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

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.

Dart SE, SXT, Rallye, and Limited models all come with the 2.0-liter engine standard, while the 1.4T is optional on all of those models; the 2.4-liter is standard on the R/T.

The 2013 Dodge Dart will have a six-speed manual as standard, a six-speed automatic with AutoStick manual control, and a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The manual is Fiat-provided, while the new dual-clutch is a Chrysler Group unit. The dual-clutch unit will be reserved for the 1.4T, in a combination that we expect to approach or meet 40 mpg on the highway.

Also helping that highway mileage is a “world-class” coefficient of drag. The Dart is the first Dodge to use an active grille-shutter system, which stops airflow through the lower portion during warmup or at highway speeds, opening them when more cooling is needed. And the underside of the Dart is covered in black-composite panels to aid aerodynamics and block road noise, too.

2013 Dodge Dart

2013 Dodge Dart

A compact, with an American-sized interior

Inside, the Dart has been designed to fit 'American-sized' occupants—read, a very wide range—including the Chrysler Group's 6'-7” head of interior design, Klaus Busse, who we noted can fit in the back without contortion. Chrysler already claims best-in-class hip and shoulder room, as well as an “exceptionally spacious, pleasing interior.”

An available “racetrack” lighting theme—what was teased early on in some special-release images[—provides a lit border outlining the 'floating island bezel' that contains gauges, audio, and climate controls. The glovebox is designed to fit an iPad, while the center console contains auxiliary jacks alongside storage spaces for smartphones and smaller electronics. There are also center-console side-storage pockets good for notebooks, pens, or phones. And in many trims, the cushion of the front passenger seat flips up to offer 'hidden' storage beneath.

The TFT instrument cluster, which all versions of the Dart get, can be reconfigured to display two analog displays or two digital displays, as well as other information through reconfigurable displays—which can be set differently for each driver via the keyfob. Throughout the lineup, Ruby Red LED accent lighting outlines audio and climate-control functions, as well as gauges (with LED rings).

The UConnect Touch system (the big screen in the middle of the dash) includes an 8.4-inch display—the largest touch-screen in this class—and it's offered in versions with or without navigation, as well as with or without voice command. Icons at the bottom of the screen include radio, personal audio, controls, climate, navigation, and phone, and menu functions are arranged in a way to logically group functions, and just as in MyFord Touch the display in front of the driver can show abbreviated info (turn-by-turn directions, for example). Premium navigation versions of UConnect Touch show SiriusXM Travel Link information, including fuel prices, movie times, weather, and sports updates.

Media-center functions of UConnect Touch include a USB port, an SD card reader, full iPod control, Gracenote music-database integration (for album artwork and track info), and the top Alpine premium audio system includes nine speakers and 506 watts.

2013 Dodge Dart

2013 Dodge Dart

Class-exclusive safety features

Ten airbags are standard on every 2013 Dart, including front seat-mounted side airbags, rear outboard pelvic airbags, front driver and passenger knee bags, and side-curtain bags covering both rows. A parkView rear backup camera, ParkSense parking assist, Hill-start Assist, Rainy Brake Support, and Brake Assist are all standard as well, as are four-wheel disc brakes. Blind-spot monitoring and Rear Cross Path Detection are available, with the latter a class exclusive.

Dodge claims more class-exclusives on the Dart than we can remember for any vehicle in recent history. Some of them include an integrated dual exhaust, 'racetrack' LED taillamps, the reconfigurable TFT display, a heated steering wheel, and the in-seat storage. Keyless Enter 'n' Go is also something we're not accustomed to seeing in this class; it lets the doors and the trunk be opened when you're in proximity, helps illuminate on approach, and works with the push-button ignition for starting.

Quite the opposite of Hyundai, which is offering its Elantra in just seven build combinations, Dodge will offer the Dart in a vast array of appearances and equipment combinations, including three engines, three transmissions, seven different wheel options, 12 exterior colors, and 14 interior color and trim combinations—as well as more than 150 Mopar options and packages.

We hope to bring you first-drive impressions sometime in the spring, with an on-sale date in the third quarter of this year. Stay tuned for more details, as well as live pictures and a video walkaround of the Dart from the Detroit auto show floor.

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