2013 Dodge Dart Limited Quick Spin Review: Introduction
Is 35 years enough time to restore a tarnished name, one shelved for decades and then shined up for use on a new model? Dodge is going to find out with the 2013 Dart, which is equipped with a moniker few car buyers under the age of 40 can remember, and which is built on a stretched and widened platform from Alfa Romeo, itself a marque that has been almost completely absent from American shores for decades.
The new 2013 Dodge Dart replaces the unloved Dodge Caliber as the brand’s small car. Benjamin Hunting previously reviewed the Dart Rallye model with a manual transmission. He liked the car, lauding its comfort, fuel economy, interior and exterior design, and technology. To some degree, I agree, but having spent a week driving a Dart Limited with a dual dry-clutch automated manual gearbox, and using it as a family car, my opinions diverge from his in many respects.
2013 Dodge Dart Limited Quick Spin Review: About Our Test Car
My 2013 Dart Limited test car was painted True Blue Pearl, came equipped with a Black leather interior sporting snazzy exposed silver stitching, and carried a base price of $20,790 including a $795 destination charge. The turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine cost $1,300 extra, and the 6-speed Powertech automatic – actually a dual dry clutch automated manual gearbox – ran another $1,100, bringing the total to $23,190.
Additional options on my Dart Limited included a Technology Group ($995 – blind-spot information system, rear cross-path detection system, rear parking assist sensors, rain-sensing wipers, passive keyless entry with push-button ignition, and automatic headlamp control) and a Premium Group ($895 – leather, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, universal garage door opener). Dodge fully loaded this example of its new Dart, including a power sunroof ($895), a Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen infotainment system with satellite radio ($690), Alpine premium stereo speakers ($495), HID headlights ($395), and LED “racetrack” taillights ($225). The final window sticker of the car you see here, which included every option except polished aluminum wheels, read $26,670.
2013 Dodge Dart Limited Quick Spin Review: Styling and Design
The 2013 Dodge Dart is an attractive vehicle, in an anonymous and non-descript way. Our test car’s standard 17-inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, dual exhaust outlets, and optional LED racetrack-style taillights lent it extra flair, but the Dart’s overall styling themes and details are rather forgettable. And maybe that’s OK for a vehicle intended to appeal to the broadest cross-section of consumers as possible.
Inside, the flowing, rounded design themes continue, in a driver-centric environment that looks and feels a bit dated despite the presence of one of the best infotainment touchscreen displays offered by any car company. Our test car was all black inside, and rather boring.
For that reason, I recommend checking out the Light Frost over Black interior, which looks more upscale. Dodge offers a decidedly strange Ceramic White over Gray interior. What would be even better would be a Saddle-colored two-tone interior.
2013 Dodge Dart Limited Quick Spin Review: Comfort and Quality
What’s impressive about the Dodge Dart Limited’s interior, aside from the optional Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen display, is the quality of the materials. The dashboard and upper door panels are densely plush, the headliner is a premium woven fabric, the hard plastics have a coating that reduces glare while making them feel more upscale, and the stereo and climate control knobs have rubber grips. Even many of the storage trays and compartments have a Euro-style rubber liner that lends the car a premium look and feel. Patterns, gloss levels, and tactile characteristics are all a class above compact level.
Front seat comfort is excellent for a small car. The front chairs are fairly large, quite supportive, and comfortable for longer drives. In combination with the tilt/telescopic steering wheel, the power driver’s seat provides an excellent combination of cushion height and thigh support, while the front passenger’s seat is manually height adjustable, helping to provide that person with a comfortable off-of-the-floor seating position.
When the Premium Group is added to the Dart Limited, the car is equipped with plush, soft, leather upholstery with exposed contrast stitching. The seats appear to offer sport bolstering, but this proves an illusion the moment the driver tosses the Dart into a hard corner.
Adding to comfort levels, the front upper door panels are constructed of thick, padded material, and the center console armrest slides forward for extra comfort. Our Dart Limited test car’s heated steering wheel offered a thick, leather-wrapped rim and smooth, soft, smooth, leather, which made shuffle-steering the Dart on a favorite back road that much more pleasurable.
Like the front chairs, the Dart’s rear seat cushions sit high enough to provide decent thigh support and a good view out. The trouble is that unless shorter people are sitting in front, legroom is in short supply. And taller people will definitely find headroom lacking in this car’s back seat. Good thing the front seatbacks are soft and kind to knees and shins.
I installed a pair of forward-facing child-safety seats in the Dart’s back seat, and there was just enough room for my daughters’ legs to move, facilitating plenty of kicking.
2013 Dodge Dart Limited Quick Spin Review: Features and Controls
The 2013 Dodge Dart’s control layout and displays are intuitive and appealing, but the car’s flowing and rounded interior design, especially in combination with the all-black interior, gives the cabin a dated appearance. Still, there is definitely something to be said for big knobs and buttons with large markings and intuitive operation. And I like that when something inside the car “dings,” the center information display in the Limited model’s thin film transistor (TFT) gauge cluster often shows a message explaining why the vehicle just made that noise.
