(© Rod Hatfield)

2013 Dodge Dart

Chrysler Group's transformation under the direction of Fiat and its CEO, Sergio Marchionne, has been nothing less than incredible. Vehicles such as the Chrysler 300, Dodge Durango, Chrysler- and Dodge-branded minivans, and anything with an SRT badge have been fabulous so far. But the one thing the automaker lacked was a good compact car — a problem, because the compact segment accounts for more than 15 percent of the entire car market.

Chrysler remedied that problem this morning at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit when it unveiled the 2013 Dart, a compact sedan based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. To further promote brand loyalty, Chrysler Group also showed a pair of special-edition Mopar packages for the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 200.

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2013 Dodge Dart

What is it? A new sedan with an old name to get Dodge back in the compact game.

What's hot? The 2013 Dodge Dart is the anti-Caliber, and that's a good thing. The Caliber was a hatchback; the Dart is a sedan. The Caliber's interior was a sea of cheap plastic; the Dart is impressively lavish, with soft-touch surfaces on the dashboard and door panels in both seating rows. The Caliber offered two gruff engines; the Dart gets three engines, two of which are improved versions of the Caliber offerings. The updated engines are 2.0- and 2.4-liter fours, the latter the only engine in the Dart R/T. The other engine will be a turbocharged 1.4-liter four with Multi-Air technology. Dodge says all three engines will deliver highway fuel economy between 36 and 40 mpg, thanks in part to class-leading aerodynamics. Inside, the Dart gets 10 standard airbags and, according to Dodge, more rear-seat room than a Hyundai Sonata.

What's not? Dodge certainly needed a compact sedan, but we'd like to see a hatchback, as well. They offer more room. We suspect that when Chrysler gets its version of the Dart, it will be a hatch.

How much and when? Starting at about $16,000; on sale in second quarter of 2012.

MSN Autos' verdict: The domestic automakers are really stepping up their game in the compact segment. Ford has done it with the Focus, Chevy with the Cruze and now Dodge with the Dart. If this car is as good as it looks, it could be the best of them all. It's time for Honda, Toyota and Nissan to respond in kind.

2012 Dodge Charger Redline and 2012 Chrysler 200 Super S

Click to enlarge pictureDodge Charger R/T "Redline" (© Rod Hatfield)

Dodge Charger R/T "Redline"

What are they? Showcase cars for Mopar's line of customizing parts.

What's hot? Both cars get flashy exterior bits in their Stage I packages, including carbon-fiber parts for the Charger Redline. The Stage II packages improve handling and, to a lesser extent, power. The 200 Super S Stage II comes with coil-over shocks and a lower ride height to make the car more agile, as well as a cold-air intake and a cat-back exhaust for better breathing and sound. The Charger Redline Stage II has the cat-back exhaust as well as a strut tower brace. A Stage III version of the Charger Redline features Mopar's 426-cid, 590-horsepower Hemi crate engine, which isn't legal for street use.

What's not? No matter how good Mopar makes the improved but still mediocre Chrysler 200 look, it's still not quite up to the level of best midsize sedans. Then again, the Stage II package might make it one of the better-handling cars in it class. The Charger Redline's Hemi crate engine sounds great, but we'd like to see a street-legal version.

How much and when? Starting at about $1,500 more than the price of the base cars.

MSN Autos' verdict: Chrysler is smart to offer a line of Mopar parts to help owners engage with its brands, and these two examples show how far enthusiasts can go. Choosing one of these packages or a select group of Mopar parts can help you personalize your Chrysler car.

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.