2013 Dodge Dart DDCT Automatic Review

Compact Dodge gets a new dual-clutch automatic

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2013 Dodge Dart DDCT Automatic Review
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Buckshot and heavy branding are Dodge’s weapons of choice. Customers choosing the Dart can pick from a range including 150 Mopar accessories, two engine options for now with a third soon to come, and a long list of option packages.

FAST FACTS

1. Minimum price for 1.4-liter turbo and DDCT transmission is $20,440.

2. Price as tested: $24,875

3. Cargo room is rated at 13.1 cubic feet, more than the Honda Civic, but less than the Hyundai Elantra.

4. DDCT-equipped cars get an official 27/37 mpg rating, though our test car outperformed that.

But that raises the question: is more really more, or just more confusing junk to sift through? The truth is, it’s probably a little bit of both, so AutoGuide.com took a closer look at the most compelling version currently available – the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine in Limited trim with a six-speed dry dual-clutch transmission (DDCT) which is available exclusively with that engine.

1.4T ENGINE GAINS AN AUTOMATIC

It’s an interesting proposition because the turbocharged MultiAir powerplant – shared with the Fiat 500 Abarth – makes the same 160 horsepower as the 2.0-liter base engine, but with 36 lb-ft or torque available at 2500 rpm. In plain English, that makes the Dart reasonably powerful for a modern compact sedan.

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Most buyers would likely prefer to skip the extra power if it meant a much thirstier car, but that isn’t the case. The smaller engine takes less gas, and when paired with the DDCT, is surprisingly efficient.

EPA estimates suggest the car will manage 27 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway in “Limited” trim, which is slightly below that of the conventional stick-shift. Surprisingly, the car managed to stack up to those figures around town and even beat the highway mpg to reach 39 mpg – this in an age when many automakers’ fuel economy numbers are being drawn into question.
 
Helping to achieve the numbers are trick Active Grill Shutters, which automatically open or close, reducing drag and helping the car’s fuel economy by enhancing aerodynamic performance. 

PERFORMANCE COMPROMISE

More often than not, driving to achieve numbers like those advertised means shifting early and often, which is a rule the Dart’s transmission takes to heart. In fact, it reaches third gear by about 30 mph under a light right foot.

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That doesn’t mean driving always needs to be an exercise in self-control though. Shift the car into manumatic mode and it revs right out to the 6000-rpm redline; just don’t expect to be too dazzled by the whole experience. Gearshifts are quick, but they still don’t stack up to German sport sedans.

The tendency to shift early gets annoying and it will take deliberate care to keep the car from feeling sluggish around town without burying the throttle.

Dodge would be wise to just have a push button for a Sport setting, like many other cars, that would reprogram the transmission to upshift at higher rpm to allow for aggressive driving for those times when you just want to play with the car on the right roads. 

COMFORTABLE AND SURE-FOOTED

That said, the Dart really does offer a decent ride. It’s built on the same platform as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, albeit with Yankee-appropriate proportions. It’s electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering offers feedback to leave the car feeling sure-footed in most cases — even over rough pavement. At the same time, it offers a comfortable highway ride that avoids feeling harsh.

Chalk that handling up to a fully independent front and rear suspension, which is unusual in the compact class. That, paired with the turbo’s torque make the Dart feel capable, even in spirited situations.

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It may have Italian underpinnings, but with an extra inch of width and a wheelbase almost a foot longer than the Giulietta, this is no European compact. Thank God.

Riding on Chrysler’s Compact U.S. Wide platform, the car has plenty of space to carry four adults. With 13.1 cubic feet of luggage capacity, it can’t claim the most cargo space, but it still beats the Honda Civic.

ATTRACTIVE INTERIOR, BUT NOT ATTRACTIVELY PRICED

Dodge has its target market pegged with the Dart’s interior. Lower grades leave much to be desired but the Limited trim comes loaded with cool standard features like high-grade Napa leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel and seats and even a 10-way adjustable power driver’s seat. Features aside, the cabin just looks cool — especially at night when red accent lights set the dark color scheme off.

As you no doubt already know, the body also looks impressive and aggressive, with a front end that has a furrowed brow look. The signature Dodge grille, headlight and muscular-looking hood all go miles toward making the Dart meaner.

This Dart Limited costs $19,995 to start and is nicely appointed at that price, but you shouldn’t buy that car.

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Passing up on the turbo powerplant would be silly. The 1.4-liter turbo engine costs a $1,300 premium and the DDCT tacks on another $1,100 and without question is the Dart that best deserves your dollars. Add in $995 for the Technology Package which includes push-button start, rear park assist with blind spot and rear cross path detection, auto high beam control and rain sensing wipers. Add a reasonable $495 for the navigation system, and another $195 for the one-year satellite radio subscription, and $795 for destination, and you’ll be driving the same as AutoGuide’s test car that came to $24,875.

THE VERDICT

The Dart Limited, outfitted like our test car, is an excellent sporty sedan with good power and handling. Trimmed to the top tier, Dodge builds a car you’re going to love owning. Ticking off all the boxes to get there, on the other hand, will sting your wallet a few too many times to keep most compact buyers in the running. Brand loyalty in this case will cost more than it should, which is a shame because priced more appropriately, the Dart would be a bull’s eye.

LOVE IT
  • Strong power and tight handling
  • Roomy cabin
  • Stylish exterior
LEAVE IT
  • Transmission needs a sport setting
  • Brakes are a bit grabby
  • Too many configurations to choose from

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