Our test car’s Uconnect 8.4 infotainment display screen and control interface was fantastic. The system provides a huge screen, pleasing graphics, responsive touch-sensitive control, and fast reaction to inputs. Plus, the system is intuitive enough that I didn’t need to reference the owner’s manual to use it. Uconnect technology is exceptionally well executed, not just in comparison to other small cars or mainstream brands, but also in comparison to the best systems available within the entire automotive industry.
Obviously, I am a huge, huge fan of Uconnect technology. And I love that I don’t need to use the screen to adjust stereo volume, radio stations, cabin temperature, or climate system fan speeds.
2013 Dodge Dart Limited Quick Spin Review: Driving Impressions
In its transformation from an Alfa Romeo Giulietta into a Dodge Dart, this car has retained plenty of its European personality, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
The Dart’s suspension tuning, tire selection, and braking components are perfect for this car, but steering effort levels could stand to be softened at lower speeds, and the $2,400 turbocharged powertrain upgrade is better spent on plane tickets to Maui. More on why in a moment.
First, let’s talk about the good stuff. The Dodge Dart speaks with a clear Italian accent, providing a composed ride quality combined with audible communication about road texture and condition. Pitch the Dart into a corner and roll is nicely controlled, the tires remain hushed, and though the car understeers, it approaches its limits in a progressive manner.
The Dart’s brake pedal is sensitive and responsive in just-right amounts, but on a couple of occasions my right shoe got caught on the underside of the pedal when lifting off of the accelerator to depress the brake pedal. During a panic stop the brake assist system delivered instantaneous maximum braking power to help avoid a collision.
The Dart Limited model’s steering offers a thick-rimmed wheel with proper thumb rests. Effort levels are significant – perhaps too high. Often, the steering feels too heavy, firm, and almost leaden. But compared to the turbocharged engine, however, the Dart’s steering feel is the least of its dynamic challenges.
Equipped with the same powertrain that works to impressive effect in a FIAT 500 Abarth, as applied to the Dodge Dart the turbocharged, 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine isn’t nearly as entertaining, coming nowhere near a Volkswagen 2.0-liter turbo in terms of power and refinement. The Dart’s turbo engine is loud, buzzy, and whining, with a relatively brief torque plateau and a whole bunch of lag off the line. Stab the pedal to turn left across traffic, merge with traffic, or get a jump on traffic and it takes a moment or two for the engine to respond with any kind of forward momentum.
What’s more aggravating is the dual-dry clutch transmission, which hesitates, shudders, hangs, and generally behaves as though it is forever confused about what it ought to be doing when driving around town.
Normally, I would recommend using the Dart’s manual shift gate to solve its schizophrenia problem, except for the fact that the manual gate uses a silly F1 racing-style pattern that is counterintuitive to almost everyone except Michael Schumacher. Want to upshift? Tap the lever down. What to downshift? Tap the lever up. When using it, you’re constantly thinking about which way the selector needs to go for the next gear change, which is a distraction. In F1 racing, where a driver is constantly battling acceleration and deceleration G-forces, this shift pattern makes total sense. In a Dodge Dart, not so much.
What this transmission needs is a Sport mode, and an upgrade after engineers have spent some quality time with an Audi or VW automated manual gearbox. Some paddle shifters would help, too.
As for fuel economy, the Dart was a bit of a disappointment. According to the EPA, our Dodge Dart test vehicle should have returned 27 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 27.4 mpg, with about 65% of the miles traveled on the highway. That’s a terrible result given the official EPA ratings.
Finally, over sharper bumps, the Dart’s front suspension reveals a lack of refinement in terms of the amount of impact harshness transferred to the cabin. Any time one of the Dart’s front wheels encounters a pothole or a large crack in the pavement, the shock of the impact is transmitted up the steering column and through the car’s structure to the cabin. I cannot believe that Dodge engineers, who regularly travel Michigan's winter-ravaged roadways, did not notice this.
2013 Dodge Dart Limited Quick Spin Review: Final Thoughts
In my opinion, the 2013 Dodge Dart has a split personality. There are undeniably appealing aspects to this car, and at the same time there are undeniably unappealing traits that are likely to cost Dodge dealers Dart sales.
My biggest complaint about the Dart pertains to the dual dry clutch transmission, which requires refinement if Dodge ever expects American consumers to adopt this vehicle in large quantities. Secondarily, this car's fuel economy ratings are figments of somebody's imagination.
Comparatively speaking, any other flaws, genuine or perceived, are relatively inconsequential. This is a fundamentally solid little car that requires no more than a bit of fine-tuning.
Dodge provided the 2013 Dart Limited for this review
2013 Dodge Dart photos by Christian Wardlaw