Dodge returns to compact segment with Italian-influenced sedan
There’s a billboard along the side of the highway here that reads “Everything is BIGGER in Texas.”
That holds true for a lot of things. The trucks and SUVS that grace the city roadways are not of the compact breed. The portions of food are not minute, either. Neither are the coiffed hairdos of the women in town. Darn, I knew I should have backcombed my blond bonnet.
But there are things in Austin that mimic ‘bigness’ without denting the wallet at the fuel pump, adding inches to the hips while eating or damaging hair in the grooming process.
A primo example? The 2013 Dodge Dart.
Using the Italian version of ‘prime’ is befitting. After all, this is the first Chrysler Group vehicle built on Fiat Group architecture. Furthermore, the Dart is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform, although it has been lengthened by a foot and widened by two inches to accommodate the North American consumer.
That said, it still fits into the compact car segment despite having interior room that ventures into mid-size sedan territory. It also boasts best-in-class hip and shoulder room.
What it’s also ‘big’ on are the trim and powertrain options.
With five variants of Dart to choose from — including the base SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited and R/T — and three powertrains, this compact sedan isn’t lacking in available configurations.
The three 4-cylinder engine choices are the base Tigershark 2.0-litre, the 1.4-litre Multiair Intercooled Turbo and the Tigershark 2.4-litre Multiair. Then there’s the choice of a 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic or the 6-speed Dual Dry Clutch Transmission (DDCT).
Depending on the trim chosen, you’ll then have the option to match it with the various engines, or vice versa. Are you still with me?! Just talking about the engines and transmissions alone would constitute an entire story. But we’re here to talk about what enthusiasts or potential buyers really want to know: How does it drive?
To preface, I was at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit when Dodge’s new compact was unveiled. My first impressions weren’t necessarily two thumbs up. While I didn’t mind what they’ve done design-wise, I was skeptical that it would be able to keep up with the stiff competition in the segment, especially on the inside. Judging by the company’s track record, I didn’t feel that was an unfair pre-assessment.
But when I sat inside the cabin last week and checked out the soft touch materials, decorative stitching and a class-exclusive floating island bezel, I was rather impressed. When I learned the beige/light-coloured seating surfaces — whether cloth or leather — have been specifically treated to better withstand dye transfer from dark denim, I was doubly impressed.
On top of that, there are 14 different interior combinations, 12 exterior colours, seven different wheels and over 150 Mopar accessories to choose from, giving you a big selection to customize your Dart.
But colour combinations aside, protecting passengers is also atop the agenda for this compact sedan. With 10 airbags standard across all trims, plus standard 4-wheel disc ABS brakes, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Traction Control, the North American automaker hits the bull’s eye in the safety department. Okay, I just had to make that one reference. Forgive me.
On the road, I had the opportunity to drive two Dart trims. The first being the SXT with the 1.4-litre turbo engine matched with a 6-speed manual transmission. This particular power train combo produces 160 horse power and 184 lbs.-ft of torque.
What I found is that it lacks lowend torque, and can be rather sleepy in the pep department. But when it’s nestled into the sweet spot of the rpm range (upwards of 3,500 rpm), the vehicle comes alive and is quite a treat to drive. Granted, fuel economy might be adversely affected when cruising at a higher rpm range, but I think it’s worth it! The Dart really has an aptitude to fly.
The same characteristics were echoed when driving the Rallye trim with the Tigershark 2.0-litre engine mated to the 6-speed automatic, which produces 160 horsepower and 148 lbs.-ft of torque. Letting the engine rev higher in the manual mode is definitely where the fun is. But for those who drive more conservatively, it does that just fine, too.
I will point out that the automatic transmission shifts between gears effortlessly. Again, another attribute that surprised me.
Where the Dart will likely have a wheel up over its competition is with its driving dynamics. The electric dual pinion steering has a very comfortable weight to it, whether driving at low or high speeds.
Additionally, much TLC has gone into making the Dart notably quiet and stable at highway speeds.
Did I expect to like the 2013 Dart as much as i did? not really. but dodge is rejoining the ranks of a segment with a strong and impressive product.
And with a starting MSRP of $15,995 for the base model, they’ve got a good thing going for them. Molto bene — I mean, very good! Expect to see the 2013 Dodge Dart hitting showroom floors in July. Visit www.dodge.ca for more information.