2016 Dodge Dart Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 10, 2016

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.

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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 driveable 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.

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2016 Dodge Dart

Styling

The Dodge Dart makes something altogether fresh among small car designs, with Dodge influences from as far as the former Neon and the larger Charger muscle sedan.

If you think all compact sedans look alike, you'll want to include the 2016 Dodge Dart on your shopping list. From a design standpoint, we think that it really stands out. Rather than borrowing bits from other compact sedans, it looks up to Dodge's other models—like the Charger lineup—and in turn, gets some of the attitude of those muscle sedans.

At first take, the Dart looks like a modernized Neon, and to put it in modern terms, it's far more extroverted than a Corolla or Cruze. While it's larger than the Neon, the proportions are similar, including a wide stance and low cowl, with a window line that's deceptively low toward the front. Altogether the low fender tops and long flowing roofline make it look larger and closer to the ground. On closer scrutiny, the Dart takes a sort of middle ground between more chiseled models like the Cruze or VW Jetta and models with racier profiles like the Ford Focus and Kia Forte.

Just as with the larger Charger sedan, the Dart looks like it becomes more substantial near the tail. And in back the design definitely takes after the Charger as well, with a full-width taillight cluster offers optional LED illumination (152 diodes in all). The exhaust exits through a pair of 3-inch oval finishers in the apron, unlike more basic compacts that use only a single exhaust outlet.

For 2016, the Dart lineup gets a number of new special-appearance options. A new Sport Appearance Hood is available on GT models and some SXT models, while an SE Rallye Appearance Group adds a blacked-out look with Granite Crystal wheels. There are also a couple of new Hyper Black and Gloss Black wheel options that should help sharpen the look.

Inside the Dart, the dash is flowing ans sculpted yet just formal enough not to make you feel like you've outgrown the look. Well-equipped models come with an 8.4-inch display for the navigation, climate and audio, and a there's a smaller screen displaying vehicle information, sitting between the gauges in the instrument cluster. The instrument panel and control surfaces follow an oblong theme, with a "floating island" center bezel—another visual effect that we think works in making the Dart's dash look a little wider and more substantial.

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2016 Dodge Dart

Performance

The 2016 Dodge Dart covers a very wide range of performance, although it's unexpectedly leathargic with its base engine.

Although the 2016 Dodge Dart looks like a sporty sedan, that isn't always the case; and you need to be quite careful and deliberate in which models you choose if you want a Dart that truly lives up to the look.

Within the lineup, you can basically choose economy or power, but not both at the same time. The handling and ride make up for some of the engine deficiencies, however, but there are some odd omissions in the lineup from a performance perspective—and the underlying feeling that Dodge is trying to do too many things with the Dart at once.

Only one of the Dart's powertrain combinations—the biggest 2.4-liter inline-4 with the 6-speed automatic—feels fully sorted as we see it. And that takes away from the overall experience. The standard 160-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4 feels under-equipped (and improperly geared) to move this hefty compact.

The main issue is that it needs to be revved to extract its 148 lb-ft of torque, which is still not enough in a car that weighs more than 3,300 pounds. As such, the base Dart doesn't have the pep to accelerate quickly or merge with authority—especially with a full load.

The engine next up, the turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine, is much better. It puts out 160 hp, but ups torque to 184 lb-ft, making it considerably more entertaining to drive. The catch is that this engine feels sluggish below 2,500 rpm; the turbo's efficiency-minded tuning means you have to rev it from 3,000 to 6,000 rpm to make power. (Yes, gas mileage suffers as a result.) The turbo also has uneven power delivery, which is most annoying with the clunky dual-clutch automatic, while the manual is OK if you can try to anticipate the engine's delays. The 1.4 is standard on the Aero, which is somewhat of a fuel-economy special.

The best of the three—if you're willing to forgo some miles per gallon—is the 184-hp 2.4-liter inline-4 is standard in SXT, Limited, and GT models. It produces much better, more even-metered power that ordinary commuters are going to appreciate. Meanwhile, the transmission might not be the smoothest but it shifts at the right times—and there's something to be said for that next to the 9-speed transmissions in some of FCA's other vehicles.

Across the board, you can pair these with a Fiat-sourced 6-speed manual gearbox. The non-turbo engines can also be ordered with a 6-speed automatic transmission (provided, surprisingly, by Hyundai), while the 1.4 turbo's auto option comes from a 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

Throughout the model line, when you get into ride and handling the story's far better. The Dart's weight gives these models a solid, planted driving feel, with a good ride, and the suspension is tuned just right for the mission. There's some road feel evident through the power steering, too—a relative rarity nowadays.

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2016 Dodge Dart

Comfort & Quality

A smooth ride and roomy interior make the Dodge Dart more substantial and comfortable than many of its rivals.

The 2016 Dodge Dart is on the spacious side, among compact sedans. And it's not just relative impressions; the EPA actually classifies it as a mid-sizer. And functionality-wise, that's one of many bonuses of favoring the Dart over rival models.

First off, another big advantage of the Dart, within its class, is its refinement. Engines can be a little more vocal in this price-minded class; and the Dart has a level of noise insulation that keeps it all at bay. Aside from road noise, which can be a little frustrating on some surfaces, the Dart definitely ranks as one of the quietest small, affordable sedans.

