By on August 17, 2012

You’ve got to give Sergio Marchionne credit for at least one thing: he’s a masterful negotiator. The Italian-Canadian FIAT exec bluffed General Motors into paying $2 billion for the right to NOT buy the Italian company. He went on to acquire a controlling stake in Chrysler for no cash. Instead, FIAT agreed to provide the auto maker, hollowed out by Daimler and Cerberus, with powertrains and platforms. Three years after that deal, Chrysler has introduced the first car developed for North America around FIAT innards, the compact Dodge Dart sedan (pre-production review).

Take an Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback, stretch it and widen it, add a trunk, and you somehow end up with a car that, aesthetically, would have fit right into Dodge’s late 1990s lineup. The distended front clip and clean, rounded surfaces recall those of the Avenger coupe, with a hint of second-generation Neon. But the height of the car is pure 2012, so there’s a lot more metal over the wheel openings than you’d have found on a circa-2000 Dodge. Perhaps the Dart will look right in R/T form (coming this fall). The SXT Rallye’s wheels, though 17 inches in diameter, appear undersized. This said, those who find the styling of Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra overwrought might prefer the Dart’s simpler forms.

Parts of the Dart’s interior appear similarly dated, with the center stack and console marked by the organic shapes and non-flush faceplates of a 1990s Pontiac. Other parts, most notably the reconfigurable LCD instruments in the upper trim levels and the large 8.4” “Uconnect” touchscreen, could not be more current. Then there’s the grating over the speakers, which looks like it belongs in a different car on a different continent, if not a different planet. This hodgepodge cleans up fairly well in the upper trim levels, where the hood over the instruments is upholstered, the upper IP surround is lit in red, and additional splashes of color are available on the door panels and seats. The exterior is available in a dozen colors, while the interior is offered in 14 trim combinations, both numbers well above the current segment norm. For some reason, though, all of the cars I saw on dealer lots were drably outfitted in black or, worse, gray. Materials quality is fairly good, with cushy armrests among the many soft-touch surfaces, but isn’t quite up to that inside a Ford Focus or a Chevy Cruze.

Drop down into the driver’s seat and the first thing you notice is that you don’t drop down very far. Compared to the Focus or Cruze, you sit high in the Dart—another aspect of the car that’s more 2000 than today. Even the base Dart has manual height adjusters on both front seats, but only the shortest people will likely employ them. This would be good for visibility—if the instrument panel were not very deep and the A-pillars were not somewhat thick and steeply raked. I drove the Dart on a hot day, and the amount of heat radiating off the top of the IP strained the A/C. The view to the rear could be Exhibit A in the case for mandatory rearview cameras. A good one with lines that trace the car’s path is packaged with the 8.4-inch screen.

The Dart’s front seats, though not entirely bereft of lateral support, feel slightly overstuffed rather than form-fitting. The German flavor of recent Ford and GM compacts is absent here, perhaps because FIAT, though European, isn’t German. Like those in the Focus and Cruze, and unlike that in the Americanized VW Jetta, the Dart’s rear seat offers barely enough headroom and legroom for six-foot-tall passengers and its cushion feels undersized.

The new Dodge Dart’s base engine is a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine good for 160 horsepower. Spend another $1,300 and you get a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine good for…160 horsepower. But the boosted engine is considerably torquier at middling engine speeds, 184 pound-feet at 2,500 rpm vs. 148 at 4,600. Even the 2.4 that will power the R/T has less twist (171 pound-feet @4,800) if more power (184). This is what the spec sheets say, anyway. On the road, the 1.4T feels soft south of 3,000 rpm. The car’s portly, midsize sedan-like 3,200-pound curb weight doesn’t help, but a variant of the same engine also must be spun north of 3k in the 2,500-pound FIAT 500 Abarth for any semblance of alacrity. This engine will be available with a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual, but at intro was offered only with the three-pedal variety. The third pedal leaves much to be desired, grabbing with scant feedback only near the very top of its long, spongy travel. The shifter is similarly long of throw and somewhat clunky, but is passable aside from a metal knob that heats to finger-scorching temps in the sunlight.

