2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review
After bringing back classic names like Charger and Challenger in recent years, Chrysler's Dodge brand is going to yet another name from its past by resurrecting the Dart for 2013. While the Challenger and redesigned Charger look like their historical counterparts, though, the all-new 2013 Dodge Dart is aimed more toward the consumer at which the original Dart was aimed: youthful buyers looking for a low-priced car. Based on a modified platform shared with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the new Dodge Dart replaces the Dodge Caliber and gives Dodge a compact sedan for the first time since the Neon was dropped in 2005. More importantly, the 2013 Dart is the first all-new vehicle since Chrysler and Fiat tied the knot showing the potential for platform sharing between these two automakers. Both of these are important milestones from an internal standpoint, but we headed to Austin, Texas to drive the 2013 Dodge Dart and try to see where it stands in the fast-growing compact sedan segment that has seen impressive improvements in styling, fuel economy, technology and even luxury over the last couple years.
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Like its predecessors, the Dodge Caliber and Dodge Neon (and even some of the '60s and '70s Darts), the 2013 Dodge Dart is built at Chrysler's Belvidere Assembly Plant in Belvidere, Ill. When it goes on sale, the new Dodge Dart will initially be offered in four trim levels (SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited) with a starting price of $15,995 which represents a $1,385 price decrease compared to a 2012 Caliber. Hearkening back to a day where base model cars were actually "base," the entry-level Dart SE does not come standard with air conditioning, power locks, power mirrors or remote keyless entry (all are available as options on the SE). Sometime during third quarter of this year, the sportier Dart R/T trim level will be added to the mix starting at $22,495, but during this drive, we spent our time driving various SXT, Rallye and Limited trim level models including a seemingly fully loaded Dart Limited with the 1.4-liter engine, plenty of options and an as-tested price of $25,165.
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: What It's Up Against
Positioned in the compact sedan market, the 2013 Dodge Dart goes up against cars such as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Jetta. According to Dodge, this segment accounts for 15 percent of all current new-car sales, and the automaker has been giving up a healthy chunk of this market thanks largely to the uncompetitive Caliber. While other compacts like the Jetta, Cruze and Elantra are all selling well, the Caliber was down 22 percent last year selling 35,049 units, and so far in 2012, it is the only Chrysler product still in production that is posting a year-over-year sales decline with sales off 51 percent as only 6,646 units have been sold through April. The more stylish, spacious and fuel-efficient 2013 Dart should really help get Dodge hit the target that is expected to range from millennials to empty nesters.
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: Exterior
What's New for 2013:
- aggressive, aerodynamic design
- Dodge returns to compact sedan market
How It Looks:
Instead of using retro design cues to match the old nameplate, the 2013 Dodge Dart does the complete opposite by blending a modern and aggressive style with smooth and aerodynamic lines. Thanks to the Mopar Muscle Cars of Austin, we found a 1968 Dart GTS to compare side by side with the new Dart. While the two cars couldn't look any more different, both had the iconic crosshair grille which makes Dodge's decision to remove the old ram's head logo even better. The new Dart's sloped hood, narrow headlights and bulging fenders give the car a strong face, but the signature grille helps create a unique look across each trim level. Rallye and R/T models get blacked-out accents and tinted headlights for a flashier look, while the Limited, SE and SXT trim levels have a more conservative appearance. The rear view of the Rallye and R/T are also spruced up with standard integrated dual exhaust outlets adding a sportier, although the crown jewel of the new Dart is the rear iconic "racetrack" taillight design that features a light bar appliqué made up of 152 LEDs - this is standard on the R/T and optional on the SXT, Rallye and Limited. Whatever the cost is for this option, it's more than worth it as these lights, like the new Dodge Charger, make the Dart easily recognizable from a distance. If there is any complaint to be made about the Dart's design, it is the fact that this six-side grille shape is getting a little overused as evident by newer Ford and Hyundai models.
Although the Dodge Dart will always be compared to its European counterpart, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, there are more differences that set the two apart aside from one being a hatchback and the other a sedan including being longer and having a wider track. All models have a black accent on the rear fascia which Dodge says helps to make the car look wider and lower. Finally, a variety of wheels complete the Dart's stylish look ranging from steel wheels with hubcaps to black-finished aluminum wheels - a first for this segment.
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review Interior
What's New for 2013:
- available 8.4-inch touch-screen Uconnect Touch infotainment system
- available seven-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display in gauge cluster
- spacious cabin and big trunk make it an EPA-classified mid-size sedan
How It Looks and Feels:
Chrysler's interior quality has improved dramatically since Fiat and Sergio Marchionne took the helm, and the 2013 Dodge Dart is a shining example. From the materials found even on lower trim levels to some of the technology features available on some of the well-equipped models, it's amazing how far compact cars have come... especially for Dodge. The interior of the Dodge Dart is restitution for those who were imprisoned by the uninspiring, hard plastic of the Dodge Caliber, and the spacious dimensions of the car will probably help most people forget this car is a sedan and not a hatchback. One of the features that shows Dodge's new level of detail is the red light that encircles the area around instrument gauges and audio head unit. The light welcomes drivers with a red glow upon entry, and it mimics the unique look of the "racetrack" taillights. Materials throughout the cabin vary based on the trim level chosen, but while lower trim levels lose the softer touch points of pricier models, the Dart still has an amazing layout that never looks cheap. The only gripe about the interior is the tall shift lever for both manual and automatic transmissions, and hopefully Mopar will remedy this situation (at least on the row-your-own models) with a short-throw shifter as a dealer-installed accessory. There is enought passenger and cargo volume in the Dodge Dart to warrant the EPA to classify it as a mid-size sedan, and there are even innovative storage areas such as the under-seat compartment hidden under the passenger seat bottom and deep glove box that could swallow most laptops.
