- 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
Remember the Neon? The 2014 Dodge Dart brings back some of its personality, but in a decidedly better package.
The 2014 Dodge Dart, now in its second model year, is already benefiting from a number of running changes made by Chrysler to make its first modern compact car more attractive to buyers. Revised engine and transmission options expand the range of running gear and improve the Dart's driveability, signaling that its maker is determined to keep plugging away in a segment where most buyers had long ago walked away because Chrysler offered nothing remotely compellling.
The Dart is the company's first compact sedan since the old Neon, though in theory it replaced the substandard and unloved Caliber hatchback. It competes against cars that include the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Mazda 3, among others--though it'll be a tough task to lure satisfied Honda and Toyota buyers into a Dodge dealer any time soon. One hidden Dart asset: In interior volume, it's almost a mid-size car, and feels like it.
In terms of exterior design, the Dart is the halfway point between the current Dodge Charger and a mint-condition, old-school Neon. It's larger than the Neon, but the proportions are similar–with a wide stance and a low cowl–but it's brawnier like the Charger, especially from the rear. 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.
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 styling says the Dart is a performance car, but whether the car lives up to that expectation depends on your engine choice. v 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. The 184-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder is now the standard engine in SXT, Limited and GT models, while a 41-mpg version of 1.4-liter is mated to a six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic in Aero model cars.
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.
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. 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 2014 Dodge Dart starts at $15,995 for the base-level SE model, and SXT, Aero and GT trims are available. 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.
2014 Dodge Dart
The 2014 Dodge Dart is distinctive and fresh, though you can see elements of the brawny Charger muscle sedan and cheerful old Neon.
The 2014 Dodge Dart doesn't look like all the other compact sedans, thankfully. Whether in visual proportions or in up-close details, the Dart strikes a refreshingly different pose—class that includes plenty of lookalikes.
If you're a good car-spotter, you might see the Dart as a halfway point between the current generation Dodge Charger and a mint-condition, old-school Neon. Its cowl isn't actually any lower than in other cars, but its wide stance, lower fender tops, and long flowing roofline make it look larger and lower. By design, it's neither as boxy and upright as the Chevy Cruze nor as slab-sided as the Ford Focus sedan. And in back, there's an upright, chiseled kick that nods to Dodge's muscle cars, like the Challenger and Charger, 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.
In all, it's far more extroverted than the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, or even the new 2014 Toyota Corolla. The styling says the Dart is a performance car, but whether the car lives up to that expectation depends on your engine choice.
Inside the Dart, the dash is businesslike yet 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, essentially.
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.
2014 Dodge Dart
The 2014 Dodge Dart remains full of delights and letdowns; go for the rev-happier 1.4T if you want driving fun, as the base 2.0-liter feels anemic here.
The 2014 Dodge Dart might appear to be a performance car, although whether it lives up to that expectation or not depends on which trim level (and engine) you choose.
The standard 160-horsepower 2.0-liter four is simply underpowered in this heavy compact, and its 'TigerShark' name is a bit misleading. It puts out 148 lb-ft of torque, it fall flat of expectations in this car that weighs about 3,300 pounds—considerably more than some of its rivals. 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. The catch is that this engine also feels sluggish below 2,500 rpm; 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. (Yes, gas mileage suffers as a result).
There's a third engine option that might be the sweetest, although we still haven't driven any Dart with it: The 184-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder is now standard in SXT, Limited and GT models.
Across the board, you can pair these with a Fiat-sourced six-speed manual gearbox. The non-turbo engines can also be ordered with a six-speed automatic transmission (provided, surprisingly, by Hyundai), while you can get the 1.4 turbo with a six-speed dual-clutch (automatic) gearbox as well.
We have one cautionary note about drivability: To eke out every last point of fuel economy, the transmissions are all seemingly tuned to keep the engines below 2,000 rpm in most circumstances—with tall gearing. 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. It might not be so happy in hilly terrain.
The news is better on the handling and suspension front. The weight that hurts performance gives the car a nice planted feel, and Dodge has managed to imbue the electric power steering with enough feedback and road feel.
2014 Dodge Dart
Comfort & Quality
The Dart is comfortable, spacious, and well designed inside; it rides well too, although tire roar can be an issue.
If the 2014 Dart seems a little bigger than you expected, that's no mistake. Based on its interior volume, the EPA actually classifies it as a mid-size sedan—and by the numbers it's right in the ballpark with its assumed bigger sibling, the Dodge Avenger.
That said, both the front and rear seats are very comfortable, and the cabin feels as wide as that of any competitor. The seating position is a little higher than in other compact sedans, with the driving position more legs-out than typical, but lower seat cushions are wide and long enough, yet supportive for a wide range of sizes.
Trunk space is surprisingly abundant, although the opening is quite small and constricted; for larger items you'll need to use the wide-opening rear doors and split folding rear seatbacks.
The Dart has quite a lot of useful storage pockets, cubbies, and trays in the door and console. And the glovebox is large enough to accept a laptop computer. There's also a storage compartment available in the front passenger seat, although some passengers noticed its reinforced cloth pull-tab.
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.Engine noise is a little more prominent than in other compact sedans, whether with the 1.4T or the 2.0-liter engine, but otherwise the Dart is relatively peaceful and quiet. There's a fair amount of road noise on some surfaces, although it probably ranks as one of the quieter cars of its kind.
Dodge says it's taken great care with the quality of its materials, including the operating mechanisms of its dashboard vents, and there's a huge improvement over the Chrysler products of the past.
One surprise is that there's no auto-up feature on at least the driver's window--a feature that should be standard equipment on every car in our opinion.
2014 Dodge Dart
Ten standard airbags plus crash-test results that are almost unanimously top-notch mean this is one of the safest small-car picks.
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.
Every 2014 Dodge Dart 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.
There's one area where the Dart could have done better, and that's in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test, where it achieved a second-best 'acceptable' rating. Chrysler notes that the car's frame uses 68 percent high-strength steels.
We appreciate how Dodge has considered outward visibility with the Dart—both with a high-enough driving position, and with the glass triangular third window behind the door windows on each side. Some other compacts could take a few lessons.
2014 Dodge Dart
With several class-exclusive features and lots of personalization options, the 2014 Dart impresses even in its crowded compact-car field.
Dodge claims that the Dart can be equipped in more than 100,000 different build combinations—a boast that should give buyers plenty of opportunity to find the 2014 Dart that suits them best.
While many rival models (like the Kia Forte or Hyundai Accent) are sold in a very limited number of builds, with just a few option packaged, Dodge 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 2014 Dodge Dart starts at $15,995 for the base-level SE model, and SXT, Aero and GT trims are available.
The base-level Dart SE 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, which 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, which includes an 8.4-inch center touchscreen.
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—essentially the luxury model of the lineup—adds to the Rallye 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, heated front seats and steering wheel, and cross-path collision detection. Limited models for 2014 all include the automatic transmission and get the navigation and Uconnect system standard, as well as keyless entry with push-button start.
The top of the range is the high-performance Dart GT, which includes the higher-output 2.4-liter engine along with a host of appearance extras.
2014 Dodge Dart
Gas mileage for the 2014 Dodge Dart remain unimpressive--and we haven't seen frugal real-world numbers from the 1.4T.
The 2014 Dodge Dart achieves the best gas mileage of any other vehicle in the Chrysler group; but among small cars, it's nothing especially noteworthy.
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 mileage-minded Dart Aero model; 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.