The revival of the Dart badge also brings with it the return of the compact sedan to the Dodge brand, something it’s been missing for almost a decade. If competition was fierce back then, it’s an all-out bar fight now with the typically strong Japanese set being joined by the Koreans as well as some impressive new compacts from Ford and Chevy.
|1. Three engines are available: a 2.0L 4-cyl with 160 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, a 1.4L turbo 4-cyl with 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque and a 2.4L 4-cyl with 184 hp and 171 lb-ft.
2. The 2.0L gets 25/36 (city/highway) while the 1.4T achieves 27/39 mpg.
3. Starting with the $19,995 Limited trim the Dart gets dual LCD screens, with a 7-inch gauge display and an 8.4-inch dash-mounted screen.
4. Options Include Nappa leather, a heated steering wheel, a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert.
5. Dart models start from $15,995.
Perhaps the antithesis of the Hyundai Elantra and its simple trim level and option pack structure the Dart is prone to personalization and looks to win over buyers with choice. For starters there are 12 exterior paint colors and 14 interior combos plus six wheel options. Making matters really confusing are a choice of three engines and three different transmissions – not all of which are available at launch however. Finally there are also five different trim levels, which indicate what sort of interior and exterior equipment you’ll get as well as what your engine options are.
All this comes before you tack-on option packages and that include some truly amazing features for a compact car, including Nappa leather seats, a heated steering wheel, cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. That said, as a well-equipped, and therefore expensive compact car, the Dart might just be the most attractive vehicle in its class.
The styling stops short of really drawing you in, but it’s impossible to argue it’s not a handsome little 4-door. The sharper split cross-hairs grille looks smart and the wrap-around brake-light design, borrowed from the Charger, gives some brand continuity thanks to 152 LED lights.
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Sit inside the $19,995 Limited trim and it will wow you with not one, but two huge LCD screens. First there are the dash gauges. Conventional analog units on the lower trims, the Limited gets a 7-inch digital readout. You might expect cheesy graphics and choppy operation on a compact, but this display has all the polished value of a luxury car.
Slide your eyes to the center stack and there’s another, even larger screen, measuring 8.4-inches. The Chrysler brand’s Uconnect system allows for operation of the climate control and Bluetooth. It’s easy to use and features huge buttons that, unlike a lot of similar systems, are hard to miss. Unfortunately, as purpose built as the screen is for Navigation, that will cost you extra, even on the Limited trim.
Take a step towards luxury with the Premium Group that includes the wonderfully high-grade Nappa leather and you’ll also discover the seats are heated, as is the steering wheel. Impressively, however, a 10-way power driver’s seat is standard on the Limited trim.
While base models are typically Spartan, they don’t feel terribly budget-minded and unlike a lot of compacts the seat fabric isn’t bad at all. The $15,995 base price is, however, a bit of a misnomer as you’ll have to spend an additional $995 to get keyless entry and air conditioning – the latter of which really ought to be standard equipment on any modern compact car.
Regardless of trim level, there are soft-touch materials, particularly where you want them, like on the center and door arm rests. All other controls are simple and easy to use, while visibility is quite good – even out the back. That’s rare in more and more modern cars with sloping rear rooflines being used to improve aerodynamic performance. The Dart does boast an ultra-low 0.285 coefficient of drag, thanks in part to active front grille shutters that close off at highway speeds. The one downside to the slopped rear is that back-seat ingress and egress is compromised. Space in the second row is adequate, though up front it’s spacious and feels it.
The very first Chrysler group car to be based on a Fiat platform, the Dart uses a modified version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta architecture. Compared to the small Italian hatchback, this more American sedan is 2-inches wider and has a 3-inch longer wheelbase, though that car itself has been stretched a foot end-to-end.
Quiet and calm its comfortable well above freeway speeds, perhaps due to its weight, which is noticeable in the corners. Handling is solid, however, aided by the fully independent front and rear suspension (a rarity in the compact class), while the Fiat-sourced steering is sharp and quick without any delays or dead-spots.
Apart from the effects of mass when cornering, the only down side in the driving experience is the braking system, with overzealous binders. We also noted that during panic stops the car becomes rather unsettled, twitching side-to-side as it slows.
As for safety, along with the usual suite of items like ABS, stability control and tire pressure monitors, the Dart gets 10 airbags standard.
Need to haul stuff around? The Dart offers a 13 cu-ft trunk, as well as an almost absurdly large glove box, not to mention a unique additional storage space under the front passenger seat cushion.
Put your foot down on the gas and prepare to be disappointed as the base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is lethargic, despite respectable numbers of 160 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. Much of this has to do with the car’s weight, which at around 3,200 lbs, is at best 400 lbs more than a Honda Civic and can almost be 600 lbs depending on the trim you’re comparing.
Usually the advantage of less-than-stellar performance is solid fuel economy, though that’s not the case here. A 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway rating isn’t exactly bad, but is well off the 30/40 numbers of the class-leading Hyundai Elantra.
Dramatically changing the feel under your right foot is an optional 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder borrowed almost directly from the Fiat 500 Abarth. It makes the same 160 hp, but delivers a serious 184 lb-ft of torque from as low as 2500 rpm. The Dart feels decidedly quick with this tiny engine, which at launch is available exclusively with a 6-speed manual transmission. A dual-clutch automatic will be available later this year.
Of note, an R/T model is set to launch in the Fall with a 184 hp 2.4-liter and like the base 2.0-liter will come with the choice of a six-speed manual or conventional six-speed automatic (not a dual-clutch).
For now the six-speed manual is a slick feeling unit, though that’s partially ruined by an extra long stick with equally lengthy throws. Still, combined with the 1.4T the Dart comes alive. Plus, there’s a hidden fuel economy surprise. More power doesn’t normally also come with improved fuel economy, but it does here, with the 1.4T delivering 27 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. Again, not class leading, but closer.
There is a catch, however, and that’s that in order to get the Abarth-sourced powerplant you’ll first have to step up to the SXT trim level at $17,995. The 1.4T is then $1,300 beyond that, and you’ll likely have to spend another $1,000 (or more) to get the dual clutch when it’s available this Fall. What that means is that for most consumers, a good Dodge Dart is a $20,000 Dodge Dart.
The Dart may be all about choice, but it’s also about paying for those choices, which, to make matters more confusing (and attractive) includes 150 Mopar accessories. An undeniably better car than its predecessor, the Dart may have an old Dodge name, but it’s very much a new Dodge product, with all the quality and craftsmanship of the company’s most recent models.
With an astonishing level of equipment and options the Dart is perhaps the most impressive compact 4-door on the market for those who don’t mind paying for it. For those in search of top fuel economy at a value-oriented price, Dodge’s new small sedan falls short.