- Distinctive, sporty styling
- Surprising interior space
- Comfortable seating position
- Good outward visibility
- Class-leading safety ratings
- Anemic base engine
- Tire roar on certain roads
- Gas mileage only average
Remember the Neon? The 2013 Dodge Dart brings some of the same passion back to Chrysler's compact-car lineup.
The Dodge Dart is the first true small car from Chrysler since the Neon disappeared, but it's hardly small. By government standards, it's nearly a mid-size car, and its large back seat gives the Dart and edge on much of the competition in the segment. The Dart's rakish look also helps, as it fights for buyers with the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Honda Civic and Ford Focus–not to mention the Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra.
The Dodge Dart is the first true Chrysler small car since the Neon went away, but it's hardly small. By the Feds' standards, it's practically a mid-size car, and the large back seat gives the Dart one of the few trump cards it has in a tough segment brimming with excellent competitors. The Dart's rakish look also helps, as it fights for buyers with the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, the Ford Focus, and the Mazda 3--not to mention the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte.You could imagine the Dart as the product of a one-night stand between the latest Dodge Charger four-door sedan and a well-kept Plymouth Neon. It has the proportions of the old compact, with a low cowl and a wide stance, but many of the styling cues--especially at the rear--of the big, brawny, brute that tops today's Dodge car lineup. Inside, a flowing dashboard and console convey a sporty air, with the higher-end models featuring an optional large 8.4-inch center display and a smaller screen between the gauges in the instrument cluster.
The styling says the Dart is a performance car, but whether the car lives up to that expectation depends on your engine choice. The standard 160-horsepower 2.0-liter four is simply underpowered in this heavy compact. A 2.0-liter Dart 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 is tuned 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. We weren't able to drive the 2.4-liter R/T version of the Dart in our early road tests, so we can't comment on how that engine does in real-world use.
For gas mileage, the 1.4-liter turbo Dart is rated at 27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 32 mpg. The base 2.0-liter model gets a combined rating of 29 mpg, with both those figures being for the six-speed manual gearbox version. There's also a Dart Aero model coming with extra tweaks for slightly higher fuel efficiency.
At the wheel, the Dart's seats are comfortable front and rear, and the seating position isn't as low as you'd expect from the car's lines. Soft-touch materials on most parts of the dash coordinate nicely with harder plastic elements, though big swathes of hard black textured plastic still crop up in a couple of places inside the littlest Dodge.
The Dart has achieved what's essentially a bulls-eye in U.S. crash-test ratings--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 and Chevrolet Cruze. The car comes standard with 10 airbags, along with the usual suite of electronic safety systems and also both blind-spot alert and cross-traffic detection, which are new to the compact segment. Outward visibility is admirable--far from the case in these days of strengthened roofs for rollover safety.
The 2013 Dodge Dart starts at $15,995 for the base-level SE model, with the highest-priced Dart R/T performance model (coming a few months after the rest of the range) at $22,495. On top of that you'll have to add the mandatory $795 delivery fee, plus options from a lengthy list of ways to accessorize and personalize the Dart--which can be ordered in more than 100,000 different combinations, Dodge says.
2013 Dodge Dart
With elements of the brawnier Charger and the cheerful old Neon, the design of the 2013 Dodge Dart is distinctive and fresh.
The 2013 Dodge Dart is distinctively different in its visual proportions from its competitors in the compact sedan market, and that's probably a good thing. Its cowl isn't actually any lower than in other cars, but its wide stance, lower fender tops, and long flowing roofline make it appear larger and lower. That means it's neither as slab-sided like the Ford Focus sedan nor as upright as the Chevy Cruze.
And it's far more modern than the aging Toyota Corolla or the bland Honda Civic, meaning that its only real competitor in the style department is the Hyundai Elantra--which looks cheap in some details when you park the two side by side.
In proportion, the Dart is almost reminiscent of the late Dodge Neon--Chrysler's last compact sedan--but with the upright Dodge "cross-hair" grille. Then at the rear, the Dart has elements of the large, brawny Dodge Charger sedan, with a full-width taillight cluster that offers the option of fitting 152 LED lights inside. The exhaust tips are large 3-inch oval shapes in the rear apron, unlike more basic compacts that use only a single exhaust pipe.
You'd never know that the car sits on stretched and widened underpinnings from a small, Italy-only Alfa Romeo Giulietta sedan. Which is a good thing; the new Dart looks distinctively Dodge. And its looks can likely stand up to marketing that may use a theme like, "No more boring beige compact sedans!"
Inside the Dart, the dashboard is businesslike but flowing and sculpted. Dodge's designers said they intended users to have fun while looking at the shapes, and perhaps the most noticeable feature is what they call the "floating island" center bezel--an oblong instrument panel and control surface that sits most of an inch proud of the surrounding dashboard housing.
Higher-end models feature an 8.4-inch center display--the largest in the class, Dodge underlines--and a smaller display screen with user-settable information between the two large gauges, the whole thing covered with a large cowl. We weren't able to check any low-end trim levels, but the red stitching on higher models is quite fetching.
