Review: 2013 Dodge Dart

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Chrysler Dusts Off Classic Nameplate, Mixes It With Some Italian Brio

Words and Photos by Lee Bailie

2012-08-07 11-33-56 393
I readily admit I’m not a big fan of recycling brands from a bygone era and attaching them to new products. The reason is simple – if the old car wasn’t exactly a classic, it can be difficult for the new vehicle to overcome such negative baggage. Heck, even if the original was an all-time great, the new model could end up being crushed under the weight of expectation.

Automakers often, in my view, underestimate the downside risk until it’s too late – anyone think Ford is in a hurry to revive the Thunderbird again anytime soon?

I bring this up because Chrysler Canada rolled out copies of the all-new 2013 Dodge Dart compact for the media to sample in Toronto earlier this month. The Dart replaces the very average Dodge Caliber in the company`s lineup.

In its previous life, the original Dart was a pretty decent car for Chrysler during its 1960-76 production run. The front-engine, rear-wheel drive Dart featured a number of trim, engine and body styles that could be configured to suit just about every taste from mild to wild. 2012-08-07 11-41-33 72

Unlike its predecessor, the new Dart drives the front wheels and has some fairly exotic Italian DNA thanks to Chrysler’s marriage to Fiat. Based on a lengthened and widened version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the North American Dart is a four-door sedan (the Giulietta is sold as a five-door hatchback in Europe) with three different 16-valve, four-cylinder engines – a 1.4-litre Multiair turbo along with two-litre and a 2.4-litre variants – and three different six-speed transmissions – manual, automatic and dual-clutch automatic – the latter of which is only available with the 1.4-litre turbo.

Chrysler Canada brought several Rallye-trimmed models equipped with six-speed manuals to the drive program along with a couple of higher-end Limited models with six-speed automatics. The Rallye comes with the turbo engine while the Limited features the naturally-aspirated two-litre powerplant. The 2.4 will be available later this fall according to Chrysler.

IMPRESSIONS

2012-08-07 08-57-04 474Sliding behind the wheel of the Dart (and this is true of both the Rallye and Limited models I drove), I'm struck by how well-appointed and rich it feels. Compared to the crude and cheap interiors of the Caliber, the Dart is downright luxurious.

The quality of the trims in both models represent a huge step forward for Chrysler – often a sore point across the company’s product lines – and give the distinct impression of being in a much more expensive car. The plastics may not be the most expensive, but they feel nice, look good and, combined with the leather-wrapped wheel and chrome-finished accents, make for a very inviting interior space. The leather seats in the Limited are quite comfy, but the cloth seats in the Rallye hold this writer in place just fine as well.

Despite both testers having a massive 8.4-inch infotainment/navigation screen (officially called the Uconnect media centre) located in the centre of the dash, the Dart’s interior doesn’t present too much in the way of distraction. The centre stack HVAC knobs and switches are few in number and their functions present no mystery.

On the public roads in suburban Toronto, both Dart models acquit themselves well. Given my general preference for manual transmissions, the driving experience is more enjoyable with the Rallye-equipped versions, but I also find the Limited to be quite pleasant to drive, both at speed and in stop and go traffic.

2012-08-07 10-56-02 642Both models are relatively quiet – even under hard acceleration – and deliver a composed and smooth ride over all but the bumpiest and beat-up stretches of tarmac. Shifting requires just the right amount of effort and the steering provides nice feedback without feeling overboosted.

In all, the Dart’s driving dynamics are impressive – sporty enough for the compact class, yet not a pocket racer by any means – as is the manner in which Chrysler has packaged it. The Dart definitely has the Dodge family resemblance thanks to various styling cues (cross hair grille, rear-end treatment borrowed from the Charger) but, compared to the cars it will be competing against (Honda Civic, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla et al), it’s best to stand out.

Starting at just under $16,000 and topping out at just under $24,000 with numerous configurations available thanks to a pile of engine, transmission, wheel and colour options, there’s likely to be a Dart to suit just about every taste.

Come to think of it, maybe there is no mystery behind the name choice.

Specifications
2013 Dodge Dart

Price range

$15,995 - $23,995

Available engines

1.4 litre turbocharged four cylinder, 2.0 litre four cylinder, 2.4 litre four cylinder

Horsepower / Torque

1.4- 160 hp / 184 lb-ft, 2.0- 160 hp / 148 lb-ft, 2.4- 184 hp / 171 lb-ft

Configuration

FR

Available transmissions

6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, 6-speed DDCT

Fuel economy ratings

1.4 (6-speed manual)- 7.4 / 4.9 L/100 km; 38 / 58 mpg (city / hwy.), (6-speed DDCT)- 7.4 / 5.3 L/100 km; 38 / 53 mpg (city / hwy.); 2.0- (6-speed manual)- 8.1 / 5.4 L/100 km; 35 / 52 mpg (city / hwy.), (6-speed auto.)- 8.7 / 5.8 L/100 km; 32 / 49 mpg (city / hwy.); 2.4- (6-speed manual) - N/A, (6-speed auto.) – N/A

Notable options

8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen media centre, 17-inch Hyper-Black Aluminum Wheels (Rallye)*

* pricing not yet available

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