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: The Extras
While many automakers are currently trying to limit the number of build combinations for buyers, the 2013 Dodge Dart offers a surprising number of configurations. In addition to the five trim levels, buyers will also be able to choose from numerous options and packages. Highlights include the massive 8.4-inch touch-screen for the Uconnect Touch infotainment system (offered with or without navigation) and the reconfigurable seven-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display in the gauge cluster. The TFT cluster not only gives the car more of a high-tech look, it also makes it much easier to read the speedometer when compared to the standard car's analog speedo. Other notable options include Nappa leather seats, blind spot monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection and a heated steering wheel. Mopar has even designed an industry-exclusive in-vehicle wireless device charging system for the new Dart.
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2013:
- three engine options
- available dual dry clutch transmission
How Does It Go:
At launch, the 2013 Dodge Dart will be available with two engines: the base 2.0-liter "Tigershark" inline-four or the 1.4-liter turbocharged "MultiAir" inline-four. Both engines produce 160 horsepower, but the latter pulls a little harder off the line with 184 lb-ft of torque (an increase of 44 lb-ft over the base engine). All 2013 Dart models will use a six-speed transmission, and while most models will use either a manual or a conventional automatic, the Dart 1.4 can be equipped with a six-speed dual dry clutch transmission (DCCT) which was not on hand for us to test out. Keeping up with the competition, the Dodge Dart will return decent fuel economy numbers with official EPA fuel economy estimates of 25 miles per gallon in the city, 36 mpg on the highway and a rating of 29 mpg in combined driving for the 2.0 with manual transmission and 27 miles per gallon in the city, 39 mpg on the highway and a rating of 32 mpg in combined driving for the 2.0 with manual transmission. Active grille shutters (standard on the Limited and R/T and optional on all other models) help improve aerodynamics even further at highway speeds without sacrificing air flow to the engine at lower speeds.
Right around the same time the Dart R/T shows up with its 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-four engine, the Dart 1.4 will be offered with the Aero package that Dodge claims will return up to 41 mpg on the highway when equipped with the manual transmission. While many rumors have suggested so, there will be no nine-speed automatic transmission available on the Dart.
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: How It Drives
Those looking for a sporty ride will want to check out anything equipped with the 1.4-liter turbo and a manual transmission, but buyers looking for a refined daily driver won't be disappointed with this car either. In the twisty roads outside of Austin, Texas, our Dart test car with 17-inch wheels and all-season tires handled great, and the standard electric power steering provided excellent responsiveness and feedback. With its impressive handling abilities, we were expecting a tooth-jarring experience once we encountered a few construction zones or bouncy interstate expansion joints, but the car has been tuned perfectly to balance its sportiness with a smooth ride. In addition to the overall ride quality, the Dodge Dart also has a very quiet cabin even at higher speeds along rough roads thanks to a stronger chassis and added sound deadening material (include mastic patches and the foam engine cover). If we had to complain about something, the long throw of the manual transmission is a bit disappointing, but we're sure this will be remedied by a bountiful number of accessories offered through the Mopar catalog.
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: Is It Safe
All 2013 Dodge Dart models come standard with 10 airbags (including driver and front passenger knee airbags), active front head restraints, daytime running lights (DRL), electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, Electronic Stability Control, Dynamic Stability Control, traction control and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: Final Thoughts
Dodge's track record in the compact car segment has been up and down over the last 30 years ranging from successes like the K-car and first-generation Neon to flops like the Dodge Caliber, but the 2013 Dodge Dart could be its best compact ever blending the same fun-to-drive sprit that made the Neon so loveable with enough cabin technology to make some luxury sedans jealous. With sales of compact cars on the rise, the 2013 Dodge Dart will appeal to a buyer who wants a smaller cars with better fuel economy and more technology without giving up comfort, personality or styling. Even better, if the new Dodge Dart is any indication of the quality of vehicles that will result from the Fiat/Chrysler relationship, then we look forward to the future... especially after being scared by the Chrysler Lancia a few years ago at the Detroit Auto Show. With 12 available exterior colors, 14 interior combinations, six wheel designs, four grilles, three engines and three transmissions (not to mention numerous option packages), there are literally thousands of ways to personalize the 2013 Dodge Dart giving it as many build configurations as your heart desires (and your wallet can afford).
2013 Dodge Dart First Drive Review: Pros and Cons
- exciting new design
- class-leading cabin technology
- fun to drive
- spacious interior with innovative storage areas
- number of build combinations may be overwhelming for some buyers
- long shifter throw on manual transmission
Dodge provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross
Special thanks to Mopar Muscle Cars of Austin