For roughly the last five years, Dodge was a car company without an entry-level compact sedan in its lineup. The decision to go with a small crossover vehicle - the butch-looking Dodge Caliber - as the replacement for the departed Dodge Neon was a risk that didn't pay off quite as well as the domestic brand had hoped. This is especially true in the face of the wave of ultra-fuel efficient and technologically-advanced small cars that have flooded the industry and raised the bar for bargain-conscious buyers.
Fortunately for Dodge, corporate parent Fiat was ready with a plan to replace the out-of-step Caliber with a fresh-from-Europe platform that could stand tall against the competition. The 2013 Dodge Dart is a legitimate contender for the dollars of those overwhelmed by the amount of choice in the affordable car market, and it wears its Italian heritage well underneath its American clothes.
The 2013 Dodge Dart goes into battle against a number of worthy foes, including both fresh faces in the compact class as well as more familiar names that have fallen on hard times. Although vehicles like the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla continue to sell well, they trail more advanced rivals like the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Cruze, and the Hyundai Elantra in many key categories - including fuel efficiency and available infotainment technology. The Dart is also forced to compete with the Kia Forte sedan, the entertaining Mazda Mazda3, and the all-wheel drive Subaru Impreza sedan.
The 2013 Dodge Dart starts out in the wallet-friendly SE trim level, which features an MSRP of $15,995. Stepping up to the better-equipped Dart SXT will cost an additional $2,000, while the Rallye trim adds another grand for a total MSRP of $18,995. The efficiency-focused Dart Aero sports an MSRP of $19,325, while the Dodge Dart Limited provides the highest level of available features for just under $20k (MSRP $19,995). An R/T version of the sedan - which will offer the largest engine and tightest suspension in the Dart lineup - will eventually be made available later this year.
Our test vehicle was a Canadian-market Dodge Dart Rallye, and after factoring in optional equipment and drivetrain choice the MSRP of the small sedan we drove for a week came to $23,290.
The 2013 Dodge Rallye is based on a chassis derived from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, but substantial changes to the platform - and an eye towards what American shoppers are looking for in a compact car's styling - mean that the sedan's appearance lands far from that of a transplanted, badge-engineered Italian. The Dart is longer and wider than the car whose DNA it shares, and Dodge has done an exceptional job of disguising the additional visual heft of the car with clever cues such as its curvy front fascia, a hood that dips down towards the pavement, and a crosshair grille that doesn't accentuate the car's width in quite the same way as it does on other Dodge products. Out back we can find more of the same, where its scalloped taillights (which wrap from one side of the car to another in a tip of the hat to its larger Charger sibling) cut out a sizable chunk of real estate and disguise the sedan's hefty rear overhang.
The Dart is a fine example of how proper packaging can create an appealingly compact design without compromising interior volume. It's also a testament to the restraint of the domestic brand's stylists after the exercise in brutality that was the Dodge Caliber. There are very few elements to be found on the Dart that scream out for attention, and Dodge has also made sure not to create a sedan that is neither too boy-racer sporty nor excessively Euro in appearance.
We also liked how the Dart didn’t need monster rims to fill out its wheel arches. The 17-inch units that came with our test sedan looked just fine sitting underneath its sheet metal, and the reduced costs associated with not having to source 18-inch replacement rubber will be appreciated by Dart owners.
The 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye's passenger compartment was perhaps our favorite aspect of our entire experience with the sedan. Small domestic cars are rarely lauded for the quality of the cabins, but the Dart's materials choice, layout, and design are marked improvements over its Ford and Chevy competitors - not to mention nicer easier on the eyes than what is found in the current Honda Civic.
How does the Dart do it? It all starts with the dash, which abandons tradition and goes with a cowl-and-center-blob format that houses a tachometer and speedometer (and the obligatory LCD information screen) directly in front of the driver, and an available Uconnect touchscreen interface at the top of the center stack. Our car didn't come with the trick TFT digital gauge package that can be had on higher trim levels of the Dart, but honestly, we didn’t miss it. Nice to look at during the daytime, the dashboard truly comes alive at night when a glowing red border surrounds the pair of displays, adding a subtle touch of class to the entire arrangement. Unlike some of its rivals, the Dart doesn't overwhelm occupants with LED 'mood lighting' blasting out of the footwells, the door pulls, or the cupholders. Instead, this red border serves as the welcome focal point for the vehicle's interior illumination.
The Uconnect system in the Dart proved itself to be once again one of the easiest and least convoluted infotainment, communications, and navigations interfaces on the market, regardless of vehicle sticker price. We were up and running with the Dart Rallye's Bluetooth connectivity within minutes of slipping behind the wheel, and entering in Montreal's French-language street names posed no problems for the Uconnect mapping software.
