2013 Dodge Dart Limited HD Video Review

For years, the go-to compact sedans came from Japanese brands. Basically, people chose from Civic and Corolla and called it a day.  It’s all some baby boomers have ever known.

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Nowadays it isn’t so simple.  If you haven’t heard, competition for your automotive business is fierce with multiple choices.  The domestics and the Koreans are wooing buyers with style, features and quality.  And for the first time in a long, long time that includes Dodge.  Their new attitude comes with a nostalgic name- Dart.  Please know I will not use the term “bull’s-eye” anywhere in this review.  You’re welcome.

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The last time Dodge had a credible entry in this segment was the Neon.  America loves its sedans and Chrysler unwisely replaced it with the unloved Caliber hatchback, complete with a bargain basement interior designed by bean counters to drive away business.

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Making a New Point

At the press launch in Austin, TX, Ryan Nagode, Dodge and RAM interior chief says that is now history.  The whole approach to Dart was to aim high and it’s easy to see with one quick glance.  Both the interior and exterior have style and grace that Dodge has never had in this segment.  One look at the available LED “racetrack” rear end lighting shows that.  It’s lifted from big brother Charger, definitely not something you’d see on a Corolla.

It all begins with what you can’t see though.  Remember, Chrysler is now teamed up with Fiat and underneath the svelte Dodge sheetmetal lies the modified architecture of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a hatchback known for its handling.  It’s a little wider and longer for longer and wider Americans.  The Dodge folks say the interior approaches mid-sized D-sedan space but with a C-class compact exterior.

2013 Dodge Dart Limited

Their Aim is True

Considering they’re bragging about the Giulietta DNA, let’s start directly with driving dynamics.  Dodge readily admits Dart is not as sharp in the corners as the Alfa.  For most buyers that’s a good thing.  US roads are not as well kept as those in Europe, and realistically, with five different models, Dart is being pitched to a very wide audience.

What remains is a well-balanced car that’s fun for tossing into corners and doesn’t “dart around” on the straights.  At 70 miles an hour the cabin is quiet and comfortable. In terms of ride quality, the closest comparison is Ford Focus.  The suspension tuning is the same on all models, except the R/T which debuts in the fall of 2012.

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No, There Is No Slant-Six

This is a modern Dart and that legendary mill just won’t work in today’s world.  Instead there are a couple four-cylinder engines at launch- a 160-horse turbocharged MultiAir 1.4-liter (which is the torque-rich motor enthusiasts will go for) and the one I’m focusing on, the standard 160 horse 2.0-liter called the Tigershark.  Got to love that name. Tigershark!

When R/T shows up it gets a 2.4 liter Tigershark four-cylinder with 184 horsepower.

For now there are two transmissions- a six-speed automatic or the six-speed manual I’m spending the most time in.  Shift quality with the manual box is average with longer throws and taller gear ratios so it’s not overly sporty.  The automatic aggressively up-shifts for better fuel economy, which is the same as every modern auto box these days.  I spent 15 hard minutes in downtown Austin, Texas traffic trying to trip it up.  Didn’t happen.

Later this year the 1.4-liter turbo will get an optional six-speed dual dry clutch transmission.  Curiously, it will not be available in the R/T.

2013 Dodge Dart Limited

Dart Quick?

Floor it and the base two-liter will move from 0-60 in a guestimated 9 seconds.  The engine is smooth and refined with a hint of sporty exhaust note.  Those tall gear ratios pay off with good fuel economy, EPA rated at 25 city, 36 highway.

The torquey turbo motor is quicker to 60 by about a second (at least that’s how the seat of my Levi’s feels about it).  A bonus, it goes farther on a gallon of gas.  EPA rates it at 27 city, 39 highway.  A fuel-efficient aero enhanced model is promised soon with a 41 mpg highway number.  No these are not best-in-class efficiency numbers but they are close and for buyers that want more than just a transportation appliance, Dart sticks it.

All-new 2013 Dodge Dart

From Worst To First?

