2013 Dodge Dart Review
Dodge finally delivers a refined compact sedan.
- Refined ride and handling
- Quality interior
- Easy on gas
- Easy to get the price over $20K
- Light on power
- No hatchback
When Dodge introduced the compact Caliber six years ago, it represented everything that had gone wrong with the company and its products. The vehicle, clearly developed on a tight budget, was loaded with compromises, with a chintzy, plastic-heavy interior, three gruff engines, and an overall build quality well behind the competition.
The Caliber's replacement, the 2013 Dodge Dart, is a much different story, however. It is the first product to be completely developed under the company's new Fiat leadership. And if the Dart is any indication, we are going to look very closely at all of the new offerings from the Chrysler Group. Hopefully, all are this good.
While the Caliber was offered as only a hatchback, the Dart comes strictly as a sedan, which is a much more popular choice among compact-car buyers. Ironically, it is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, which is a hatchback. The model lineup consists of SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited and R/T trims, all of which come with a class-leading 10 airbags, including front knee and rear side airbags.
The $15,995 SE is basic transportation, coming without air conditioning, power locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry and alloy wheels. The $17,995 SXT comes with that equipment, while the sporty-looking Rallye at $18,995 adds cruise control, a vehicle information center with trip computer, fog lamps and 17-inch alloy wheels. The $19,995 Limited is well equipped, with premium features such as power front seats, ambient lighting, active grille shutters, a 7-inch adjustable instrument cluster, and Dodge's Uconnect 8.4-inch touch screen with voice control.
The R/T will add leather upholstery, a sport suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels and a more aggressive overall exterior treatment to the Limited package.
Under the Hood
The 2013 Dodge Dart is offered with three engines and three transmissions. The standard engine in all but the R/T trim is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. An updated version of the 2.0-liter "world" engine from the Caliber, Dodge now calls it the Tigershark and says 80 percent of the parts are new.
Optional in all but the SE and R/T is a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. This engine, which is shared with the Fiat 500 Abarth, features Chrysler's MultiAir technology, which is an electro-hydraulic means of controlling the intake valves that improves power and fuel economy.
A 6-speed manual transmission is standard with every engine and a 6-speed automatic is optional. The 2.0-liter and 1.4-liter engines can also be paired with a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, which was not available at launch.
A few, but not all, fuel economy numbers are available. The 2.0-liter engine with the manual transmission has an estimated EPA rating of 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway. The 1.4-liter with the manual is rated at 27/39 mpg. Dodge also plans to offer an Aero model that will get 41 mpg highway with the 1.4-liter engine.
Perhaps nowhere is the Dart more different than the Caliber than in the interior. The Caliber's Fischer Price-grade plastics are replaced by soft-touch surfaces on the dash and armrests, and with more substantial plastics below. Premium and R/T trims even get soft-touch doortops front and rear. The design is simple yet modern and attractive. Buyers have the ability to personalize their cabins with 14 color and trim options, and they can upgrade with ambient lighting, a 7-inch customizable instrument display, and Chrysler's 8.4-inch Uconnect center screen.
The Uconnect screen houses the available navigation system and absorbs some audio and climate controls. It is one of the easier to use control interfaces on the market, with quick reactions and big virtual buttons that are easy to hit.
The customizable instrument display can show a digital or analog speedometer, surrounded with various bits of information at the corners, including time, temperature, trip computer info, and instant and average fuel economy. All this data is also available in the vehicle information center, but owners will like choosing what they refer to most often and having it readily accessible.
The Dart also offers a surprising amount of interior space. Front passengers have plenty of headroom and legroom and the seats are quite comfortable and supportive. Backseats are roomy for a compact car, as adults can sit behind adults, but headroom is tight.
On the Road
Based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Dart has some impressive bona fides when it comes to ride and handling. Dodge has tuned it for the United States market, however, subtracting some of its agility for a more comfortable ride. As a result, the Dart isn't as dynamically capable as the best in the class, the Ford Focus, but it does offer a refined ride with controlled handling. The same couldn't be said of the sloppier Caliber.
The Dart's steering is light at low speeds and it firms up nicely at highway speeds. We would like a bit quicker response and more road feel, though, two traits likely dialed back for the U.S. The brakes have good pedal feel and predictable stopping power.
Only the 2.0- and 1.4-liter engines were available for testing. Both offered only adequate performance. Dodge quotes a zero-to-60 mph time of 9.3 seconds for the 1.4-liter, which is on par with the class but less than inspiring. The 2.0-liter is likely about a second slower than that, but it doesn't feel too slow in traffic.
A manual transmission is standard, and we wish it were more fun to drive. While the clutch is perfectly weighted and engages predictably, the gearshift throws are long and rubbery. We recommend the automatic, which is sourced from Hyundai. It is smooth and responsive enough to deliver every bit of power these engines can produce.
Right for You?
The Dart is an attractive, frugal family sedan with the refinement to please buyers downsizing from larger sedans. It has good space for up to five and fine fuel economy. It's better than the Caliber it replaces in just about every way, but we would also like to see a hatchback. Pricing is competitive, but the $16,000 base price is misleading, as most buyers will need to spend about $19,000 to get an automatic transmission and air conditioning.