2013 Dodge Dart Limited California Review By Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2013 Dodge Dart Limited
Chrysler is back from the brink, with a breakthrough product to show that it's more than merely alive. Again.
Thirty years ago, it was the K-cars. Twenty, the LH sedans. Ten, the 300 family, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Magnum, and later Challenger.
Now it's the Dodge Dart. Not only does the Dart put Chrysler back in the important, and ultra-competitive, compact sedan market, it shows that Chrysler finally has a partner that is putting something in, rather than taking out.
That partner is Italian Fiat. The Dart "shares" its chassis platform with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, but it's not an Alfa. Platform sharing just means the two cars share structural design and construction, and basic suspension design. The Dart is a (new) Dodge, not the first new Alfa to reach the US over 20 years. For American desires, the wheelbase is longer, the track is wider, and dimensions are all more generous. The two cars share no sheetmetal; styling is pure Dodge, from the crosshair grille to the "racetrack" taillights.
"Monospec" simplicity -- one trim level, one drivetrain, minimal factory options -- is fine for some manufacturers, especially at introduction. Don't count Dodge among those. There are five trim levels now: base SE, volume SXT, sporty Rallye, economy-oriented Aero, and premium Limited. A high-performance R/T version is a future addition.
Drivetrains are all four-cylinder, six-speed, front-wheel drive. The 2.0-liter "Tigershark" is the standard powerplant, with 160 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. Based on the old "World Engine", it's 88 percent new, matched to a manual or torque-converter automatic. Above that is the 1.4-liter turbocharged "MultiAir" familiar from the Fiat 500 Abarth, with the same 160 horsepower but a boost in torque to 184 lb-ft. Stick or a dual dry-clutch automated manual (hereafter referred to as DDCT) transmissions are the choices with it.
My test car for the past week was a fully-equipped Limited with the MultiAir engine and DCCT "automatic". Forget memories of its forebears, Neon and Caliber. The Dart is a car that compares very well with anything in the middle-class compact segment -- and could even challenge the pricier Europeans as well. By outside dimensions, the Dart is compact. By interior volume, the EPA way, it's at the small end of midsize. So it's roomier than expected, and made for American, not Italian, bodies. And pricing is aggressive. My test car had "glass cockpit" instrumentation, leather, pushbutton start/stop and proximity-sensing lock/unlock, a blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring system, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats and steering wheel, navigation, satellite radio, and remote start, and more goodies that used to be the province of the upper classes -- for a total of less than $27,000 including destination charge. Base price for the Limited is $19,995.
That's not just pretty dressing on a so-so product, either. The 2013 Dodge Dart compares well in build quality and fit and finish with anything in the compact class and offers a more engaging driving experience than most. Not to mention more space. Mileage? Without trying, and mostly city and backroad driving, 28 mpg overall. Around town, 25-26. On the highway, at highway speeds, 30-32 easily, and plenty of hills on my local highways. Chrysler is back in a good way with the new Dodge Dart.
APPEARANCE: Unlike many small cars, which use a high stance and boxy proportions to maximize interior volume, the new Dodge Dart is lithe and graceful, with proportions of a larger sedan. If it's a bit generic and conservative from the sides, it's pure Dodge at the front, with the cross-hair grille inset into a larger hexagonal opening bisected by the front bumper and the LED "racetrack" taillights as first seen on the Charger at the rear. Its lines should wear well, meaning it will still look good when it's paid off.
COMFORT: There's more inside than you might believe from the exterior dimensions, and at Limited level it's appointed above the typical compact level. Equipped as was my test car, it's almost luxurious, with high-grade materials and very good fit and finish. The front seats are far better than expected. The driver's is power-adjustable, the passengers manual. A heatable steering wheel with leather rim, (manual) tilt and telescope adjustment. The main instrument display is bright and easily visible, with a configurable information display. The touchscreen at the top of the center stack controls audio -- here AM/FM/SiriusXM, with SD card, USB port, and jack in the console box -- navigation, Bluetooth phone, climate and seat heat, and Sirius Travel Link systems. Simple climate controls are found below, so no real need to interface with the screen for that. A large locking glove box, with light, storage and bottle holders in all doors, medium console box, and hidden storage in the front passenger seat add convenience. The rear seat has good room for two medium adults in the contoured outboard positions, with the usual higher center for smaller passengers and times. There is a center armrest with ski-passthrough; the seatback is split 60/40 for folding. A moderately-sized trunk hides a space-saver spare underneath.
