times in a row before realizing you are in third gear and not first. Practice makes perfect, though, and after the traffic jam of freshman move-in day at UW-Platteville, I was an expert.

Speaking of which, the Neon was a perfect college car. It was small enough to fit into any spaces, I couldn’t be the designated driver with such a small backseat, and nobody ever wanted to borrow it because they couldn’t drive stick. It was also easy on gas.

Because I was young and an idiot, I was still together with my high school girlfriend at the time. She went to UW-Eau Claire and this lead to frequent road trips through three and a half hours of some of the most beautiful country that Wisconsin has to offer. The two-lane road rises and falls and twists and curves with the landscape instead of carving through it. The leaves don’t just change color; rather, entire valleys ignite with the fiery awakening of Autumn. The Neon loved to rev its little engine through these hills as if the glaciers had cut them with me in mind.

Great River Road along the Mississippi, a great example of Southwestern Wisconsin scenery. Photo from

And the best part was that, despite my aggressive driving habits, I would consistently get gas mileage in the mid to upper 30's, sometimes cracking over 40 miles per gallon. That is huge for a college student; it the difference between Busch Light and Red Dog and that can mean feeling better tomorrow morning.


There’s a reason there are so many of these still on the road, or tearing up the dirt tracks around the country, or being modified for weekend autocross. There’s a reason that this one was bought by my brother after me, and then my brother-in-law after him. It’s the feeling that you get while driving it.

A regular sight at dirt ovals. Photo from

No, it’s not the badass feeling of a muscle car or the tingling in your shorts that a sports car can give. It’s a sense of pride that the first generation Neon is the last of an era. It’s the last truly cheap, fun, basic, no-frills, small car. And it plays that role so well. Sure, the Neon takes a lot of flack. “It looks girly,” they say, or “It tries to be a Japanese tuner car but it will never be as good as them.”

Fine. At least it’s not a Chevy Cavalier.

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