2013 Dodge Dart
The heavy 2013 Dodge Dart's 2.0-liter base engine is anemic, but rev the 1.4-liter turbo and the handling comes into its own.
While the design of the 2013 Dodge Dart may say performance car, the base engine falls short on that flashy promise. The standard 2.0-liter 'TigerShark' four-cylinder engine puts out 160 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, and it's simply underpowered in a car that weighs "about 3,300 pounds"--heavier than many of its competitors. In more demanding driving, whether it's quick acceleration from a stoplight or merging into fast-flowing freeway traffic from uphill ramps, the 2.0-liter Dart feels significantly slower than most competitors.
The optional turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine puts out the same 160 hp, but 184 lb-ft of torque, and is considerably more entertaining to drive. But you'd better enjoy driving like an Italian, which is to say keeping your foot in the engine and routinely revving it from 3,000 to 6,000 rpm, because that's where the power is. And we suspect the gas mileage will suffer as a result (we got 26.2 mpg in a couple hours of driving, against the EPA combined rating of 32 mpg for that model).
Both engines are available with a Fiat-sourced six-speed manual gearbox. The base 2.0-liter engine can also be ordered with a six-speed automatic transmission (provided, surprisingly, by Hyundai), and within a few months, the 1.4 turbo will add a six-speed direct-shift automatic manual as well.
To eke out every last point of fuel economy, the transmissions are tuned to keep the engines below 2,000 rpm in most circumstances. That means that when power's needed, not one but two downshifts are required--and the driver has to learn to anticipate and plan for that.
The news is better on the handling and suspension front. The weight that hurts performance gives the car a nicely planted feel, and Dodge has managed to imbue the electric power steering with enough feedback and road feel that you don't notice it--unlike the numb, lifeless steering offered by Toyota and too many other competitors.
Our first Dart road test didn't include the 2.4-liter R/T performance model, which will arrive later than the rest of the range, so we can't comment on how that more powerful engine feels in real-world use.
2013 Dodge Dart
Comfort & Quality
The 2013 Dodge Dart is comfortable to ride in, front and rear, and seems well-built, though tire roar on some roads is an issue.
Based on its interior volume, the EPA classifies the 2013 Dodge Dart as a mid-size sedan--in the same class as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Chevy Malibu, and Ford Fusion. But Dodge is pricing it to compete with compacts one size smaller, so if you think of it as a compact sedan with some "bracket creep," it's a large car for its class.
Both the front and rear seats are comfortable to sit in, and the cabin is definitely as wide as any competitor. Though the Dart looks low, the driver and passengers actually sit high enough that they don't feel lower than other sedans in traffic. The seating position is still slightly more legs-out than more upright compacts, which may not be to everyone's taste.
Most interior surfaces are covered in soft-touch plastics, with color and texture used as accents--which matches the car's sporty flavor--more than the more traditional wood and chrome. The softer materials match well with the harder plastics in places like the door pockets, though on the lower dash there are a few broad swathes of hard-textured black plastic that echo the bad old days.
The Dart has quite a lot of useful storage pockets, cubbies, and trays in the door and console. And by relocating the air-conditioning hardware, the designers were able to make a glovebox large enough to accept a laptop computer--perhaps a first, and certainly unusual. There's also a storage compartment available in the front passenger seat, though we found the reinforced cloth pull-tab to open it noticeably uncomfortable to sit on.
The Dart has a surprisingly large trunk, although the opening is small and more vertical than horizontal. Questioned about this, the designers noted that the wide-opening rear doors and split folding rear seat-back would allow larger items to be loaded through side doors if they didn't fit through the trunk opening. Which is true, but not necessarily what every owner wants to hear. Dodge has also disappointingly joined the parade of carmakers who omit an external trunk release, although at least the Dart has a dash button to pop the lid in addition to a button on the keyfob.
Under most circumstances, the Dart is relatively peaceful and quiet. But keep your foot down to get the most performance out of either the 1.4 turbo or the base 2.0-liter engine and you'll find both powerplants make themselves known up front. The car also seemed remarkably sensitive to road surfaces, with smooth and freshly-paved asphalt proving almost noiseless but rougher, older surfaces raising noise levels considerably.
Dodge says it's taken great care with the quality of its materials, including the operating mechanisms of its dashboard vents. In the preproduction models we tested, we found only one glaring flaw: a glovebox handle and lock that could have come from the cheapest of Korean cars 20 years ago. The interior designers promised a careful look at the part before production models reach dealers in June 2012.
We were also surprised not to find an auto-up feature on at least the driver's window--a feature that, in 2012, should be standard equipment on every car in our opinion.
The Dart carries a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty on the car, with 5 years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain.
2013 Dodge Dart
The 2013 Dodge Dart is near the head of its class, with top-notch safety ratings in most tests, plus 10 airbags.
The Dart has achieved what's essentially a bulls-eye in U.S. crash-test ratings--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 and Chevrolet Cruze.
