First off, we know that it actually is a Neon. It seems that about half of SRT-4 drivers will own up to this, while the other half clings desperately to the fact that the SRT-4 is vastly improved in every way over a base-model Neon, and therefore is a different car. Flawed logic in our book, but it's really a moot point at the end of the day. The fact of the matter is the SRT-4 gets a bad wrap fairly often, and it doesn't deserve it. This is a good car for the money, no matter how you slice it up.
This realization is not new. Dodge received many accolades with the release of the SRT-4, and the car was widely accepted as a great bang-for-your-buck performer right out of the box. This was years ago, though. In the early '00s there weren't a lot of good FF cars on the market. The DC2 Integra Type-R, produced from model years '97-01 for the U.S. market was (and still is, in our minds) the best all-around performing FF car of all time, so introducing anything else in the segment is a lofty goal. With cars slowly but surely gaining weight and growing in size after the turn of the millennium, many people were pleasantly surprised when the SRT-4 was announced. It looked like a fantastic car on paper and lived up to its performance figures.
The car performs aptly - very aptly, in fact. Much more so than many would expect, given the unshakable reputation that precedes anything sharing the frame of a Neon and PT Cruiser. This is due largely in part to the fact that despite sharing the very basic underlying components, the SRT-4 is essentially a different car. Please excuse the circular logic, you'll get used to things like this in the SRT-4 world.
Enough with the history lesson - what about our car? The SRT-4 has been through a lot in its life, and now it's time to move forward and finish the project that was started oh-so-many years ago. How the car sits right now is a very solid starting point. As most of us know, the car is a hand-me-down of sorts, a leftover asset from the demise of Sport Compact Car. Let's take stock of what the SCC crew did to get the project rolling.
Project SRT-4's engine bay is stock, for the most part - a Mopar Stage 1 upgrade has been installed. Consisting of 577cc fuel injectors and a reprogrammed ECU, this modest upgrade is good for 240 horses to the front wheels, according to Mopar. In the real world, this upgrade made 239 whp and 261 ft-lbs of torque with the help of a custom side-exit MagnaFlow exhaust. The sound it produces can strike fear in the hearts of many unsuspecting drivers and make anyone think twice before revving on Project SRT-4 at a stoplight.
When the time comes for us to upgrade the turbo setup, we will reestablish a baseline and work from there. The car feels like it's making a bit less than the advertised 239 whp, and after years of abuse and neglect that's not entirely surprising. We really hope the motor will hold up with the increased boost (and associated stress) of a major turbo and fuel system upgrade; based on what we've heard from reputable SRT tuners, a stock block in good condition should do just fine up to 400-500 whp, possibly higher. We don't want to push our luck, though, after all the 56,000 miles on the clock are mostly track miles. Project SRT-4 ain't no garage queen, this girl has been around the block a few times.
The car is propelled by a stock transmission, equipped with a Quaife 1.5-way LSD. For some reason, the '03 SRT-4 didn't come equipped with a LSD from the factory (Dodge corrected this mistake in the '05 model year). The clutch setup will need some attention in the form of a stronger unit and possibly a slightly lightened flywheel in the future.
The only other engine modification is the extremely obnoxious Mopar blow-off valve spacer plate. Although this part is very minute, I feel it deserves a mention because of how ridiculous it actually is. Whoever decided that this modification was a good idea obviously never intended to daily drive the car (like this author did for six months). To paint a picture for anyone who has never experienced the phenomenon of this outlandishly idiotic part firsthand, imagine a BOV that vents with every change in throttle and acceleration, no matter how subtle. On top of the incredibly annoying frequency of the turbo backpressure venting into the atmosphere, the sound is abrupt and manufactured - loud and rude, it's just plain stupid sounding. It also attracts the attention from Officer Jack, which no one wants. This item is the first to go, and it will make a pretty good paperweight on my desk in the near future.
On the suspension side of things, Project SRT-4 is dialed in pretty well. A set of Mopar coilovers manufactured by KW Suspension starts things off in typical fashion, and all the bushings have been replaced with urethane replacements courtesy of Prothane. The car handles very well, but it almost has a tendency to oversteer in extreme cases, partially due to the massive rear sway bar. The car is just so stiff that it can get on top of you really easily - which is great on the track, but not so much on the street.
Project SRT-4 can stop on a dime, literally. The StopTech brakes on this car are extremely well balanced and powerful, giving the perfect amount of bite for the car's weight and traction. We won't be changing up anything in the brake department except replacement pads as the need arises. We've sourced a new set of wheels and tires as well, although the Racing Hart Evolution GT5s had a certain old school air about them, the condition of the wheels was awful. No amount of refurbishing would bring them back to their original glory, and we wanted a cleaner more modern look anyway. 5Zigen USA was kind enough to hook us up with a nice set of 17x8-inch +32mm FN01R-C wheels. The polished faces with black backing and spoke edges look great on the car, and the 225/45R17 Continental Extreme Contact DW-tuned tires keep the car planted firmly to the pavement.
For more detailed information on the existing upgrades, log on to modified.com and search the "Tech" section for the re-hosted SCC articles. There you can sit back, soak in and geek out to your heart's content! What does the future hold for Project SRT-4, you ask? We're not entirely sure yet, but the project has officially been started, so expect more frequent updates in upcoming issues!
Specs & Details
'03 Dodge SRT-4
Engine Dodge A853 2.4-liter turbocharged & intercooled DOHC inline-4
Engine Modifications Mopar Stage 1 577cc fuel injectors, blow-off valve spacer; MagnaFlow side-exit exhaust
Engine Management Mopar Stage 1 ECU
Drivetrain Quaife 1.5-way LSD; Mopar short shifter
Suspension Mopar coilovers; Ground Control camber plates; Progress sway bar; Prothane suspension bushings
Exterior Howell Automotive carbon-fiber hood; custom-molded rear bumper; Hemi Orange paint; shaved wing & antenna
Wheels, Tires & Brakes 5Zigen FN01R-C wheels 17x8" +32mm; Continental Extreme Contact DWS Tires 225/45R17; Stop Tech 12.9" BBK (f); stainless steel lines