2013 Dodge Dart
Date Posted: April 29, 2012
By Zack Spencer
Dodge has been without a compact car for half a decade and now they have a very serious contender with the new Dart.
I don't think anyone would have predicted, back in the dark days of the Great Recession, that the Chrysler Group would have marched back from the brink of a complete collapse to achieve the fastest growing market-share gains in Canada and 29 months of consecutive growth, but it's true. The rebirth all started with the wildly popular Grand Cherokee in 2010, followed by a wave of new or refreshed vehicles including their popular minivans, Dodge Journey and the arrival of the Fiat 500. In fact, Chrysler will have release 20 vehicles over two years. What is even more intriguing is that this turnaround was done without having a vehicle in the largest segment of the Canadian landscape, the compact class. With the introduction of the Dodge Dart, Chrysler has a car that can compete with the heavy hitters in the country like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Chevy Cruze. What Dodge brings to market is a product that is like no other, a bit of a rebel on the road.
Having Fiat as the dominant partner in Chrysler's new business helps to bring pieces to the mix that were not easy to build on their own. This new Dart is the first vehicle to be built as a joint venture, by taking an Alpha Romeo Giulietta platform and widening it by 7.6cm and lengthening it by 30cm. Then the designers went about adding signature Dodge touches like a cross-hair grille, plus a similar rear taillight assembly to the one found in the Charger, all wrapped in a sleek looking body. It is refreshing to see that Dodge didn't go overboard with typical American bling, keeping the chrome and badging to a minimum. Sold with five different trim levels from the base SE all the way to the top R/T trim, the Dart is a good looking car. In fact the more time I spent with it, the more the design grew on me. The edges are rounded and the nose has an aggressive look that will appeal to many and with the widest stance in the segment, the new Dart looks substantial.
Priced to be competitive in the compact class, the Dodge Dart starts at $15,995 for the SE, then the volume seller will be the SXT trim at $17,995, followed by the Rallye (pictured here) at $19,495 and then the two top models called Limited for $23,295 and R/T at $23,995. All come with soft touch materials on the dash and touch points and feature the same comfortable and supportive seats on all trim levels, it is just the covering that changes. I fact the Dart comes with no less than 14 different interior trim colours, what the designers call ''mild to wild''. On the SXT trim and above the available 21cm computer-interface screen doubles up as a huge backup camera and optional navigation unit. On the top Limited and R/T models this screen comes standard but I suggest it is worth the investment on the SXT and Rallye models as it completes the whole interior. There is also an optional screen in the instrument cluster that can be customized by the owner to highlight different functions. The Dart competes with other compacts on price but is actually classified as a mid-sized car in the US with interior dimensions larger than the Cruze and only slightly smaller than the Jetta.
The Dart launch was held last week in Austin Texas and unlike the Lone Star State, Dodge has three stars to choose from, all of them engines. The base motor is a 2.0L 160hp 4-cylinder, then buyers of the SXT, Rallye and Limited can choose to include the same 1.4L turbo 4-cylinder found in the Fiat Abarth, which is also good for 160hp but has more torque. The R/T will have a 2.4L 4-cylinder with 184hp; this car will arrive a little later in the summer, the others in June. The model tested here is the Rallye equipped with the 1.4L turbo. Not the quickest car off the line, it is when the turbo is at speed that this engines comes to life. Cruising and passing on the highway was not a problem. The handling characteristics and the nicely dampened suspension is what surprised me. This car just hugs the road, dances through corners and does it with great feedback to the driver but never jars the occupants. To be honest I didn't know what to expect from the Dart but the more I drove it, the more I liked it and it has character, which is often missing in the compact class. I'd place the driving dynamics right up with the Mazda3 and Ford Focus, all due to a fully independent rear suspension.
The Dodge Dart is a pleasant surprise and a bit of a rebel. Others in this class do not offer interior amenities like the huge 21cm centre screen and the size of the cabin and supportive seats make the journey enjoyable. The ride is smooth and quiet and very well dampened, making the car feel more expensive. The fact that Dodge has three engines to choose from and three transmissions including a 6-speed manual, automatic and duel clutch automatic on the turbo model shows they are out to compete. The question is, who will Dodge compete with since they have been out of the compact segment for so long? People interested in a ''drivers'' car will like the handling, while buyers who require space will find the cabin and trunk appealing. Those that love electronic goodies will be drawn to the huge centre screen and most Canadians will like the value that Dodge has brought to market. Lets see if in two years if this Dart hits the bull's eye.
The Good, The Bad
Very strong brakes, great steering feel, interior goodies and many engine options.
The 1.4L engine lacks bottom end grunt.
Power: 2.0L 4-cylinder with 160hp
Fill-up: 8.1L/5.4L/100km (city/highway)
Sticker price: $15,995-$23,995