The Dart was billed as the great compact car savior for Dodge. Determined to erase memories of the lackluster Caliber, the Dart ushered in a new era for Chrysler small cars, promising to take on the heavyweights of the segment. But critical acclaim was lukewarm at best and consumer acceptance hasn’t been much better.
|Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 184 hp and 171 lb-ft.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 21 MPG city, 30 MPG highway, 25.9 MPG observed
Price: Starting at $17,490, our loaded up Dart SXT came in at $23,420 after destination charges.
Last year, the Dart only outsold two compact cars: the Subaru Impreza and Kia Forte. This year things are worse. Currently, the Dart trails both of those cars, putting it dead last in sales for the compact car segment. What gives? Is the Dart really that bad?
SEE ALSO: 2013 Dodge Dart Review – Video
We reviewed various versions of the Dart over the past two years and came away with mixed feelings. To see what a general consumer thinks of the car, we have once again conscripted the services of our everyday car reviewer: my wife Amanda.
New Engine, New Packages
Dodge claims to have simplified the Dart lineup slightly for 2014, but there are still five trim levels and three engines available. A 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine making 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque replaces the weak 2.0-liter engine in all trims except the base SE. The sporty Aero soldiers on with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and remains the only Dart to receive the dual-clutch transmission option.
On hand for evaluation is a 2014 Dart SXT that features the 2.4-liter engine paired to a traditional six-speed automatic. The SXT raises the Dart’s base price of $17,490 after destination charges to $19,590. However, thanks to the addition of the Sun/Sound Group, automatic transmission, Rallye Appearance Group, Cold Weather Group and Navigation, Amanda’s Dart costs $23,420.
One Big Compact
At just under 184 inches in length, the Dart is large for a compact car with a heavy 3,348-lb curb weight to match. Add the powerful 2.4-liter engine and fuel economy is not exactly class leading. Officially rated at 21 MPG in the city and 30 MPG on the highway, Amanda was able to achieve an observed average of 25.9 MPG.
Unsurprisingly, the Dart’s bulk is noticeable behind the wheel. It feels closer to a mid-size sedan than a compact car, which has its pros and cons. Although difficult to make quick lane changes in heavy traffic due to its size and poor sightlines, she finds the Dart to be otherwise easy to operate and really appreciates how smooth the suspension is.
During her morning commute, Amanda finds the transmission to be jerky and unrefined in stop-and-go traffic. The drivetrain as a whole is not as responsive or playful as she would like. The idea of calling a compact car with 184 hp underpowered might sound absurd, but the Dart SXT actually has a worse power to weight ratio than the larger four-cylinder Mazda6 sedan.
Despite its size, the Dart is easy to park and in tight spaces. With the optional Uconnect 8.4-inch color touchscreen, the rear-view camera display is clear and gives accurate perspective of objects behind the car.
Warm, Dry and On-Route
The Uconnect infotainment system is available with Garmin-powered GPS that Amanda is a big fan of. It’s easy to use, doesn’t freeze up and recalculates quickly if you take an alternative route. The seat warmers also drew praise as they heat up quickly and stay very warm unlike some other vehicles that constantly switch the heat on and off. On rainy, humid days, the Dart’s HVAC and defrosters have no issue keeping the windows fog free.
Less appealing to Amanda is the general design and finish inside the Dart. Although plenty of soft touch materials could be found, the rubberized dash coverings and abrasive seat fabric aren’t to her liking. The turn signals are another sticking point for her. When engaged they make a loud, outdated ticking clock sound that gets on her nerves during prolonged turning lane queues.
With the pedals too far away for her petite stature, she had to position the driver’s seat close to the wheel. She couldn’t find an optimal driving position and found long stints behind the wheel of the Dart to be uncomfortable and tiresome.
Even at a height of 5’2,” Amanda’s head still came uncomfortably close to the sloping roof because she had to raise the seat to properly see over the dashboard. An all-black roofliner and B-pillar only make things worse. And while on the topic of raising the seat, the crank handle is wedged between the seat and door tightly enough to make it hard to reach without opening the door.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Dodge Dart GT Review
Trunk space is accommodating in the large-bodied Dart with 13.1 cubic feet of storage room available. Back seat space is not as generous with only 35.2-inches of rear legroom. That is less than the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Cruze, but the Dart can still comfortably fit adults in the back.
Amanda’s test car came equipped with the Rallye appearance group that adds some visual flair inside and out as well as a few suspension tweaks. Even with the blacked out grille, fog lights and 17-inch wheels, Amanda found the Dart to look uninspiring as it reminds her too much of the second-generation Dodge Intrepid.
The Dart isn’t as bad as sales figures would suggest, but it doesn’t have much going for it either. Other than size, a great infotainment unit and smooth ride, the Dart is outclassed in many regards by its competition. If price, fuel efficiency and comfort are key factors in a compact sedan purchase, Amanda feels there are better offerings out there other than the Dodge Dart.