SAFETY: Safety was high on the Dart's design priorities. So it has a large list of standard safety features, with more optional. Structural integrity is ensured by extensive use of high-strength steel and safety-cage and crumple zone construction. Ten airbags are found in all Darts - two dual-stage fronts, dual front knee, front- and rear-seat side, and full-length side head curtain. The Dart is the only car in its class to currently offer rear cross-traffic detection, and one of the few to offer a blind spot detection system. A backup camera and sonar parking aids are also offered. Good four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake over-ride (braking gets priority over throttle if both pedals are pressed) and nimble but stable handling address active safety.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The Dart's solid construction, attention to aerodynamic detail, and fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension pay off with responsive handling characteristics on all roads and very good stability at speed on the highway, even in strong winds. It's an enjoyable car to drive, and interior noise levels are surprisingly low. The electrically-assisted steering is not overly numb. As currently set up, the Dart is sporty but not a sports sedan. Transformation is possible and wouldn't surprise me -- despite the plethora of models and equipment in the Dart lineup, there are still further opportunities.
PERFORMANCE: If you were expecting Abarth-like performance, not quite. Yes, in the Dart the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbomotor has the same 160 horsepower (at 5500 rpm) but gets a torque boost, from 170 to 185 lb-ft between 2500 and 4000 rpm. At over 3200 pounds, the Dart is a larger, heavier car than the 2500-pound Abarth. So acceleration is not as quick, but the Dart is a more relaxing car to drive and still plenty quick enough to more than hold its own in traffic. Surprisingly, the MultiAir engine matches well with the DCCT transmission in D, although more revs and manual-mode shifting noticeably improve acceleration as the transmission seems to be programmed to maximize fuel economy. And in manual, shifts are not as quick as in some other dual-clutch automated manual transmissions. No demerit, as the Dart is a family road car, not a race car. And there is a stick, standard, for those who still can shift for themselves.
CONCLUSIONS: Chrysler gets back in the compact sedan class in a big way with the 2013 Dodge Dart.
2013 Dodge Dart Limited
Base Price $ 19,995 Price As Tested $ 26,765 Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled SOHC inline-4-cylinder MultiAir® (opt) Engine Size 1.4 liters / 83 cu. in. Horsepower 160 @ 5500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 184 @ 2500-4000 rpm Transmission 6-speed dual dry-clutch automated manual (opt) Wheelbase / Length 106.4 in. / 183.9 in. Curb Weight 3242 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 20.3 Fuel Capacity 15.8 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline preferred Tires P235/45R17 91H Continental ContiProContact Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, BA standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 27 / 37 / 28 0 to 60 mph est 7.8 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Customer Preferred Package 22L - includes: Limited Group Technology Group - includes: Keyless Enter-N-Go Push Button Start, ParkSense® rear park assist system, Blind Spot and Rear Cross Path Detection, Automatic High Beam Headlight Control, Rain Sensitive Wipers $ 995 Premium Group - includes: Limited Leather Seats, Heated Front Seats and Steering Wheel, Remote Start System, Air Conditioning with Dual-Zone Auto Temp Control, Leather-Wrapped Shift Knob, Universal Garage Door Opener $ 995 6-Speed Dual Dry Clutch Automatic Transmission $ 1,100 1.4-Liter Intercooled Turbo MultiAir@ Engine $ 1,300 Power Express Sunroof $ 895 Uconnect® 8.4 AM/FM/Nav $ 495 Sirius/XM Satellite Radio with 1-year subscription $ 195 Destination Charge $ 795