Chrysler Group brings back one of its most revered nameplates with the introduction of the 2013 Dodge Dart, a sporty and technologically advanced compact midsize sedan that represents a huge leap forward over the 2012 Dodge Caliber model it essentially replaces. The Dart is the first Dodge vehicle to come as the fruit of Chrysler's new partnership with Fiat, and is closely based on the award-winning Italian Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
Exterior Styling: Classy and Sporty Rolled into One
The Dart's exterior is a departure from other Dodge models like the Avenger and Charger, with softer curves and a European-inspired design. That said, it's instantly recognizable as a Dodge thanks to the brand's iconic cross-bar grille. Available in SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited and R/T trim levels, each takes a slightly different approach to differentiate within the lineup between Euro luxury and all-American sport.
Powertrains: Advanced Technology Combines Power and MPG
For 2013, the Dart is available with three engine choices. Two Chrysler-developed Tigershark four-cylinder engines are joined by Fiat's advanced turbocharged four, dubbed the Multi-Air. Base models receive a 2.0-liter Tigershark making 160 horsepower, excellent for the class. Next in line is the Multi-Air turbo four with 160 horsepower but also 184 foot-pounds of torque, good for 0-60 times of around 8 seconds. The 1.4 turbo is the most fuel-efficient engine of the bunch, rated by the EPA at 27 city/39 highway mpg. A late-release Aero model will raise highway mpg to 41, one of the best numbers in the class.
The top trim level R/T model uses a larger Tigershark four-cylinder displacing 2.4 liters and making 184 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque. Zero to 60 mph comes in around 7 seconds. Each engine is available with the buyer's choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The Dart is notable for offering manual transmissions even at the more-luxurious trim levels, while competitors often place the row-your-own gearbox only in the stripped-down base models.
Interior Design: A Nice Place to Be
Highlighting the Dart's interior is Chrysler's optional newest-generation UConnect Touch infotainment and navigation system, with nice features like an 8.4-inch touchscreen, voice commands, and Bluetooth calling and music streaming. Smartphone integration is no problem, with automatic contact download and a text message-to-speech function with preset responses. Upscale Limited and R/T models open up the availability of attractive Nappa leather seating surfaces and trim, though the seats may be mounted too high for the tallest drivers. Contrasting-color stitching and a choice of several trim colors further makes the Dart's interior among the most attractive and comfortable in the class.
The base Dart, with its 2.0-liter four-cylinder and manual transmission, starts at $15,995 or around the same as the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic. Topping the range is the R/T model, starting at $22,495. According to consumer pricing data from CarsDirect.com, the Dart's average transaction price when including available option packages hovers at around $20,600.
With excellent fuel efficiency combined with usable everyday horsepower and a class-leading luxurious interior, the Dart is the most important model to Dodge's bottom line to release in several years. The automaker's partnership with Fiat pays off in many tangible ways, from the car's European-inspired styling to efficient turbocharged engine choice. While the outgoing Dodge Caliber compact was the butt of many a joke for its terrible efficiency and lackluster interior, the Dart improves Dodge's compact lineup in every tangible way.
About the Author: Jennifer Carrigan understands all the effort that went into the new Dart, but she prefers her motorcycle to a car any day. For her motorcycle insurance, she compares quotes at Kanetix.