2016 Dodge Dart vs. 2016 Volkswagen Jetta: Compare Cars

October 31, 2016
2017 Volkswagen Jetta

2017 Volkswagen Jetta

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The Volkswagen Jetta and Dodge Dart are both compact four-door sedans that have been around for a few years. The current Jetta dates back to 2011, while the Dart was launched for 2013. Both are remarkably spacious inside for the segment, but neither competes in the mainstream occupied by the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, and Hyundai Elantra.

The VW Jetta has a reliable niche as a sporty, fun-to-drive sedan; it's Volkswagen's best-selling U.S. model. The Dart, on the other hand, was the first new compact car from Fiat Chrysler after the unloved Caliber, and it hasn't made much of a dent in the market. Because it hasn't done particularly well, the Dart's last model year was 2016, while the Jetta is VW's bread-and-butter model. 

Still, there are good reasons to purchase either one, including good packaging and great value. The question is: which one should you choose?

MORE: Read our latest reviews of the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta and the 2016 Dodge Dart

The wide stance and low cowl of the Dodge Dart give it a more substantial look than competitors. The chunky, spirited lines provide a gravitas sometimes absent from affordable small cars. It neatly blends cues from its big brother, the Dodge Charger, with just the right hint of Neon friendliness. Inside, the flowing dashboard takes the look in sporty directions, and well-equipped models include a large 8.4-inch touchscreen display.

The Jetta's square-cut sedan shape and slab sides are starting to look dated. It's had a few subtle updates, but the Jetta was conservative when it launched and it remains that way today--but six years older. If you want style and flair in a compact sedan, you'd be better served by the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, or Hyundai Elantra. The German-inflected interior is straightforward and intuitive, although the largest touchscreen display (new for 2016) measures only 6.5 inches.

Both cars are almost shockingly spacious inside, with comfortable seats front and rear, and plenty of legroom. Despite the Dart's lines, the seating position isn't as low as you might expect. Both cars also still have large swathes of textured plastic. On the Dart, they're supplemented by soft and nicely coordinated surfaces on anything you might touch. Most Jettas have padding only where elbows might rest--though the texture and grain of their plastic hides its lower cost well. Note that neither car sits anywhere near the top of third-party quality and reliability ratings.

2016 Dodge Dart

2016 Dodge Dart

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2016 Dodge Dart

2016 Dodge Dart

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2016 Dodge Dart

2016 Dodge Dart

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2016 Dodge Dart

2016 Dodge Dart

Enlarge Photo

The littlest Dodge is heavier than most other compact sedans, and its standard 160-horsepower 2.0-liter four is sluggish under maximum power. The optional turbocharged 160-hp 1.4-liter engine has more torque, better acceleration, and a sportier, more responsive drive--if you keep your foot firmly into the accelerator. In part, that's because it's geared tall, to keep engine revs low at highway cruising speeds. If you're willing to sacrifice fuel economy, the best option is the 184-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder in higher-end models.

Jetta engines have been entirely refreshed over the last few years—although Volkswagen's TDI diesel engines aren't offered for 2016, if ever again. For 2016, the base engine is a 150-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 that's peppy and delivers power across a wide range of engine speeds. It only sacrifices 20 hp to the more powerful 1.8-liter turbo in the SEL trim. The sportiest model is the Jetta GLI 2.0T, with a 210-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 that comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox or VW's 7-speed dual-clutch automatic.

While the Dart has the look of a sporty car, not all its engines deliver on the promise. You can have economy or power, but not both at the same time. It's a heavy car, and the smaller engines have to be flogged to deliver power. But the handling and suspension news is better: The same weight that hurts performance gives the car a nice planted feel, and  the electric power steering offers good feedback and road feel.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

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2016 Volkswagen Jetta

2016 Volkswagen Jetta

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2016 Volkswagen Jetta

2016 Volkswagen Jetta

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2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

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The Jetta's new engines, on the other hand, let drivers take advantage of its superb handling in every version. Four-wheel independent suspension and well-tuned electric power steering are now fitted to all models, and German tuning simply puts the Jetta on a higher plane than more prosaic compact sedans. It's the car you can drive 10 mph faster through a corner than its competitors, and it's always fun in the process. 

Both the Dart and Jetta get five stars overall from the NHTSA. The Jetta is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ this year, due to a full suite of active-safety systems available as options. The Dart offers fewer such systems, and it earned an "acceptable" score on the IIHS small-overlap front crash test, one level below the "good" score awarded to the Jetta. 

The two cars occupy different price niches, however, with the Dart starting below $18,000 and the Jetta about $2,000 higher. Top trim levels of the Jetta, especially a well-spec'd GLI, run into the mid-$30,000 range, while the priciest Dart isn't likely to cross more than about $28,000.

In the end, the Dart outscores the Jetta for design and its lavish suite of standard and optional features, while the Jetta wins on performance, safety, and fuel efficiency (never a Dart strong point). The Dart gives you more car for less money, but the Jetta will give you more driving pleasure.

And given that the Dart is being dropped, its already subpar resale value will plummet even further. Unless you're planning to buy either to keep for at least a decade, at which point its resale value is largely irrelevant, the Jetta is the smarter buy here. 

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Summary

7.8
Expert Rating
The 2016 Dodge Dart offers great styling, spacious interior, and good equipment set; but not all versions live up to the sporty performance (or good gas mileage) that the design might suggest.
7.6
Expert Rating
The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta keeps its excellent handling and high safety ratings, but it's starting to show its age in a a few ways.

Styling

8.0
Expert Rating
The Dodge Dart makes something altogether fresh among small car designs, with Dodge influences from as far as the former Neon and the larger Charger muscle sedan.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The plain lins of the 2016 VW Jetta are starting to look dated, though the interior is clean and straightforward.
Read More

Performance

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 Dodge Dart covers a very wide range of performance, although it's unexpectedly leathargic with its base engine.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
Every engine in the 2016 VW Jetta is turbocharged; they're response, the handling is excellent, and it's the driver's car among compacts.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

7.0
Expert Rating
A smooth ride and roomy interior make the Dodge Dart more substantial and comfortable than many of its rivals.
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7.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 VW Jetta has lots of room for people and cargo, and travel is comfortable, but we worry about assembly quality.
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Safety

8.0
Expert Rating
The Dart remains one of the safest choices in this class, with 10 standard airbags and great crash-test ratings.
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9.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 VW Jetta gets almost perfect scores; it's a Top Safety Pick+ and offers new active-safety systems.
Read More

Features

9.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 Dodge Dart is impressive from a feature standpoint—although countless builds almost give you too many choices.
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8.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 VW Jetta lineup offers a total of 10 trim levels over seven powertrains, though most desirable features take the price up.
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Fuel Economy

7.0
Expert Rating
The top 2016 Dodge Dart Aero is impressive; yet otherwise, the lineup is a fuel economy underachiever.
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9.0
Expert Rating
Even without the TDI diesel models, the 2016 VW Jetta's fuel economy ranges from good (1.4T) to excellent (Hybrid).
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MSRP

from $16,995
from N/A

Invoice

from $16,895
from N/A

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

29

Engine

Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.0 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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