The only blemish in its crash-test results is a second-best 'acceptable' rating in the new small overlap frontal test from the IIHS.
Chrysler notes that the car's structure uses 68 percent high-strength steels in several different grades.
Every 2013 Dodge Dart comes with ten airbags as standard, along with the usual list of electronic safety systems and a few firsts for the compact sedan class, including available cross-path collision detection and blind-spot warning systems.
Unlike the Elantra, the Dart actually has a glass triangular third window behind the door windows on each side. This enlarges the glass area, and combined with a lower trunk height than some competitors, it gives the Dart surprisingly good visibility to the rear and rear sides. Some other compacts could take a few lessons from Dodge in this department.
2013 Dodge Dart
The 2013 Dodge Dart comes in a plethora of trim levels, with several class-exclusive features and lots of personalization options.
According to its maker, the 2013 Dodge Dart can be specified in more than 100,000 different combinations of trim levels and options, giving buyers the opportunity to choose exactly which features they want in their car. Dealers will order a range of standard equipment levels, of course, but Dodge is proud that it has "unbundled" its most popular options so buyers can mix and match at will--and it says it can deliver a specially ordered car in 30 to 45 days.
The base-level Dart SE starts at $15,995 (an additional mandatory $795 delivery fee is added to all prices). It features 16-inch wheels and tires and power windows, but forgoes air conditioning. It also has manual windows and door locks, cloth seats, and an AM/FM radio with four speakers.
Next up is the SXT trim level, which Dodge expects to be the highest-volume model, at $17,995. It adds premium cloth trim and door panel trim, a center console, keyless entry, a six-speaker AM/FM radio, air conditioning, and 17-inch alloy wheels and tires. Options include a nine-speaker premium audio system, the 1.4-liter turbo engine, a sunroof, a rather nice dark-grey "denim" interior fabric, and the latest Uconnect infotainment system with the 8.4-inch center touchscreen display.
Above that is the Dart Rallye model, starting at $18,995, with a unique front fascia, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, fog lamps, premium cloth seats, and steering-wheel audio controls.
The Dart Limited is the luxury model, which adds to the Rallye specification a chrome grille, contrast interior stitching, a power six-way driver's seat, a 7-inch Thin Film Transistor instrument cluster, extra gauges, active grille shutters, and an array of standard and optional features that include 17-inch polished aluminum wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, Nappa leather (the first time it's been used in a compact, Dodge says), heated front seats and steering wheel, and cross-path collision detection. The Limited model starts at $19,995.
The top of the range, which will lag the rest of the Dart lineup by a few months, is the high-performance Dart R/T. Its selling point is the 184-hp 2.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine, and it too has unique front fascia styling. It starts at $22,495.
As for standalone options, Dodge is charging $595 for the 8.4-inch touchscreen display--it doesn't have to be bundled into a higher trim level if the buyer just wants the screen--and $395 for polished alloy wheels. A range of more than a dozen exterior paints and interior trim colors can be specified at no extra charge, with black interiors available on all models and some colors and textures limited to certain models. Some colors work better than others; we think bright red liners for the hard-plastic door pockets would get tiresome pretty quickly.
While heated seats and steering wheel are available, Dodge bundles heated power door mirrors in with the air conditioning, meaning that as yet, there's no "winter package" combining the most useful options for those in cold climates. Dodge suggested, though, that if it sees demand at its dealers for such a package, it might well offer one in the future.
There's also the Dart Aero model, which hasn't been priced yet. It will arrive in the third quarter of the year, and is essentially an SXT model with additional fuel economy features--including low-rolling resistance tires, some mild aerodynamic enhancements, and lighter-weight suspension components.
2013 Dodge Dart
Full ratings aren't out yet, but the 2013 Dodge Dart's fuel efficiency is only average in the competitive compact segment.
The Dodge Dart earns the best gas mileage ratings of the Chrysler group, but among small cars, they're still not quite the most efficient.
For the base 2.0-liter Dart, the gas mileage figures include a combined rating of 29 mpg, with 36 mpg highway for the six-speed manual model.
Fuel efficiency rises to a combined 32 mpg for the 1.4-liter turbo model with the six-speed manual (27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway). In a relatively energetic road test, our 1.4-liter test car delivered 26.2 mpg.
Dodge notes that it uses seven different underbody panels to smooth airflow under the car, along with fitting active grille shutters to some models to block airflow through the engine compartment when cooling demands are low. All these items reduce aerodynamic drag.
As for the Dart Aero, it provides better city and highway mileage through lower weight and better aerodynamics. The Dart Aero is lighter than the standard 1.4-liter model with six-speed manual, with forged aluminum suspension components replacing some steel parts, and it has some small aerodynamic aids along with low-rolling resistance tires. Fuel economy is as high as 41 mpg highway.
The Chevrolet Cruze Eco, a special model that compares head-to-head with the Dart Aero, gets 33 mpg combined, made up of 28 mpg city and a stunning 42 mpg highway for its six-speed manual version. Comparing the greenest models, Dodge says simply, "Ours is more fun to drive."