When Dodge announced its intentions to re-enter NASCAR racing, the news was cause for great rejoicing among Mopar fans, and it began a new chapter in Dodge performance history. Well, Dodge is also celebrating their storied checkered-flag past off-track as well, with three new additions to its R/T performance family. Whose lineage includes the fire-breathing, hemi- powered Dodge Coronet and Charger of old, and more recently, the powerful Viper. So, do these young upstarts do the R/T family proud?

Our R/T performance trio starts with its smallest member, the 2001 Dodge Neon R/T. Aimed at young drivers looking for an economical yet still sporting ride, the 4-door Neon R/T comes packed with performance features missing from its more work-a-day siblings.

Under the hood is an uprated 2.0-liter single-cam 16-valve 4-cylinder. It pumps out 18 additional horsepower for a class-leading 150, with 135 pound-feet of torque, and drives the front wheels through a light, snappy 5-speed manual gearbox. No automatic is available. The Neon R/T sprints to 60 in a fine 8.3 seconds, and through the 1/4 in 16.3 seconds at 86 miles-per-hour.

The engine revs up quickly, with good power from down low. It’s a fun, gutsy little drivetrain, but the fun really starts in the curves, where the R/T’s firmer suspension, and thicker sway bars give it a solid, planted feel. Steering feedback is very positive, and grip from the 50- series Eagle tires is plentiful. While stops from 60 measure only 105 feet on average, thanks to strong 4-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS. Our only real complaint is the need for a taller 5th gear, to lower the revs during highway cruising.

In addition to its performance enhancements, the Neon R/T also gets a visual makeover. There’s a deeper front fascia with integral fog lamps, trunk-mounted rear spoiler, and 16-inch alloy wheels. While the interior gets sporty bucket seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a full complement of power accessories.

For a base price of $17,025, the Neon R/T delivers a lot of driving fun for the money!

Don’t need 4-doors? Then try out the 2001 Dodge Stratus R/T Coupe. While built by Mitsubishi, it’s armed with Chrysler’s new 3.0-liter single-cam 24-valve V6, generating 200 horsepower, and 205 pound-feet of torque.

The transmission is a firm, sharp, 5-speed manual, which pulls the Stratus to 60 in a quick 6.9 seconds and runs the full 1/4 mile in 15.2 seconds at 93 miles-per-hour. The clutch is a bit grabby, but the V6 is smooth as silk. It’s Chrysler’s best V-6 ever.

Like the Neon, the Stratus R/T gets a tauter suspension for flatter corners. There is more noticeable front plow than the Neon. And the power steering, while offering good feedback, is stiff and heavy when worked hard. But there is good grip from the 215/50 series low profile tires mounted on stylish 17-inch aluminum wheels. But braking stability could be better. With standard 4-wheel discs, but no standard ABS, stops averaged a longish 131 feet from 60. We recommend buyers spring for the anti-lock option.

Other than the larger wheels and prominent logos, the Stratus R/T coupe differs little in appearance from its SE stable mate. While the interior is the same efficient, comfortable and well-equipped driver-oriented layout that we praised in our last Stratus test.

Stratus R/T pricing starts at $21,400. It’s a good value in a sporty coupe, even if it’s not quite a pure sports car.

Finally, if you need a real family car, but still want a little extra pizzaz, there’s the 2001 Dodge Intrepid R/T.

This full-size 4-door is powered by a 3.5-liter single-overhead-cam 24-valve V6, that makes 242 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Unlike the other R/Ts, the Intrepid gets a 4-speed automatic transmission, which also offers Chrysler’s AutoStick manual shift option. Which when used is good for a very satisfying 0 to 60 run of 7.3 seconds. The 1/4 mile finishes in 15.5 seconds at 93 miles-per-hour. There is a fair bit of front end shake on launch, and the engine is a bit buzzy under hard acceleration. But power is plentiful throughout the rev-band, and shifts are crisp and positive.

Handling is also very positive, for such a big car. Tighter shocks and springs, plus 225/55 performance tires on 17-inch alloy wheels make it quite nimble for its size. A bit more steering feedback would be nice though. Unlike the Stratus, the Intrepid R/T has standard ABS, and stops from 60 in an average of 115 feet. There’s little pedal feel, and plenty of nose dive, but lateral stability is very good.

Like the Stratus, the Intrepid R/T gets unique wheels and badging to distinguish it from others in its line, as well as dual chrome exhaust tips, and R/T-only taillights. While the huge, superbly equipped interior features just about every power accessory Dodge offers, and a high-power 120-watt CD stereo. All for a price starting at $25,600. Again, a lot of car, with a lot of features, for a very reasonable price.

In fact, the 2001 Dodge Neon R/T, Stratus R/T, and Intrepid R/T all offer a healthy performance and image boost, at extremely competitive prices. No, they’re not a Hemi-powered Charger, or a V10 Viper. But they’re fresh, affordable, and a lot more fun to drive than their more sedate stable mates. And that should make plenty of drivers proud to add a member of the 2001 Dodge R/T family, to their family.