2013 Dodge Dart
Date Posted: January 23, 2013
By Zack Spencer
Dodge brings back the Dart but this American name plate is actually based on an Italian model. With great handling and lots of options the dart is better than ever.
The Dodge Dart has been out for about 7 months now and in that short period of time I have had a chance to drive it three times. First, at the launch event in Austin Texas, which was a one-day trip over rolling hills and country roads. The second was part of a two day extended road trip through Michigan for Driving Television. On that trip I logged over 1000km, once again over highways and country roads. The most recent test happened over the holiday season, where I finally had the Dart to use in my day-to-day life for two whole weeks. With so much seat time I can easily say, the more I drive this compact car, the more I come to appreciate the way it handles.
After Dodge retired the SX 2.0 (Formally known as the Neon) they had a big whole in their model lineup, no compact car. Since the compact segment is the largest in the country, not having a model to sell was a big shortfall. After Fiat took controlling interest of the Chrysler Group, the ability to look into their European parts and platform bin allowed Dodge to finally have something to sell. This Dart looks very American, with the cross hair grille and oversized rear lights but underneath is all Italian. The platform is based on the sexy Alfa Romeo Giulietta but has been lengthened and widened to build a car for North American tastes. This Dodge is one of the biggest in the compact segment, roughly the same size as the Chevrolet Cruze and only slightly smaller than the VW Jetta. It is sold with a huge number of trim levels, allowing the buyer to build the car to taste and budget. The car seen here is the Rallye model with the optional 1.4L turbo engine, starting at $22,490.
Dodge used this new Dart to showcase their new interior focus after years of letting this part of their vehicles falter. The dash is covered with soft touch materials, along with the doors and other touch points and after driving this car for so many kms, I can say without hesitation, the seats are comfortable on long trips and provide decent support. The front passenger seat even has a flip-up seat bottom that reveals a hidden storage area. With 14 different colour choices, the Dart can be kitted out to any taste, from mild to wild. The one item that is worthy of your hard earned money is the 21cm (8.4 inch) centre screen that allows access to entertainment, phone and navigation functions. This is optional on the lower trim levels and standard on the higher-end Limited and R/T trim levels. With a big back seat and good legroom , this car could easily be used as a family vehicle.
What is interesting about my three stints with the Dart, is that Dodge keeps giving me the exact same model; the Rallye trim with the optional 1.4L turbo engine. This must be the one setup that is meant to impress and on many fronts it does. Unlike most other cars in the compact segment, this Dart is fitted with a fully independent suspension and disc brakes on all models. The competition often opts for a less sophisticated rear axle in their cars, but not Dodge. The way this car eats up bumps and handles with grace is a true testament to the engineers, who wanted to keep much of the European feel in tact. The engine and transmission are very smooth and well dampened, as is the road noise. If you are a commuter who does a lot of highway runs, the 160hp 1.4 turbo is very thrifty but in the city it can use more fuel due to it working harder. Once the turbo kicks in, this little engine can perform but getting away from a light it can feel a bit underpowered. The steering is above average for this class of car and road holding is too.
Considering Dodge has been out of the compact car segment for so long, they have done a good job with the Dart but there is room to improve. The handling and road manors are at the top of the class, taking on the very good Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Mazda3 in the handling arena. Space is near the top of the class too. With three available 4-cylinders engines, including a base 2.0L, 1.4L turbo and 2.4L, there is something for everyone. Dodge has more exterior and interior choices than I have space here to list but most people will go for the SXT model, which starts at $18,595, right in the meat of the compact market. If there is one thing I would change is the bottom end torque in the 1.4L turbo. It can produce some exhilarating maneuvers but comes at the expense of fuel consumption. How the Dart has to make up for this shortcoming is character. With so many homogenous cars in this segment, the Dart stands for something different and rewarding. Each time I get a chance to take it out, I'm pleasantly surprised.
The Good, The Bad
A good amount of room and many options.
The turbo engine is best used for highway commuters.
Power: 1.4L turbo with 160hp
Fill-up: 7.4L/5.3L/100km (city/highway)
Sticker price: $19,495