- Comfortable seating position
- Class-leading safety ratings
- Distinctive, sporty styling
- Good outward visibility
- Surprising interior space
- Gas mileage only average
- Tire roar on certain roads
- Anemic base engine
The 2015 Dodge Dart brings back some of the Neon's personality with all of the modern features you could want in a compact car.
The 2015 Dodge Dart is a relatively sporty front-wheel-drive compact sedan. The Dart arrived two years ago and replaced the substandard, unloved Caliber hatchback. While the Dart hasn't sold as well as Dodge had hoped, the lineup received a number of changes last model year, solving some teething issues for this, the first true compact sedan since the Neon left years ago.
The Dart feels a bit more like a niche model next to strong full-line models like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevy Cruze. One hidden Dart asset: In interior volume, it's almost a mid-size car, and feels like it.
In many ways, the Dart looks like a modernized Neon. That's a good thing, as the Neon was always one of the better-looking models of its time. It's larger than its predecessor, for sure, but the proportions are similar—with a wide stance and a low cowl. It has a more substantial look in the rear, like the Charger, which adopts an appearance even more similar to the Dart for 2015. With its flowing dashboard, the Dart's interior leans toward the sporty end of the spectrum. Well-equipped models come with an 8.4-inch display for the navigation, climate, and audio controls, and a smaller screen displaying vehicle information sits between the gauges in the instrument cluster. Especially inside, the Dart offers equipment that most won't necessarily expect from a compact car.
Seats are comfortable front and rear, and the seating position isn't as low as you'd guess based on the car's lines. Soft-touch materials on most parts of the dash coordinate nicely with harder plastic elements, though big swaths of hard black textured plastic still crop up in a couple of places inside the littlest Dodge.
The Dart is styled like a performance car, but the engine choice is what determines whether it behaves like one. The standard 160-horsepower 2.0-liter four is simply underpowered in this heavy compact, and feels significantly slower than competitors in the most demanding duties, like merging into heavy freeway traffic on an uphill ramp while heavily loaded.
Opt for the turbocharged 160-hp 1.4-liter engine, however, and you'll find more torque, better acceleration, and a sportier, more responsive drive. But you'll have to keep your foot firmly into the accelerator to make it happen. Like many cars with six-speed transmissions, the Dart's top gear was chosen to keep the engine running below 2,000 rpm under steady load, for best fuel economy. The 1.4-liter gives you power, but not until it revs past 3,000 rpm--which may mean not one but two downshifts. The 1.4-liter is standard on Aero models, mated to a six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic, where a few other tweaks help it hit a max of 41 mpg highway.
A 184-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder is the standard engine in SXT, Limited, and GT models. It's available with a stick or an automatic on SXT and GT models, while the Limited is auto-only. It provides adequate power without the surginess that's sometimes evident from the 1.4's turbo.
The base 2.0-liter model gets 25/36 mpg with a manual and 24/34 mpg with the automatic. The 1.4-liter turbo Dart is rated at 27/37 mpg with the dual-clutch automatic and without the Aero's tweaks; when fitted to an Aero car, it returns 28/41 mpg with the manual and 28/40 with the auto. The 2.4 returns 22/35 mpg with a manual or 23/35 mpg with the six-speed automatic.
The Dart practically aces both U.S. crash-test regimens--with top five-star ratings overall from the federal government and Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That combination makes it one of the highest-rated cars for safety in this class--next to only the Honda Civic. The car comes standard with 10 airbags, along with the usual suite of electronic safety systems, with both blind-spot alert and cross-traffic detection available, features that are new to the compact segment. Outward visibility is admirable--something that's usually not the case in these days of strengthened roofs for rollover safety.
The 2015 Dodge Dart starts at $17,490 for the base-level SE model, while the top Limited trim starts at $23,990.