Years ago, Chrysler products were an easy target when criticizing interiors.  They have come a long way recently and Dart hits a high mark. The cabin of the Limited model I’m driving has lots of style and quality materials (however, I did not see any base models with cloth seats).  The space looks a full class more expensive than it is with soft touch materials and real stitching on the instrument panel.

Armrests are nicely padded, seats are aggressively bolstered (perhaps a bit much for some?).  Again, overall it reminds me of the approach Ford has taken with Focus.

The gauge cluster gets a crisp LCD display that changes from an analog-look speedometer to a digital one.  Options include a heated steering wheel.  Dart’s dramatic signature is a ring of red illumination that runs around the instrument panel on some trim levels.  There’s nothing like it until you venture into luxury car territory.

All-new 2013 Dodge Dart

Simplicity is Good

I can’t stress this enough- the touch screen interface on the big 8.4-inch display is fall-on-your-face simple.  This is elegance that many luxury brands can learn from.  There’s unexpected storage under the front passenger seat cushion.  Could a small child fit in the huge glove box?  Possibly.  Very unwise though.  A better and more legal option is a 15-inch laptop computer, which stows with no problem.

My Limited tester has dual-zone climate and a good high-end sound system.  It also has a well-done blind spot warning system (also tested in the heavy downtown traffic of Austin) and a class-exclusive cross-path detection system.  When backing up, it warns drivers if traffic is approaching from the side.  A rear-view camera is helpful too (standard on Limited).

Dodge Bucks The Bundling Trend

Don’t like the “option bundle” trend that automakers are turning to?  Dodge takes the old school approach with Dart.  Buyers can pick and choose options to build the car exactly the way they want.  Customization is a huge selling point and there are over 100,000 ways to screw a Dart together.

All-new 2013 Dodge Dart

There are 12 exterior colors and 14 interior combinations , some hues are on the wild side.  Honda Civic this is not.  Dodge is quite proud that this is not a vehicle designed in a test tube.

Back Seat and Cargo

Dodge says Dart is compact on the outside, midsized inside.  In it’s class there’s generous leg and foot room in the rear seat. Adjustable vents and a power port are missing but generally not found at this price.

There’s a foldable armrest with cupholders, two seat pockets and door storage.  Two will be very comfortable in sculpted seats, three will be okay for short trips. There are even standard side torso bags, which isn’t very common.

There are no bundles of TP in rural Texas. Eyeballing it, the cargo hold looks about the same as the ones found in Civic, Cruze and Focus.  It is well trimmed and with 60/40 folding rear seats plus a small pass-through, Dart offers up a good amount of flexibility to haul skis or long stuff.  There’s even a spare tire.  Always comforting.

All-new 2013 Dodge Dart

Can a Strength Be a Weakness?

Ultimately there will be five Dart models, six if they decide to produce a SRT-4.  Some models like Rallye and R/T have “piano black” front end appliqué, others like the Limited I’m driving remain body color.  In theory, this “all things to all people” strategy seems like a total win.

I have to wonder if it will send confusing messages to the market place though.  Is it a sporty car?  Basic transportation?  Luxurious?  More than most, Dart can be tailored to extreme ends of the market.  Base SEs don’t come with air conditioning cruise control, USB, Bluetooth or remote locking fob.  Limited models can be loaded up with Nappa leather and electronics that can’t be found in some Acuras.   I’m curious to see how Dart is ultimately perceived in the marketplace

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Safety?  That’s always important.  The Dodge folks crow that 60 safety features (including 10 airbags) are along for the ride.  The structure is rich in high and ultra-high strength steel.  Besides, that great handling should help keep you aout of trouble to begin with.

How Much Is It?

A base Dart goes for around $16,800 with destination.  The sweet spot should be around 20 grand.  The nearly loaded Limited model I’m driving equipped with a 2.0-liter engine and manual transmission is 23K.   People just looking for a comfortable efficient car will be happy with the 2.0-liter and automatic.  Those who like to drive should move to the turbo/manual combo.

Here’s a sign of the times.  When I asked Matt Liddane, Dart’s Vehicle Line Executive how his baby stacks up against the historical benchmarks Civic and Corolla he paused, and politely replied “I like the VW Jetta. We think Dart is tailored toward that or the Focus or the Cruze. It’s good to have one that can stand tall against all the competition”.

