The 2013 Dodge Dart is a very important car for Chrysler. It is the first car to come from their marriage to Italian automaker Fiat, and it’s Dodge’s first compact sedan since the axing of the Neon back in 2005. In a market dominated by Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, Ford Focuses and Hyundai Elantras… does the Dart have what it takes to compete? INTERIOR & TECHNOLOGY
Even though the Dart competes in the small car segment, it’s actually classified as a midsized sedan. The Dart is based on the same Fiat platform underpinning the Alfa Romeo Guilietta. To meet US requirements, numerous changes have been made and the end product is a car that’s a little more than an inch wider and more than a foot longer than its European counterpart. Its track is 3” wider and its wheelbase is 4” longer. Inside was suprisingly spacious. Though no one would be able to sit behind someone my size (6’6 adult male), the rear seats are useable by at least two full-sized adults provided the front passengers aren’t very tall. Headroom is fair for the segment. The transmission tunnel bump might make the center seat only suitable for a child.
Cargo Capacity is also generous. Dart will swallow 13 cubes and the split-bench rear seats fold down to expose more space for longer items. You can get at least 2 large pieces of luggage in here! Thee passenger seat even has a storage cubby large enough to store electronic devices or personal items.
The Dart is available with a wide range of options. There are 12 exterior colors, 14 interior color/ trim combinations, six wheel choices and a choice between 3 engines (2 initially) and 3 transmissions. For this writeup, I am reviewing the Rallye and the base model.
I normally hate cloth seats. The Dart's cloth seats are actually quite tasteful. They were moderately bolstered to hint at sport performance and supported my back well. These seats felt very “European” in firmness. Some backs will enjoy them while others may yearn for something cushier. Despite my large size, I was able to get comfortable in the Dart and was able to endure Manhattan traffic without back or leg fatigue.
All Darts besides the base SE model can be had with two LCD screens. The first, a 7” TFT display, replaces the traditional gauge cluster showing an analog or digital speedometer, fuel economy, tire pressure, dual trip counters, elapsed time, turn by turn directions and radio information. If you are going for a manual, you may prefer the standard guage because of the more pronounced tachometer.
The other screen is the same Uconnect 8.4” touchscreen navigation display used in Dodge’s large cars – something you normally won’t find in this segment. This navigation system is one of the best you’ll find on the market. It’s easier to use than most systems you’ll find on cars that costs thrice as much. It responds very quickly and offers a plethora of features such as: Garmin-based navigation, sports scores, movie timetables, HVAC control, weather updates, Navtraffic, XM radio, SD-card playback and voice control. Complementing the infotainment system are USB ports in the armrest, an auxiliary jack and a fully integrated steering wheel. You can enter navigation commands, access your iPhone
or place phone calls easily without taking your hands off the wheel.
I didn’t have much to complain about inside the Dart. There were some design features that did shock me. The trunk button is located where you’d expect the hood-release to be. Why isn’t it located on the door or next to the wheel? My only other disappointments were that the base interior looks bland without the colorful piping trim and the dash cowl felt a bit cheap. The plastics in use are roughly the same quality I experienced in the Dodge Charger
. They are firm and fit the pricepoint, but look boring compared to the multi-toned plastics Hyundai is using. PRICING
The base Dart SE
($15,995) comes with a 2.0 –liter “Tigershark” inline-4 cylinder good for 160HP and 148 pounds of torque. Equipment at this level is basic: 16” steel wheels, tilt/telescope steering wheel, power windows, a basic gauge cluster and a basic radio with an aux jack integrated into the 4-speaker audio system. You will need to add the $995 “Value group” to gain air conditioning, and keyless entry.
Step up to the Dart SXT
($17,995) and you get everything in the SE plus: a split folding rear bench, 17” alloys, foglamps and a steering wheel with radio system controls, 6 speakers . You’ll also be able to add the large touchscreen and backup camera ($790).
Upgrade to the Dart Rallye
($18,995) and you get everything on the SXT plus: dual exhaust, an upgraded front fascia and the 1.4- liter “Multiair” turbocharged engine good for the same 160 HP, but an increase in torque to 184 pound feet. The Rallye comes with a dual exhaust system that carries an exhaust note not normally associated with a stock small car. I was shocked by how throaty it sounded.
A manual transmission is standard across trims, but you can upgrade to an automatic. If you want the navigation upgrade for your touchscreen, you’ll need to drop an additional $1385. Fortunately, you’ll also get a CD player, voice controls with a mic-equipped auto-dimming mirror and a special iPod adapter. The Navigation upgrade nets you the rear backup camera. Dart also offers tech options not normally seen in this segment: rain-sensing wipers and blind-spot mirrors.