Several other elements come together in the 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye's interior to create a welcoming experience for driver and passengers. The vehicle's door and dash panels are far softer to the touch than one might expect for an entry-level vehicle, and most plastics were disguised by extra padding wherever possible. Our Rallye trim's cloth seats featured jaunty red striping (matching the door inserts) and were quite comfortable for the duration of our time with the car. Our only complaint had to do with a lack of heaters during cold November nights - a surprising omission on such an optioned-out car. Those riding in the rear of the car might have to contend with slightly less headroom than they would like, but the back seat does provide adequate space to stretch out one's legs on longer trips.
The 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye trim is available with two different four-cylinder engines under the hood. The first is the same base motor that is standard on every single version of the Dart (with the exception of the upcoming R/T): a 2.0-liter that generates 160 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque and returns fuel mileage of 25-mpg in city driving and 36-mpg on the highway. A six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission handle the gear-shifting duties for this engine.
The Dart Rallye we drove was equipped with the vehicle's optional 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged unit, which is good for the same number of horses but which produced a total of 184 lb-ft of torque. Our sedan featured a six-speed manual gearbox, although a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual is also available with the turbo. Fuel mileage for the smaller-displacement four-cylinder checks in at 27-mpg city and 39-mpg highway, with the Aero trim adding an additional mile per gallon to the around town rating and two more for the highway measure.
The upcoming Dodge Dart R/T will feature a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder motor that generates 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque. Its transmission choices will mirror those of the base Dart, and its fuel efficiency rating will be determined closer to its production date.
The 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye is not a corner carving, performance-oriented machine. The turbocharged engine under the hood is intended to maximize miles per gallon, not win races from stoplight to stoplight, and despite the Rallye badge on the rear deck this version of the Dart hasn’t seen its suspension tuned to enhance handling over the base model.
With those qualifications out of the way, we can focus on what the Dart Rallye does do particularly well, and that is offer a comfortable commute from point A to point B. Dodge engineers worked to ensure that American sensibilities weren't jostled too much by the stiffer legs of the Dart's Alfa Romeo progenitor, and while the sedan might not be as willing to turn in to a corner as some of its sportier rivals, the upshot is a composed ride that almost takes the car out of the compact segment and plants it amongst the peace and quiet of mid-size family options. The vehicle's ride quality was impressively unruffled at all times, and didn't have us pining all that hard for a more engaging suspension setup.
The 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine - another gift from Fiat - was certainly adequate if judged by the standards of basic transportation. Although the unit offers significantly more torque than larger, less efficient motors found under the hoods of vehicles like the Corolla and the Civic, it doesn’t display a willingness to rev that would endear it to the compact tuning crowd. This does not mean that the Dart feels slow, as we never wanted for acceleration during our time behind the wheel of the sedan. What it does demand, however, is a vigilant hand on the stick shift in order to stay on top of the vehicle's power band and keep the turbo spinning high enough to deliver a kick in the pants at the desired moment.
Indeed, working the six-speed manual transmission in the Dodge at times felt like a bit of a chore, as we were rarely ever able to pick a single gear and simply cruise - regular upshifts or downshifts were necessary to respond to even minute changes in the traffic around us. This is markedly different than the character of the similarly-sized turbocharged four-cylinder found in the Chevrolet Cruze, which also offers sportier handling in the form of the RS package.
Taken together, however, we were happy with the power and efficiency combination offered by the Dodge Dart. Fuel consumption during our real-world mixed driving (weighted towards urban stop-and-go) was quite close to the vehicle's EPA rating, and we certainly didn’t baby the car during our time with it. It's no longer necessary to settle for a weak drivetrain in order to enjoy lofty gas mileage in a modern compact car, and the Dart is merely the latest proof of this new industry standard.
The 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye comes loaded to the gills with safety features, including more standard airbags than are found in several luxury compact sedans. Dual forward airbags are joined by seat-mounted side airbags for those riding up front and in the back, and side curtain airbags protect the entire length of the Dart's cabin. Those in the two front positions also enjoy knee airbags, bringing the total number to ten. Anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and traction control are standard with the sedan, while a rearview camera, a blind spot monitoring system, and Dodge's cross-traffic alert (useful when reversing the automobile) are available as options.
2013 Dodge Dart Rallye: Final Thoughts
The 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye is in every conceivable way (save for perhaps total interior cargo space) a massive improvement over the Caliber. The Dart is comfortable to ride in, provides just enough power to keep things interesting, and returns fuel efficiency that is near the front of the pack when considering the current crop of impressively-frugal compact sedans and hatchbacks. The four-door Dodge also boasts engaging styling, offers an interior design that shames several of its elders, and provides access to class-leading navigation and entertainment interfaces in the form of the various Uconnect systems on its options sheet.
The 2013 Dodge Dart is well worth a test drive for anyone in the market for an affordable small car. It might not bring the same fun factor to the table as entries from Chevrolet and Mazda, but it scores big where it counts on a day-to-day basis - and that is truly the most important measure of an entry-level sedan.
What We Like About The 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye
We Aren’t So Hot On