All-new 2013 Dodge Dart

With its Italian bones and international design inside and out, Dodge is aiming Dart at buyers that want fun and flair to go along with their fuel efficiency.  They’ve certainly nailed the target.

FULL GALLERY BELOW OF VARIOUS DAR MODELS.  ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY DODGE.

19 Comments

  1. gapandgold says:

    dodge went all out…. im proud of them and i love dodge…i remember the alway reliable k cars…

  2. denisrenepl says:

    Tom, what do you mean by ” I doubt it gets the chrome treatment”?

  3. FinalBlue says:

    This is the most feminine Dodge design I’ve ever seen. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just…so soft looking; like someone shrunk a current Impala, then melted it. It’s certainly not aggressive.

    I’d like to see Dodge explain why this car weighs MORE THAN A NISSAN ALTIMA, a larger car with a much larger trunk (not sure about interior space, however), and gets only 1 mpg better than it on the highway…and even then, that’s only when the Dart is paired with its “fuel-efficient” engine.

    A/C isn’t standard equipment? That’s pretty laughable for a car that’s attempting to be luxurious. The good interior is only present on the highest trim too, I assume?

    I really dig the under-the-seat storage, though. And the word Tigershark IS pretty cool.

    Also, Tom, any word on if we might see a Cadillac XTS, Acura ILX, or Nissan Altima DCR (Driven Car Review) soon?

    • TV says:

      Altima is an unusually light car, weighs less than anything in it’s class. Dart is a larger compact, bumping up against the mid-sized segment. That’s part of it anyways.

      There are a number of cars that don’t get AC as standard equipment and more than trying to be luxurious, I think Dart is trying to be everything to everyone. The stripped model allows them to advertise a low MSRP. But you knew that… Truth be told I could live without AC here in Seattle. I didn’t get it in my Miata to save weight.

      You’ll see those reviews as soon as I can get a press car. Honda? GM? Nissan? You guys there?

  4. Shabanger says:

    Anyone know if there is going to be a hatchback like the Giulietta? I’m a hatchback guy, and I’m a little bit disappointed we get the sedan. But this Dart is way better than the Neon model.

    • TV says:

      There is no indication a hatch is on the way. However, I have to believe Chrysler is working on a CUV, most likely based off this architecture. It is the way Americans take their hatchbacks.

      A few years ago, Chrysler rebadged the Lancia Delta hatch as a Chrysler for a consumer clinic. It’s a great looking car, I’ve seen it in the flesh. The fact that it’s not roaming the roads of America speaks volumes.

  5. raschmidt says:

    When Dodge blows off a Corolla/Civic comparison and says he’d rather be compared to a Ford Focus and Chevy..that should be a sign to Toyota/Honda that they need to get their act together.

    I kept trying to figure out if this was more like a Focus or a Cruze. It seems like it’s right in between. I hope Ford offers the 1.6 turbo on the US model (its available on the titanium in Europe) soon. The only reason I can see for not having one on our titanium is that it’s about as expensive as a Fusion which has that engine as an option.

  6. prins004 says:

    I like your reviews! :)

  7. I think it’s a great concept cars, its has functionality, its small, stylish with a host of great designs, and will surely bring an eye to the brand from the youth. The only question would be if it’ll be too expensive for the target audience and if a possible product vehicle would be anything close to this design, not bland and boring.

  8. bob4116 says:

    Looks like they took a Chevy Cruze, and massaged it a little (from the side). I like the tail of the car, with the wrap-around LED lights. But the nose lacks any character. I understand wanting to make it more appealing to a wider crowd, but I disagree with that approach. In my opinion, this has been the problem with a lot of the products that Chrysler has had over the last decade. They try to design products as to not offend anyone, rather than come up with designs that are bold, and that will create a loyal following. No character. Yes, they have done well on some of their vehicles, but over all, it just seems like they have lost their “A” game. I love their trucks, the Challenger, the Charger, the 300, and the Wranglers. Everything else is just bland.

