Base Price (MSRP):$15,995.00 / As Tested (MSRP): $23,085.00
View The 2013 Dodge Dart Specifications
| Review by: Tony Swan
An old name for a nifty new package with a hint of Italian spice.
The Dodge Dart SE ($15,995) comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, four-speaker AM/FM radio, power windows, and a 12-volt outlet.
The Dart SXT ($17,995) upgrades with premium cloth seats and door panels, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, body-color power mirrors and locks, six-speaker audio system, front center console/sliding armrest, rear seat armrest, split folding rear seat.
Dart Rallye ($18,995) gets upgraded cloth seats with accent stripes, trip computer, vehicle information center, fog lamps, cruise control, leather wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls, painted 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and dual clutch automatic transmission are optional.
Dart Limited ($19,995) includes upgraded interior cloth, door and seatback pockets, overhead console, front passenger under-seat storage, illuminated front cup holders, vanity mirrors, premium instrument panel with contrast stitching, thin film transistor instrument cluster, LED interior lighting, power adjustable driver's seat, heated power mirrors, active grille shutters, 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen.
Dart R/T ($22,495) includes most Limited standard features plus 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, sport suspension tuning, heated leather sport seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, 184-horsepower 2.4-liter engine.
Safety features on all Dodge Darts includes 10 airbags, ABS with brake lock differential, stability control, traction control.
The Dodge Dart looks athletic, with the skin tightly wrapped around the wheels, and a hint of Coke bottle contours: wider at the front and rear axles, slimmer between. A hint of forward-leaning rake, plus modest front and rear overhangs, suggests sportiness. The styling doesn't provoke many double-takes, however.
The design team took great pains with aerodynamics. The shape evolved through extensive wind tunnel time, and thoughtful details include active grille shutters that close to restrict radiator airflow when cooling air isn't needed, to reduce aerodynamic drag. The underbody is fully enclosed, and a rear diffuser manages underbody airflow to enhance stability.
The net of all the aero attention is a praiseworthy drag coefficient of 0.285, enhancing fuel economy and also helping to minimize wind noise.
Dodge signature elements for its latest offering are a new interpretation of the division's crosshair grille, and a taillamp treatment, adapted from the Dodge Challenger, that spreads across the entire rear end, incorporating 152 LEDs.
One other exterior note, that relates to the interior. At 183.9 inches long, 72.0 inches wide, and 57.7 inches tall the new Dart is one of the biggest of the current compact crop, and the designers have put those dimensions to work inside, creating one of the roomiest interiors (over 97 cubic feet) in this class. The 13.1-cubic foot trunk can be expanded by folding the rear seatbacks forward. In the base model the seatback is one piece. In other trim levels it's a split-folding setup.
Roominess is always a plus in a family sedan, but it's much more compelling when it's nicely appointed. Here, too, the Dart scores well. Nothing inside these new cars looks cheap, even in the most basic model, and soft-touch surfaces abound, dashboard, door panels, center console and elsewhere.
The basic cloth upholstery is attractive and looks durable, denim inserts are offered in the SXT trim level, and leather is an option in the top-of-the line Limited model. The seats are long-haul comfortable, with enough lateral support to feel sporty. Like all sedans, the cabin is rated for five, and like all of them the center rear position will accommodate an adult occupant about as far as the end of the driveway before complaints begin to fill the air. There's not enough shoulder room for three adults in the back seat, but it's okay for two adults for short distances.
Thoughtful storage touches: a glovebox big enough to swallow a laptop computer, and a bin under the right front passenger seat, accessed by folding the seat cushion forward.
As we expect of new cars today, there are plenty of optional electronic goodies. Foremost on this list is an 8.4-inch touch-screen display, dominating the center dash of the higher trim levels (not available on the base Dart). A nav system is offered for the Limited model, as well as a configurable electronic instrument package and an LED-powered light pipe surround for the entire instrument panel, which some may like, while others may find a bit garish.
Like other carmakers, Chrysler has taken notice of the success of Ford's Sync infotainment system and responded with one of its own, called U-connect. As expected, there's good audio, upgrade audio, satellite radio, and connections for MP3, your iPod, Pandora, or what have you.
Chrysler calls the Dart's two naturally aspirated engines Tigershark. This appellation is a little difficult to fathom with the basic 2.0-liter version, which doesn't feel very tigerish, particularly mated with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission. This was our primary test sample, and the combination that will probably make up the biggest percentage of Dart orders: 2.0-liter engine, 6-speed automatic, in the SXT trim level.
So equipped, the Dart is a rather ho-hum performer off the line, with so-so throttle response and some reluctance for the transmission to kick down a gear or two in passing situations. The Fiat-sourced 6-speed manual improves performance slightly, as well as the fun-to-drive index, and generates EPA fuel economy ratings of 27/39 mpg City/Highway.
The 1.4-liter turbo engine, shared with the Fiat 500 Abarth, delivers a little more verve. Its 160-horsepower rating is the same as that of the 2.0-liter, but it generates more torque, 184 pound-feet versus 148. The trick with this engine is keeping it in the sweet spot of its torque band, from 2500 to 4000 rpm. Otherwise, the engine bogs.
Although we have yet to drive it, the 2.4-liter R/T version, slated for showrooms in the third quarter of 2012, should be distinctly livelier, and will also feature sportier suspension tuning.
However, suspension tuning in the mainstream Darts is far from whipped cream. The chassis engineers admit they Americanized the suspension specs from those employed in the Alfa Giulietta, which translates as softened. But softened doesn't mean mushy. There's more body roll than you'd experience in the Alfa, but the Dart's responses are still eager, enhanced by one of the best electric power steering systems in this class: accurate, tactile, and nicely weighted.
We should also note that ride quality, the objective of the Americanization, is excellent. Firm enough to retain a strong suggestion of Euro feel, supple enough to take the hard edge of sharp bumps and warty pavement.
A little more power, or a little less curb weight, or both, would make the 2.0-liter Dart a little more entertaining, but even so the fun-to-drive index is well above average. The engineers also get high marks for quiet operation. A little road noise finds its way through the suspension, depending on pavement composition, but wind noise is nil, thanks to the aero refinements.
The Dodge Dart proves that Chrysler hasn't lost its design mojo, and that Fiat's stewardship is a positive arrangement. Attractive, roomy, comfortable, and handsomely turned out within, it also has an exceptionally solid feel, with above average road manners. Attractive pricing and an array of optional goodies make the Dart a compelling choice among sport compacts.
Tony Swan filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drives of Dodge Dart models near Austin, Texas.