- Class-leading safety ratings
- Good seating position
- Sporty, distinctive styling
- Lackluster gas mileage
- Anemic base engine
- Road noise and tire roar
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.
The Dart is a relative newcomer to the compact-sedan segment, and it's settled into the as an often-overlooked model—partly because of the way it's presented and packaged, and in other ways because of its relatively short stay in its present form.
While competing models like the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, and Volkswagen Jetta have been building their reputations for decades, the Dart throws Dodge remarkably close to the inner bullseye, with a sporty front-wheel-drive compact sedan.
It's a feat, as the Dart replaced a car that was unfocused and unloved—the ungainly Caliber hatchback. While the Dart feels far more focused on a meaningful part of the market, it simultaneously feels a little like a niche model when you actually hold it up against those rival models.
The Dart looks like an heir to the Neon design heritage on the outside, and that's a good thing. With a wide stance and a low cowl. the look is far more substantial than some other models in this class. And like the Charger, with its chunky, spirited look, there's a gravitas that isn't always present in an affordable model. Inside, the flowing dashboard, takes the look in sporty directions, while the well-equipped models in the lineup include an 8.4-inch display for navigation, climate, and audio controls, as well as a smaller screen for vehicle information between the gauges in the instrument cluster.
The 2016 Dodge Dart remains almost shockingly spacious inside. It's practically a mid-size car in some respects. Seats are comfortable front and rear, although the seating position isn't as low as you'd guess based on the car's lines (there are good and bad aspects of that). There are still rather large swaths of textured plastic, yet nearly everywhere you'd touch, the surfaces are soft and coordinate nicely with the details. For such a low-priced car, the cabin appointments feel warm and inviting.
Performance is the area in which the Dart is perfectly adequate, yet not as inspiring as the exterior styling suggests. Engine choice really determines whether it behaves like a sporty car. The Dart is heavier than most other compact sedans, which means that the standard 160-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder can be unduly sluggish when merging into heavy freeway traffic on an uphill ramp while heavily loaded, or simply road-tripping with friends aboard. Although the 6-speed automatic that most will choose does a great job choosing the right gear.
Opt for the turbocharged 160-hp 1.4-liter inline-4 and you'll find more torque, better acceleration, and a sportier, more responsive drive. But it's a bit of a head-scratcher the way it's presented, as you have to keep your right foot firmly planted to make it happen, and even then it's geared too tall for the engine's torque and power curves (apparently for the sake of keeping revs low at highway speeds).
The 1.4-liter is standard on Aero models, mated to a 6-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic, where a few other tweaks help it hit a max of 41 mpg highway. But if you're willing to part with a few miles per gallon, we think that the best option of the lineup is the 184-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that's standard 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. The Dart is more predictable and drivable with the bigger engine than with the 1.4-liter turbo option.
The Dart does well on federal crash tests and earned a five-star overall rating. It scores well on independent IIHS testing, except in the small-overlap crash where it managed only an "Acceptable" score. The Dart is missing front collision warnings, which others in its segment have added.
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 Dart comes in several primary trims: SE, SXT, Aero, Limited, and GT. The base SE model or mid-range SXT is probably the way we'd get a Dart, to keep its price low. As such, the GT is about as no-frills as you can get nowadays—with manual locks and windows, and no air conditioning. But it does include 16-inch wheels and tires and power windows. And for those who want to make the most of the Dart's sporty look, there's a new Blacktop Package for the Dodge Dart GT, including gloss-black aluminum wheels and blacked-out mirrors.
Only in Dart Aero guise does this model top 40 mpg on the highway, and the engine combination that's most widely available—the 2.4-liter four with 6-speed automatic transmission—achieves just 23 mpg city, 35 highway, 27 combined.