The quality of the materials used inside is also fantastic. The trims, and even operating details like the vents, all have the level of attention you don't typical find in such cost-conscious models. Soft-touch materials are used throughout, and they match well with the harder plastics in places like the door pockets. Only on the lower dash do we see a few broad swathes of hard-textured black plastic.

Inside, the Dart feels as wide as any of the alternatives, and both the front and rear seats are very comfortable. You sit a little higher than expected, yet there's still enough head room for taller drivers, albeit with a little more of a legs-splayed position than is typical.

They've done a great job in providing places to store stuff, too. Throughout the cabin you'll find useful storage pockets, cubbies, and trays in the door and console. And the glove box 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. 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 seat backs; they provide a lot of access and space.

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2016 Dodge Dart

Safety

The Dart remains one of the safest choices in this class, with 10 standard airbags and great crash-test ratings.

The 2016 Dodge Dart covers all the bases for occupant safety—although there's definitely some room for improvement.

In both of the U.S. crash-test programs, the Dart does well. The NHTSA awards the Dart five stars overall and in all categories except rollover, where it scores a still-respectable four-star rating.

The IIHS gives the Dart top "Good" ratings in most categories, although 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.

Every Dart comes standard with 10 airbags, along with the usual suite of electronic safety systems, while blind-spot alert and cross-traffic detection are both available.

What's also missing, however, is any form of frontal crash mitigation, which is now necessary for earning IIHS' Top Safety Pick+ status.

Outward visibility is admirable, thanks to the triangular third side windows. It's impressive considering the need to design thick pillars for roof safety.

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2016 Dodge Dart

Features

The 2016 Dodge Dart is impressive from a feature standpoint—although countless builds almost give you too many choices.

A couple of model years ago, Dodge was boasting that the Dart was available in more than 100,000 build combinations. While that's a plus in being able to order exactly the car you want, most Americans buy cars off dealership lots—so finding the car you want might be considerably more difficult.

It's an entirely different approach than with a number of rival models—especially those from Kia and Hyundai—which tend to sell their compact sedans with a very limited number of builds, and only a few key option groups.

That said, the Dart does come in several primary trims: SE, SXT, Aero, Limited, and GT. The base SE model is about as no-frills as you can get nowadays; it actually does without air conditioning, and has manual locks and windows, but it includes 16-inch wheels and tires and power windows. This entry-level Dart is the only one equipped with the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Most of the rest of the lineup (except the Aero) now comes with the 2.4-liter inline-4.

The SXT includes that engine upgrade, plus air conditioning, premium cloth seats and door panel trim, a center console, keyless entry, a six-speaker AM/FM radio, 17-inch alloys. Options include a nine-speaker premium audio system, the 1.4-liter turbo-4, a sunroof, a rather nice dark-gray "denim" interior fabric, and the latest Uconnect infotainment system, which includes an 8.4-inch touchscreen (with Garmin navigation functionality offered as an option).

With the Dart Aero, you build on that feature set and add a bunch of fuel-saving items, including active grille shutters and low-rolling-resistance tires. The Aero comes only with the 1.4-liter turbo-4 and either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch auto.

The Dart Limited brings a chrome grille, contrast interior stitching, a power six-way driver's seat, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster display, extra gauges, active grille shutters, and an array of standard and optional features that include Uconnect with navigation, keyless ignition,17-inch polished aluminum wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, Nappa leather, heated front seats and steering wheel, and cross-path collision alert. Limited models all feature the 2.4-liter engine and automatic transmission. 

The 2016 Dart GT builds on the SXT's feature set and has a unique look—enhanced by a new Blacktop Package for 2016 (gloss-black aluminum wheels and blacked-out mirrors)—that includes 18-inch wheels, leather seats, and the 8.4-inch Uconnect package.

Other options include the Technology Group, which bundles parking sensors, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and HID headlamps.

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2016 Dodge Dart

Fuel Economy

The top 2016 Dodge Dart Aero is impressive; yet otherwise, the lineup is a fuel economy underachiever.

If you've shopped around and are familiar with fuel economy among compact cars, you're likely bound to be a bit letdown by the 2016 Dodge Dart.

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 inline-4 with 6-speed automatic transmission—achieves just 23 mpg city, 35 highway, 27 combined.

Specifically, the base 2.0-liter model gets 25/36/29 mpg with a manual and 24/34/27 mpg with an automatic. Step over to the 1.4-liter turbo Dart Aero and it returns 28/41/32 mpg with the manual and 28/40/32 mpg with the auto.

Some of the special Dart Aero features include forged aluminum suspension components replacing some steel parts, and it has some small aerodynamic aids along with low-rolling-resistance tires. Additionally, Dodge uses seven different underbody panels to smooth airflow under the car, along with fitting active grille shutters to some models (like the Aero) to reduce airflow through the engine compartment when cooling demands are low.

The 2.4-liter versions—our picks of the lineup, for drivability reasons—return 22/35/27 mpg with a manual or 23/35/27 mpg with a 6-speed automatic.

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December 2, 2015
2016 Dodge Dart 4-Door Sedan SXT *Ltd Avail*

upsetting features disappointed owner

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Highly disappointed with the features of the 2016 dodge dart won't buy another
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