Though the dealer didn’t have it, there is a Dart Limited
($20,190) coming soon. The Limited includes Nappa leather-trimmed seats with heating, polished aluminum wheels, a powered driver’s seat and upgraded trim. Further down the road, an R/T (Road/Track)
(Street Racing Technology) version will become available. The SRT will be the Dart to watch out for if you are a performance enthusiast. People obsessed with maximum fuel economy will be able to choose the Dart “Aero”
which will achieve 40mpg using mass reduction and aerodynamic upgrades.
Fuel economy is estimated to be 27 city/ 39 highway on the 2-liter manual. The sticker on the Rallye manual claimed 27/39. No matter which Dart you choose, you can use regular unleaded, but to get maximum performance on the Multiair you'll need to upgrade to super premium unleaded. DRIVING THE DART
I was able to test a manual Rallye, an automatic Rallye and the base SE 2-liter. For me, this was important because I’d read some negative previews of the Dart and I wanted to see for myself how the entry model and turbo model truly preformed in real world driving. I’m happy to say that most of the negatives aren’t true. The majority of those negatives target the base engine while the rest of the car gets moderate praise. While I agree that the base 2-liter could use more power, it isn’t the worst thing out there for the price. For those of you who want a simple car and don’t care about 0-60 performance, the 2-liter is adequate. 0-60 comes at about 8 seconds. This is roughly what I’ve experienced in the Hyundai Elantra
and the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco
For those of you who want a little bit more *oomph*, you’ll definitely want to opt for the 1.4-liter Multiair turbo. This engine provides the torque needed to truly make the Dart feel zippy. I drove this car and rode shotgun (so I could make my Youtube video) and was pleasantly surprised by the performance this car offered. After having recently tested the more expensive, rear wheel driven Scion FR-S
and Subaru BRZ
, I wasn’t expecting the Dart to offer so much performance in such an inexpensive package. Here's the main problem:
the 2-liter with the automatic is programmed to jump to high gears even though you'd probably want to stay in lower gears for more power. I've seen this trick done on numerous cars in order to get higher fuel economy. Unfortunately, it robs the car of shove. Automatics in inexpensive small cars aren’t always very good. The Powertech ATX 6-speed automatic found here is a decent choice with smooth shifting. The Dart, at just shy of 3200 pounds isn’t much to move – not once it gets going. Even though either available engine offers just 160 Horses, it’s the 2-liter’s lack of torque you;ll feel each and every time you attempt to perform a heroic launch. The 2-liter needs to be kept above a buzzy 5000 RPM to haul the Dart. Meanwhile, the Multiair produces more useable power earlier on. You’ll get confident thrust before revs hit 3500 RPM. Your zero-to-highway times will be almost a second quicker (depending on passenger mass).
With a wide range of optional trims, it could be daunting deciding which Dart format to go with. In my epinion, your best option (for now) is the higher torque Multiair turbo with the automatic transmission. The Multiair is a $1300 option on all but the SE trim and the automatic adds another $995
. The Dart’s turbo is nearly lagless, the RPM gauge is large and easy to see and the manual transmission’s short throws feel good. I preferred the automatic because I felt more comfortable driving without having to do guesswork as to when to switch gears while keeping pace with the turbo. There isn't much power in the low RPM range, so you must dilligently keep the car in the proper gear. Link the Multiair to the automatic and you get a reasonably fast little car that isn’t jumpy between shifts.
The Dart’s chassis is supremely (Euro) stiff and offers a feeling of unyielding solidity. Body roll through highway curves and turns is very well controlled here. Manhattan has some pretty rough roads and the Dart was able to traverse them without the slightest bit of harshness. I normally hate front wheel drive vehicles and avoid them like the plague, but the Dart offers quick and accurate electric steering you’d normally associate with a European car. While flooring the throttle creates some torque steer at higher RPM, I felt the steering responsiveness on the whole was quite good. Turn-in feel is better than what you’d get out of the larger Chrysler 200
and braking is confident without causing nosedive. OVERALL
The Dodge Dart is a fantastic small car with a technology suite second to none
in this segment. Though individual preference for exterior design and interior excitement might steer a buyer towards the Hyundai Elantra
, the Dart feels like the better buy. The Rallye manual with the Multiair and Navigation package has a sticker of $22,965
while a similarly equipped Elantra retails for slightly north of $24,000. I was far more comfortable in the Dart than the Elantra.
Compared to the Dart, the Chevy Cruze
and Ford Focus are more expensive when similarly equipped and not nearly as visually or aurally exciting.
The Dart isn’t what you’ve come to expect from Chrysler corporation. Similar to the Buick Regal
, this is a car originally designed for Europe now tailored for Americans. I enjoyed the Darts I drove and I can’t wait to get my hands on an SRT model. If you are in the market for a Dart, be sure to upgrade to the navigation package and test drive both engines before settling.
Amount Paid (US$):
Model and Options:
Rallye with Navigation package