2013 Dodge Dart Preview: 2012 Detroit Auto Show

January 8, 2012
Forget about the Caliber compact that's still at dealerships, because especially with its replacement, the 2013 Dodge Dart, finally waiting in the wings, it already feels like a model long obsolete. With full details now revealed here at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, we can say that the 2013 Dart is looking like the somewhat bigger, better, more refined and better-performing successor to the Neon that Chrysler was never able to deliver under Daimler leadership.

While it's still a little too early to call the Dart a bullseye—it's looking good, but we'll have to wait until we can get a first drive—Dodge is aiming the Dart at the middle of the compact-sedan market, which means it's positioned for everyone from first-time Millennial buyers and small families to busy commuters and empty-nest couples.

The design of the Dart inherits nothing that we can see from the Caliber, yet it seems to pick right up where the Neon left off. Especially from some angles, looking at the front, we can see some clear lineage from the Neon. The wedge-like profile, arched roofline, and low hoodline all call up some nostalgia yet look contemporary, while in the details in front and in back (with taillights that go full-width) it's easy to see that it's the smaller sibling in the lineup to the Avenger sedan and especially the Charger. Flanks are nicely sculpted—mostly smooth, and not too rippled—and inside and out the nice blacked-out trim and details are a pleasant departure from the excessive, cheapened chrome trim we've been seeing the past several years.

Last month, when we brought you some details and teaser pictures of the Dart's interior—including a reconfigurable TFT (thin-film transistor) gauge cluster and a class-exclusive UConnect Touch touch-screen system—we knew we were up for a sea change. But with the full set of pictures released this morning, we see that the Dart looks beautifully detailed, with contrast-stitching, nicely bolstered seats, and soft-touch surfaces that make every effort it seems to compensate for the Caliber's dollar-store interior.

2013 Dodge Dart

2013 Dodge Dart

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Cross an Alfa with a Charger; add some eco sensibility...

The Dart is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta but, at about 183 inches long and 72 inches wide, ends up about a foot longer than that Euro-market hatchback. Dodge boasts that the new Dart's structure is comprised of 68 percent high-strength steel for a lightweight, solid structure—curb weights begin just below 3,200 pounds—and its layout begins with the same basic underpinnings as the Giulietta, with a MacPherson-strut front suspension and bi-link independent rear setup. And the setup, they say, offers reduced road noise than other vehicles in this class.

The base engine for the 2013 Dart is a 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine, making 145 pound-feet of torque. A step up from that (in both performance and fuel economy) is a 160-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged in-line four making 184 lb-ft; and a 184-horsepower, 171-lb-ft, 2.4-liter in-line four is at the top of the lineup for performance. The 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter engines get a new name—TigerShark—but they're essentially reworked versions of the World Engine (GEMA) family in the previous Caliber, with new noise-and-vibration measures including an aluminum engine cover. The 2.4-liter has been fitted with Fiat MultiAir technology for better breathing and improved fuel efficiency, however it's been fitted with lighter pistons and a number of other changes. The middle engine, the 1.4-liter turbo, is essentially the same engine as in the Fiat 500.

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