    Proof of them trying to please everyone lies in the a la carte approach they are taking with this vehicle. Yes, there are vehicles that have succeeded with this approach, but cars like the Mini Cooper and the Scion xB have something that the Dart lacks . . . and that is character. Well, at least from the outside. If they can get people to sit in the car, and drive it, then maybe the nice interior will win over some people. The dash made me think of the new dash in this year’s Camry, which is a huge improvement. Enough soft touches and plushies in the cabin of the Dart may be enough to win over some people.

    It will be interesting to see how well it sells. But they have to get people to the dealerships first, and Dodge is NOT one of the brands that comes to mind when thinking of this segment. They are going to have to play up this car BIG TIME. Look at how Chevy introduced the Sonic. Yeah, it will have to be bigger than that!

    • TV says:

      Like a lot of cars, I suggest that people hold off on judging the design until they see Dart in person. Normally I get to shoot cars in light I choose, at events I just get what I get. The sun was straight up when photographing Dart, not flattering. It has a lot more detail and surface tension than you might expect.

      You have a point about marketing but then again, they haven’t even begun to market this car. It will be interesting to see how it does. Chrysler certainly has some momentum going for it.

  9. Ken says:

    very handsome looking car!

  10. hallr7 says:

    I really like that automakers are getting a little more bold. I was really sick of the bland cars, I guess they figured out what we like. I agree the nose of this car is a little dull but they are spot on with the rest of it. I’m wondering why they brought the “Dart” name back? I for one don’t want to drive something called a dart, but maybe that’s just me. Not sure this car made it to the top of my “next car to buy” list which should happen soon but it will definitely get a test drive to rule that out, you never know. I’m still very interested in the 2013 Focus, i’m hoping the issues with My Ford Sync will be worked out.

  11. kenwenzel says:

    You were close to some of the best wine tasting in Texas. Hope you got time to go to Fredericksburg, TX. The National Museum of the Pacific War( http://www.nimitz-museum.org/ ) as it was just down the road. Great test.

  12. spidey1968 says:

    It just looks like a gussied up Dodge Neon on the outside. The styling does stay in line with the rest of the Dodge family, but I think they could have done better. The interior is a different story. I think they will make their target market very happy.

  13. motorstreet says:

    This is a really impressive car. I definitely prefer the Rallye and R/T front ends, but it still looks great without it. The Fiat turbo engine seems like the best version because of its huge fuel economy and torque advantage over the 2.0. It will be interesting to see how good or bad the dual clutch is. I’ve read some good and some bad reviews of Fiat’s dual clutch transmissions in their European cars. Personally, I don’t see any reason to get the R/T, because you don’t gain a lot of power and the fuel economy will be a lot worse than the turbo. However, the R/T’s suspension tuning might be worth it. I really like how a manual transmission will be so widely available with the Dart, it gives it a huge advantage over the Focus’ limited availability 5 speed manual. Now they just need to bring the 2.0L 170hp turbo diesel engine here.

  14. Toaster says:

    I have to say, this is the first Dodge in a long time, other than Viper, that actually has me interested. Great styling for a compact, and lots of great features. I like the pics I’ve seen of the R/T a bit more than the Limited, but it’s still a good looking car.

    The interior is what really impresses me. Stitched dashboard? In a compact Dodge? Nice. The reconfigurable gauges are impressive the seats look great!

    How is the sound system quality? Do they have any premium options there, like a Bose system or something similar?

    I’m not really in the market, but I’d still love to take one of these for a test drive … especially an R/T!

    • TV says:

      The sound system didn’t get much of a shake down, I was too busy getting the video shot and taking notes on everything else. Sorry. I did hook my iPhone up and the little I listened to sounded good but I didn’t go through a variety of tunes and genres to really test it.

      I prefer the Rallye and R/T front ends as well, the “piano black” applique helps define the nose. As I said though, this car needs to appeal to a wide variety of buyers and while the plain nose makes the car look a little less distinctive, it will be easier to sell to to a wide audience. It’s a design inside and out.