2013 Dodge Dart Road Test Review
2013 Dodge Dart puts Dodge back in contention for the compact car crown
Scores High: Attractive styling inside and out, wide variety of trims levels and options, spacious interior
Scores Low: Engines could use more power and refinement, real-world pricing ramps up quickly
Total Car Score Analysis
As an all-new entry in the compact car category, the 2013 Dodge Dart carries a heavy burden. Dodge hasn’t offered a truly competitive model in this segment for over five years. Furthermore, the Dart represents the first fully collaborative effort between Chrysler and Fiat since the automakers merged three years ago.
With an all-new body riding on an Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform, Dodge has created a compact sedan with exterior flair and confident handling. By extending the original Giulietta platform 12 inches in length and 2 inches in width the Dart also offers substantial interior space (the EPA classifies it as a midsize car) and a confident-yet-comfortable ride quality.
But the new Dodge’s most unique trait is the wide variety of trim levels, features and options available to suit almost any buyer’s tastes. In what has become an ultra-competitive category, the 2013 Dodge Dart’s trump card is a level of customer choice and personalization not typically seen in this price range.
Because the 2013 Dart is an all-new model riding on an all-new platform Dodge’s designers and engineers were free to establish an exterior design almost from scratch. Of course specific Dodge trademarks, such as the crosshair grille and thin taillights, had to be incorporated into the new design, but the Dart’s overall shape and proportions don’t have a familiar feel. Given the brand’s recent history in this segment, that’s probably a good thing.
For example, the rising body line between the Dart’s front wheel well and rear taillight, along with its wider fender flairs, contrasts with the sloping front, side, and rear glass (designers call this “tumblehome”) to give the compact sedan an aggressive and sporty stance. This basic shape is enhanced by larger (up to 18-inch) wheels, wraparound LED taillights and a blacked-out grille treatment in premium trims such as the Dart Rallye and R/T.
Dodge’s engineers assured us the shape is also quite aerodynamic (.285 coefficient of drag) even in base SE form, while available active grille shutter (AGS) technology will open the lower grill at low speeds to increase engine cooling and close it at highway speeds to reduce aerodynamic drag. A forthcoming Dart Aero (available later in 2012) will feature additional underbody enhancements, along with low rolling resistance tires and reduced weight, to achieve a projected 41 mpg on the highway.
With so many versions available it may be difficult for Dart buyers to decide which model to order. With three engines, three transmissions, six wheel designs, 7 interior colors and 12 exterior colors the 2013 Dart is supposed to offer over 100,000 possible combinations for buyers to choose from – if they are willing to order the car and wait 4-6 weeks for delivery.
The Dart R/T with the 2.4-liter engine (184 horsepower, 171 pound-feet of torque) was not available for us to drive and will not be available for purchase until the second half of 2012. That left us with the base 2.0-liter and optional 1.4-liter engines to sample. Both engines are rated at 160 horsepower, but the smaller 1.4-liter is turbocharged and makes 184 lb-ft. of torque versus the base engine’s 148 lb-ft.
If there’s an issue that will streamline the multitude of Dart choices it’s this: we didn’t notice much difference in performance between the 2.0-liter and 1.4-liter engines. While the 1.4-liter turbo is badged as the “premium” powerplant (and one that offers better fuel efficiency) we’d likely stick with the base 2.0-liter, at least given the incremental bump in acceleration we experienced when stepping up to the turbo. We didn’t perform instrumented testing, but we’re guessing a real-world difference of approximately one second or less in zero-to-60 times, with both engines taking around 9 seconds.
The 2.0-liter is rated at 25 city mpg, 36 highway mpg and 29 combined mpg with the manual transmission while the 1.4-liter turbo is rated at 27/39/32 with the manual (no mpg figures for the automatic transmissions are available yet). As mentioned, a future Aero model should achieve at least 41 mpg on the highway, but will only come with a manual transmission.
Those 9-second zero-to-60 times should also place the Dart roughly in line with the competition when lined up against a Cruze, Elantra or Focus at a stoplight, though depending on transmission and other equipment it might be struggling to keep up. Beyond acceleration, the amount of noise and vibration generated by both engines is similarly up to (but not better than) class standards. There’s definitely more opportunity in this area if Dodge wants to further elevate the Dart’s status.
