The 2013 Dodge Dart is the first car born of the Fiat and Chrysler marriage. Having been absent a credible entry in the compact sedan segment since they stopped making the Neon in 2005, Dodge engineers tapped parent company Fiat’s award winning Alfa Romeo Guilietta platform from Europe to underpin their new car.
The Dart will go head to head with cars like the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic in the marketplace, so it had to be good. Knowing they are the underdog in the arena having had a string of poor performing vehicles like the Caliber, Dodge has banked big time on the Dart.
Our tester was an SXT based Rallye model equipped with the very same 160 horsepower 1.4 liter “multi-air” turbocharged 1.4 liter four-cylinder engine that comes in the Fiat 500 Abarth. Mated to a six-speed manual, the power train is the first step up in the Dart line. You an also option a six-speed automated manual dry clutch transmission with the 1.4 turbo.
The interior is well designed and eschews the cheap uninspired themes of Dodge’s past. The seats are above average in support with a breathable high quality fabric. We liked the passenger seat bottom storage compartment that might be perfect for a concealed weapon of choice, but better for perhaps a first aid kit.
Rear seat leg room and head room all around is commendable for its size. Dodge representatives pointed out that the interior dimensions are closer to a mid-size sedan having been stretched 10 inches and widened 2 inches from the Alfa Romeo model they started with.
The navigation system has a simple to use and and almost has a Nickelodeon quality to its graphics. An icon of your car is shown on the colorful map which looks a lot like a touristy post card in theme. The manual shifter has a bit of a long throw but is precise and direct in its action.
The Rallye has a really sporting interior with colorful accents that really spice it up. Upgrades include a thick leather steering wheel too. Exterior changes include a performance front fascia with blacked out grille, projector fog lamps, hyper black wheels and an exhaust system that sounds so good you want to keep your windows rolled down to hear it.
First impressions stick tight. Once on the road the Dart is noticeably quiet and isolated inside. The turbocharged engine has a rich sound with little if any turbo whistle. Acceleration is brisk and fun, but we would not call it fast. When you consider this engine is rated at 27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined, its a pleasing combination of power and efficiency.
What’s lacking is the hollow tin-can like feel that many of its Japanese counterparts have on the road. While lateral cornering is sharp and direct, the ride is still isolated from road noise in an American car fashion. The Dart Rallye feels more expensive than its $18,995 starting point would suggest.
Much of this upscale feel comes from the award winning suspension and drive train technology from Europe. Up front us a strut suspension with well weighted electric power steering. The rear suspension features a multi-link design that offers better control than the twist beam axles some of its competitors offer.
The Dodge Dart is also available with a 2.0 liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder good for 160 horsepower as the base engine. That engine is available with both a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission but gets slightly less mpg. A more powerful R/T model comes out this fall with a larger 2.4 liter engine as well.
The Dart will be landing at dealerships this month around America in small numbers and will begin seeing good inventory levels by July. We were impressed by the Dart’s quality, feel and driving character. If this is an indication of what’s to come from Chrysler with Fiat behind the wheel, the company has good days ahead.