Auto Review: The Dart returns, and aims to please

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Nov. 8, 2012
- Contributed Photo

The name Dart was a very successful nameplate for Dodge and Chrysler, and yet it disappeared from the automotive marketplace back in 1976. The company has decided to bring it back, though, to launch an all-new compact sedan; a car the aims to be both economical to operate (like its previous iterations), but with a bold, contemporary edge.

The Dart is different from its ancestor in that it has some Italian roots to spice up the driving experience: “The 2013 Dodge Dart redefines performance with Alfa Romeo DNA, fuel-efficient powertrains and Dodge’s passion for performance,” explains a Chrysler press release. This refers to the company’s new Fiat ownership, and they’ve wasted no time in using some of the European strengths that have been such an asset to small, sporty cars and incorporated them in the new Dart. As a result, the car seems completely fresh in many ways, but also has a lot that identifies it as part of the Dodge family.

The new Dart rides on a 106.4-inch wheelbase, and has a choice of three engines (all of which have excellent names). This includes is a 2-liter “Tigershark” Inline Four with 160 horsepower, a 1.4-liter Turbocharged “Multiair” Inline Four, also with 160 horsepower, and a 2.4-liter “Multiair 2 Tigershark” Inline Four with 184 horsepower. Transmission choices (and there are three of them as well, depending on engine choice) include a 6-speed manual, a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed dual-dry-clutch automatic. We tested a Dart Limited, which came with the Turbocharged Multiair and a 6-speed manual transmission, which proved to be a very entertaining powertrain. The small displacement of the engine means there’s little bottom end power, but once the turbocharger spools up into the higher rev ranges, thrust is much better (and it sounds great, too). The transmission isn’t the most precise in feel, but the ratios suit the engine well and lets you get both the best performance and fuel economy out of this frugal engine.  Ride quality is a high point, for there’s no typical compact car choppiness, and handling is responsive, making the car very entertaining on a curvy backroad. There’s some road noise, but it’s never an issue the way it is with some cars in this class.

Inside, the Dart is very well-furnished (especially in Limited trim) and front seat room and support is very good. Controls are fairly intuitive and displays are an interesting mix of analog and flat screen, with an unusually large 8.4-inch central touch screen display for ventilation, navigation and audio interfaces. The rear seats have good headroom, but comparatively limited legroom, but offer good support and 60/40 fold-down seatbacks to expand the already roomy 13-cubic-foot trunk.

The all-new Dodge Dart is a very entertaining car with a personality all its own, and is definitely worth a look if you’re searching in the compact sedan class. The 2013 Dodge Dart Limited is EPA-rated 27 MPG city/39 highway and we observed 27 MPG during our week with the vehicle. The base price is $19,995, and with options, our MSRP came to $25,065.

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