2013 Dodge Dart Limited Rocky Mountain Review By Dan Poler
Chrysler gets a compact sedan right. It's about time.
By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Chananel
Contrast-stitched heated leather seats. Digital “glass” dashboard. 8.4” touchscreen navigation system. Heated leather steering wheel. Blind-spot monitor system. Remote start. Keyless entry and drive. Ambient LED interior lighting. LED tail lamps. All this, in a car descended from Italian lineage.
This is the new Dodge Dart, priced under $25,000.
Wait, what? That can’t be right. Must be a luxury sedan. Maybe $50k, German or Japanese?
Seriously. Dodge Dart. Built in Belvidere, Illinois. And that $25,000 isn’t the base price for a stripped down model without power anything. Our tester came in the top-end Limited trim, loaded with options, and carrying an MSRP of $24,570.
It didn’t make sense to us, either, at first glance. Chrysler doesn’t have a solid reputation for building compact cars – in fact, the Dart is the first compact sedan since the since the discontinuation of the Neon nearly a decade ago, which was destined to be replaced by the acceptable-but-forgettable Caliber hatchback. But after spending some time with Dodge’s new compact sedan, we’ve come to the conclusion that Chrysler has knocked it out of the park with the Dart.
Courtesy of new corporate master Fiat, designers were able to draw from a large global parts bin and built the Dart upon the platform used for Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta – although significant work went into lengthening and widening the platform, as well as updating it to meet US safety standards. All told, 18 months and a billion dollars were invested in the new Dart, and it shows.
At first glance, the Dart’s exterior is maybe a touch uninspired, but distinctly Dodge – low and sleek, including the brand’s signature crosshair grille at the front concealing active shutters to improve fuel economy, and tail lights on the rear that look something like a more rounded version of those that grace larger models like the Challenger.
Inside the cabin, we find some traditional hard plastics and curious seams, but then we depart from the Dodge compact of years past. We find quite a decent amount of space, comfortable leather seats, and handy, unique features not found on any other vehicle at any price. How about a front passenger seat with built-in storage? Indeed, the seat bottom opens to reveal a small compartment for concealed storage.
Driver’s controls and displays are thoughtfully laid out. The dash is comprised of a tachometer to the left and a fuel gauge to the right, and a screen in the middle. That’s right, no analog speedo – the display takes care of that and seems almost infinitely customizable – the driver can select from a stable of different layouts for the speedo itself, and can configure which ancillary information is shown on the display as well – for example, compass, temperature, trip information, fuel economy, and so forth. The display is clear and readable with vibrant colors, and fairly simple to manipulate and configure as well. It dims nicely at night and doesn’t leak light from its backlight as we’ve seen with other displays of this type.
The dash and center console are surrounded by red ambient lighting which looks really nice; ambient lighting makes an appearance elsewhere throughout the vehicle as well, such as around door handles and pockets. An incredibly thoughtful touch we’ve not seen on any other vehicle is the use of two interior light dimmers rather than one – one for the instrument panel lighting, and one for ambient lighting. We’re surprised that this is unique to the Dart. It’s very much appreciated to be able to adjust (or turn off) ambient lighting independent of instruments.
Although there are physical controls for climate, radio power, and volume, most infotainment functionality is handled via the 8.4” center-mounted square touchscreen. Some vehicle control and configuration is handled here as well, including toggles for heated seats and steering wheel. We’ve bemoaned these setups in the past as being needlessly complex and difficult to use. Not the case here – The touchscreen is fast and responsive, logically laid out. Very few functions are more than two presses away until you get deep into vehicle configuration – for example, disabling blind spot monitoring does take a little bit to get to – but the day-to-day of changing a radio preset or turning on the heated steering wheel is easily accessible. A particularly nice touch is a brief few seconds when the car is started where seat and steering wheel heat controls are displayed without having to spend the extra click to get to the right menu – appreciated on a cold morning.
Driving the Dodge Dart is a bit hard to characterize. Ours came equipped with the base 2.0 liter engine, good for 160 HP. Perhaps the word to use is “fine” – it’s not going to win any races, but power feels available and consistent, the six-speed transmission is generally smooth although a bit hesitant at times. Steering is a touch on the vague side. There’s nothing bad about the driving experience in the slightest, but also nothing that will take one’s breath away – hence, it’s “fine”. Nicely, however, interior noise is quite muted – perhaps one of the quietest compact cars we’ve driven in a long time. We averaged 33 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving, an acceptable return.
Ultimately, we think Chrysler has a winner in the Dodge Dart. The real differentiator is time and energy spent getting it right – never have we tested a car and walked away with such a strong impression that a designer actually sat in it, used buttons and switches and controls, and thought about how drivers will use it in the real world… And didn’t stop tweaking and tuning until they got it just right, without compromise.
Nothing on the market matches the Dart’s recipe of value – features for the price. If you can get past the uninspired exterior and the sea of hard plastic inside, the Dart represents an incredible value, with features not found on any other car at any price. We wholeheartedly recommend the Dodge Dart and recognize it as the thundering return of the compact sedan from Chrysler.
2013 Dodge Dart Limited Base Price: $15,995.00 Price as Tested: $24,570.00 Engine Type: Tigershark 16-Valve 4-cyl Engine Size: 2.0 Liter Horsepower: 160 @ 6,400 RPM Torque (lb-ft): 148 @ 4,600 RPM Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic Wheelbase / Length (in): 106.4 / 183.9 Curb Weight: 3,186 Pounds per HP: 19.9 Fuel Capacity (gal): 15.8 Fuel Requirement: Regular Unleaded Tires: Continental ContiProContact, 225/45HR17 Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated disc / Solid disc Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson Strut / Multi-Link Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive EPA Fuel Economy - MPG city / highway / observed: 25 / 36 / 33 Towing capacity (lb): 1,000 Base Trim Price: $19,995.00
Options and Charges
Premium Group: $995.00 (Air Conditioning With Dual Zone Auto Temp Control, Heated Front Seats, Heated Steering Wheel, Limited Leather Seats, Universal Garage Door Opener, Remote Start System)
Technology Group: $995.00 (Automatic High Beam Headlamp Control, Blind Spot And Rear Cross Path Detection, Keyless Enter-N-Go Push Button Start, ParkSense Rear Park Assist System, Rain Sensitive Windshield Wipers, Remote Proximity Keyless Entry)
Uconnect 8.4N AM/FM/SAT/NAV: $495.00
SiriusXM Satellite Radio w/ 1-Yr Subscription: $195.00
Automatic Transmission: $1,100.00
Price as tested: $24,570.00