Dodge has been planning this car for a long time, so you’d think it would be better than it is. The first official images of the new-for-2013 Dodge Dart depicted this model, which was originally expected to wear an R/T badge but has now arrived, after a lengthy delay, as the GT trim level. The Dart GT is the version with the big wheels and tires, the hunkered-down stance, the sport-tuned suspension, and the most powerful engine offering. The Dart GT is the one that promised to make this entry-level Dodge’s Alfa Romeo-sourced guts sing like Luciano Pavarotti. The Dart GT, as it turns out, dropped the R/T badge for very good reasons.
2013 Dodge Dart GT Quick Spin Review
2013 Dodge Dart GT Quick Spin Review: Features and Options
The 2013 Dodge Dart GT sits atop the lineup, priced $1,000 higher than the Dart Limited. It adds a 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, menacingly nicknamed the “Tigershark” engine. A blacked-out grille and center front bumper, dark-tinted headlights, and 5-spoke 18-inch aluminum wheels are standard, along with sport steering, a sport suspension, and a dual exhaust system. Occupants sit on premium Nappa leather seats. Considering the list of upgrades over the Limited, and the mere $1,000 charged for them, the Dart GT represents value at $21,990 including a destination charge of $995.
Header Orange paint is an exclusive hue for the Dart GT, an attention-grabbing color that coated my test vehicle. As a result, people noticed this car, and I’m certain that includes local law enforcement. Black leather is standard, but buyers can choose a Black and Ruby Red interior treatment.
Options include the Technology Package ($995), a genuine value that adds a blind spot warning system, a rear cross-path detection system, rear parking assist sensors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beam headlights, and Dodge’s Enter-N-Go keyless passive entry system with push-button starting. Additionally, the standard 8.4-inch Uconnect color touchscreen infotainment system can be upgraded with navigation ($495), the sound system can be upgraded to nine Alpine speakers ($495), and buyers can opt for a power sunroof ($895), HID headlights ($395), and a Hyper Black wheel treatment ($395). The only other upgrades are an engine block heater ($95) and a 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,250).
Fully loaded with every option, the 2013 Dodge Dart GT is priced at $25,755. Essentially, where the Dart GT leaves off, Ford starts with the more powerful and capable Focus ST, and Volkswagen offers the more refined and sophisticated Jetta GLI. So in that respect, the Dodge is a relative bargain.
2013 Dodge Dart GT Quick Spin Review: Design and Materials
I really like the way the Dodge Dart GT looks. Even when painted Header Orange. And especially when equipped with the optional Hyper Black wheels. The darkened headlights, the black grille and front bumper, and the “racetrack” LED taillights give the Dart GT plenty of tastefully executed attitude, and in a way that frequently eludes other automakers when styling performance-tuned variants of mainstream models.
The good news is that the interior is even better. The Dart exudes quality and craftsmanship like no small Dodge to come before it, most evident in soft-touch padding on the dashboard and door panels, low-gloss finishes, attention to detail, and quality leather upholstery. The Dart GT exudes a technical sophistication, too, from the configurable instrumentation to the enormous Uconnect 8.4-inch color infotainment touchscreen embedded into the car’s dashboard.
From a design and materials standpoint, Dodge hits a home run with the Dart GT. I will say, however, that I could do without the red trim on the door panel handgrips.
2013 Dodge Dart GT Quick Spin Review
In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the 2013 Dart GT offers comfortable front seats combined with a center armrest that slides forward to ensure that occupants of all sizes are accommodated. However, I detest the Dart’s power seat controls, which are all lumped together on the side of seat base, making it impossible for me to move the seat in certain directions when the door is closed.
Rear seat space is tight, no doubt. But the bottom seat cushion sits high for good thigh support, foot space is decent, and the front seatbacks are softly padded, so it’s OK for a cross-town jaunt. As an adult, I wouldn’t want to ride back there for much longer.
A couple of things endear a Dart GT to a driver, almost immediately. First, the Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen provides logical menus, crisp graphics, large touch-sensitive buttons, and easy return to the home screen. It isn’t perfect, but among these types of systems, it is one of the best. Second, the Dart is equipped with conventional volume and tuning knobs for the stereo, as well as separate climate controls. That means you use the screen mainly for secondary functions, rather than primary ones.
2013 Dodge Dart GT Quick Spin Review: Driving Impressions
Earlier this year, I reviewed the Dart Limited with its turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and dual-clutch automated manual transmission. To say that I was not a fan of this $2,650 option is being kind. Evidently, Dodge has gotten an earful of complaints from owners, too, and for 2014, that setup is relegated to the Dart Aero fuel economy champ. The SXT, Limited, and GT will include the 184-horsepower Tigershark 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment.
If I were the betting type, that’s one reason Dodge decided to ditch the R/T badge and call the sporty version of the Dart the GT. The other reason is likely because the Tigershark doesn’t deliver very much bite.
From the driver’s seat, it sounds like the engine makes more racket than it feels like it provides in terms of forward momentum. There’s no zing to this powerplant as it revs to its torque peak (171 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm) or to its horsepower peak (184 hp at 6,250 rpm). Instead, there’s just lots of droning noise coming from under the hood. I actually missed the turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder to some degree.
Making matters worse, the 6-speed automatic does not include paddle shifters, and the manual shift gate employs a counterintuitive pattern that requires the driver to tap up for a downshift, and to tap down for an upshift. So instead of allowing this goofy pattern to distract me from driving, I simply mashed the gas pedal in an unsophisticated effort to coax more response from the engine, which is probably why I averaged just 22.4 mpg, short of the EPA’s 24-mpg rating for combined driving.
What the Dart GT really needs is a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine displacing 2.0 liters and equipped with a really broad torque and power curve. You know. Like what you might find at the Volkswagen dealer.
It really is too bad about the lackluster engine, because the rest of the Dart GT’s driving dynamics are really entertaining. The low profile tires mounted to the 18-inch wheels and the sport suspension deliver more information about bumps, textures, and divots in the pavement than I recall from the Limited I drove earlier in the model year, which isn’t a bad thing for the intended audience. The added stiffness and stickier rubber really adds to the fun factor, and this car attacks twisties with an eagerness that enthusiast owners will enjoy.
The steering is also quick and responsive right off center, making it fun to toss the Dart GT around turns and corners. There’s not much need to shuffle steer this car, but the turning radius is really wide, which requires some getting used to. The brakes are just as responsive as the car’s steering, and are easy to modulate whether the car is driven hard or in traffic.
Out on the highway, the Dart GT rides firmly, but noise is adequately suppressed. Passing power is merely adequate; again, gimme a turbo. Around town and in traffic, the 6-speed automatic transmission is calibrated to provide quick response when the driver steps on the gas, making the car feel more nimble than it does when overtaking vehicles or accelerating down a freeway on-ramp.
2013 Dodge Dart GT Quick Spin Review: Final Thoughts
You already know where I’m going with this. All the Dodge Dart GT really needs is a turbocharged engine making around 240 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, with peak torque starting at about 1,500 rpm and available all the way to peak horsepower’s neighborhood. If Dodge then added some long, slender, column-fixed paddle shifters, along with some genuine sport seats, and resisted the urge to make it look like some teenager’s dream car, enthusiasts would line up to buy it.
As the Dart GT stands, it is a safe, sporty, solid value in the compact car class. But it’s not yet a vehicle that enthusiasts on a budget can embrace.
The author attended a manufacturer-sponsored ride-and-drive event for the 2013 Dart GT