By Bruce Aldrich
The 2013 Dodge Dart is interesting because it uses parts and a platform from Fiat, but the design is pure Chrysler. Fiat acquired a five percent stake in 2009 and this allowed the Italian manufacturer to share its technology with Chrysler.
Dodge was given approval to build a compact car on the Alfa-Romeo Giulietta platform. This platform was lengthened and widened for the Dart — to suit American buyers. The car and motors are assembled in Belvidere, Ill.
The name Dart was selected late in the development phase. The product marketing people said the name was familiar, comfortable and positive for the older crowd. For younger people who never knew the original Dart, the name gave them thoughts of something pointed or aero shaped.
Dart customers can customize their car in several ways. There 12 paint colors, 14 interior color options, 6 wheel options and 3 engine options with 3 transmissions. The first Dart offerings will have five trim levels with a starting price of $15,995. Dodge expects its $17,995 SXT model to be the most popular. Later this year, a R/T model will be released ans priced $22,495.
The Dart will launch with three motor choices. The base motor is 2 liters and puts out 168 horsepower. The next motor is a 1.4 liter turbo taken directly from the Alfa-Romeo. This motor also produces 168 horsepower, but more torque. The top motor is the 2.4 liter good for 184 horsepower.
All of the motors use the Fiat designed MultiAir system that works on the intake valves. Rather than a variable cam design that other manufacturers use, this system uses hydraulic actuators controlled by the engine computer to control valve opening and lift on a cylinder by cylinder basis. The computer controlled valves give the motors improved horsepower, more torque and less fuel consumption.
I drove two Limited models with different power trains. It's a nice-looking car with sleek styling and fresh, clean lines. The Dart doesn't look like every other compact, and I like that. As I got in, I noticed the rather substantial doors that look thicker and feel heavier than others in this class. The doors shut with a good, old-fashioned thud.
The 2-liter car is quiet and smooth shifting. The electric steering is direct and communicative. The power was a little lacking, but adequate. A stab of the throttle makes the 6-speed automatic think for a moment, select a lower gear, then accelerates.
I like the simple dash layout. There is a huge 8.4-inch touch screen display above the center console with big easy-to-read lettering. I enjoyed the crisp display of the configurable digital dash. This isn't an arcade-like game display. This display looks like actual analog gauges.
The other Dart I drove had the 1.4 liter Turbo with the 6-speed manual. This engine and transmission combination totally transformed the car from a grocery getter to fun-to drive sporty car. This motor loves to rev and the exhaust note begs for more. The manual transmission is a joy to shift with its well-defined gates and smooth engagement.
Product planners say there will be two more Dart models, including an Aero Dart designed for maximum fuel economy. The other car will be the R/T version with a 2.4 liter MultiAir motor and the sportiest car in the Dart lineup.
An important future option is an Alpha-Romeo dual clutch manual/automatic transmission. A dual clutch in the compact segment and in this price-point will be unique.
Based on my test drives, I'm impressed with the look, feel and drive of the new Dart. The compact segment has tough competition, but definitely test drive this car. Ask for the turbo with a 6 speed.
Bruce Aldrich, a new contributing editor to TheWeeklyDriver.com, is a journalist, videographer and publisher. Visit his site: www.tahoetruckeeoutdoor.com