The Dart’s two transmission choices, a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic (another automatic, with dual-clutch technology, will be available later in 2012) are also competitive without being exceptional. Both operate effectively, with the automatic delivering responsive up- and downshifts and the manual proving quite user friendly. One area where Dodge is stepping up to the highest of class standards is warranty protection, where the engine and transmission will be covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles (3-year/36,000-mile warranty coverage protects the rest of the car).
Our driving route offered minimal opportunity to experience the Dart’s handling capabilities, but the few chances we got to push the vehicle in sweeping corners or rapid switchbacks suggested it’s among the more confident cars in the category. A rack-mounted electric steering system, a MacPherson strut front suspension and a bi-link independent rear suspension provide both a smooth ride over most pavement irregularities and excellent stability around bends.
It became clear when sampling the Dart in back-to-back drives against its competition that while the Dodge is quite good in overall driving dynamics it doesn’t set new standards in any one area. That’s not necessarily a knock against the Dart given how rapidly compact cars have improved in just the past two years. Perhaps the upcoming R/T version will prove a standout in terms of performance.
Interior Design and Function
The same level of variety offered in the 2013 Dodge Dart’s exterior is carried through to the interior. While a base SE model features traditional analog gauges and an expected level of plastic in much of the cabin, the design and material quality can be upgraded with a customizable TFT display for the primary gauges and soft-touch material in key areas on higher trim levels. Optional interior contrast colors, like Diesel Grey, Ruby Red and Citrus Peel, give the Dart Rally a creative look and feel when seated behind the wheel.
There’s also a higher grade of optional ($995) leather that felt extremely supple in a Dart Limited we sampled with Ceramic White seats. The upscale look and feel of this leather upholstery was enhanced by an 8.4-inch central touchscreen screen (with optional navigation for $495) and ambient lighting around the gauge cluster, in the door handles and throughout the storage areas. For buyers seeking an upscale compact car experience the Limited model is worth a closer look.
Regardless of trim or options all Darts feature plenty of hip and shoulder room in every seating position. Legroom is excellent up front and more than adequate in the rear for full-size adults, thanks in part to functional “foot room” under the front seats. Those rear seats also fold down to expand the 13.1 cubic foot trunk.
Primary Features and Options
The new Dart offers some impressive standard features, such as 10 airbags and LED taillights, in all models. However, air conditioning is optional on the base SE model and all models come standard with the six-speed manual transmission -- meaning you’ll have to spend extra to get an automatic. With a starting price of $15,995 for the SE the Dart appears to undercut much of the competition. But a destination charge of $795, plus an air conditioning package (includes power door locks, power mirrors and remote keyless entry) priced at $995 pushes the SE’s cost up to $17,885. At that point you’re probably better off with a Dart SXT model that includes air conditioning, 17-inch aluminum wheels, higher-grade cloth upholstery and a sliding armrest for $17,995…plus a $795 destination charge. And remember, none of these prices include an automatic transmission that will likely add another $800-$1,000.
For our money we’d go with the Dart Rally at $18,995. It includes all the SXT items plus a blacked-out front fascia and headlight treatment, fog lamps, dual exhaust outlets, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, plus cruise control and steering wheel audio controls. The optional Hyper Black wheels ($395), an 8.4-inch touchscreen with reverse camera ($595), Garmin navigation ($495) and that $795 destination charge bring the total to $21,275. Figure another $800 if you want the six-speed automatic, bringing the total to $22,075.
Additional features, like remote start ($495), a 506-watt Alpine audio system with 10 speakers ($495), or Nappa leather with heated seats and a heated steering wheel ($995) can be added as well, depending on trim.
It’s Perfect For
For compact car buyers looking to personalize their new-car purchase the 2013 Dodge Dart offers a wide range of possibilities. It’s not the fastest car in the category, and the price rises quickly with the higher trim levels and options, but it is arguably the most attractive and expressive model in the segment.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $18,995
Options on Test Vehicle: 8.4-inch touchscreen ($595), Garmin navigation system ($495), Hyper Black 17-inch wheels ($395), Destination Charge ($795)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $21,275
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The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.