The Dodge Dart earned FIAT five percent of Chrysler by managing over 40 miles-per-gallon in the EPA’s tests—before the adjustments to make the numbers on the window sticker realistic. The window sticker numbers aren’t terribly impressive with the 2.0: 25/36 with the manual transmission and 24/34 with the automatic. The 1.4T with the manual does better, 27/39, but still falls short of the segment’s best.

The Dart’s chassis behaves well, with decent balance, moderate lean, and minimal float or slop. Still, damping isn’t as tight as in a Ford Focus or even a Buick Verano. Between this, a feedback-free electric-assist steering system, and the ever-evident aforementioned heft the Dart lacks the character of a precision instrument. A connection between car and driver proves elusive. Those seeking isolation will be more satisfied. The Dart rides softer than either the Focus or the Elantra. If and when the HVAC blower isn’t working like mad, interior noise levels are very low. Credit the triple door seals that Lexus helped make popular in the 1990s but that bean counters have often cut in the years since.

Dodge has much ground to regain in the compact sedan segment, so you might expect the Dart to be priced aggressively. But is it? Much like Hyundai, the Dart doesn’t so much have a low price as a slightly lower price paired with more stuff. The tested middle-of-the-range SXT Rallye with 1.4T and nav listed for $22,965. About $800 of this can be chalked up to the Rallye’s sportier exterior and interior trim, probably not the best value.

Like with the Ford Focus, stepping up to a higher trim level adds more to the feature list than it does to the price. When loaded up with high-watt Alpine audio, nav, heated leather, and a sunroof, the Dodge Dart Limited 2.0 lists for $24,865. A similarly-equipped 2013 Ford Focus SE, among the most expensive cars in the segment, lists for $25,505. Adjust for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, though, and the Dodge Dart ends up with a roughly $1,000 advantage thanks to features you can’t get on the Focus. These include four additional airbags, a heated steering wheel, rearview camera, rear cross-traffic detection, auto-dimming headlights, reconfigurable LCD instrumentation, and power four-way lumbar. Add the 1.4T engine to the Dodge, though, and they’re back near parity.

A 2013 Hyundia Elantra Limited with nav lists for $24,070, so less than the Dodge but not dramatically so. Adjust for feature differences and the Dodge ends up with a $500 advantage—until you add the 1.4T engine to get EPA numbers approaching the Hyundai’s.

Overall, the new Dodge Dart is a good car, even among the best in the segment, but some others are better looking, better constructed, roomier, more fun to drive, or more economical. An almost all-new car based on FIAT bits, its reliability very much remains to be seen. Its price is in the same ballpark as the Ford’s and the Hyundai’s, so until big rebates arrive, its window sticker isn’t compelling. Why buy one? A few features you can’t get anywhere else in the segment (but that won’t be found on most Darts on dealer lots) seem the most compelling reason. Is this enough? If the Ford Focus didn’t exist, I’d rate the Dart more highly. But the Focus does exist.

Brad Marshall of Suburban Chrysler in Novi, MI, provided the car. Brad can be reached at 248-427-7721.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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114 Comments on “Review: 2013 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye...”


  • avatar
    Pan

    Wow! Is there anything right about the car?

    • 0 avatar
      jaydez

      yes, its not a Caliber and doesn’t have that awful CVT.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I am in agreement about CVTs. I realize that there may be one or several out there that perform admirably, are durable and don’t have an odd feel to them, but I’ve yet to come across one.

        As for the Dart, it’s a hugely disappointing car, IMO. Michael Karesh hit the nail squarely on the head when he made a comparison to the shape(s) of the dashboard to 90′s era Pontiacs.

        I don’t care for the interior, it doesn’t seem to do so great in terms of driving dynamics, fuel economy appears to be far from segment best, nor does it remedy the near unanimous problem with most compact cars, to wit, a cramped rear seat.

        I’ve liked the direction Chrysler has taken with the 300/Charger and Jeep Grand Cherokee, but this one is a let down.

        As potential salt in the wound, there’s that Fiat quality/durability issues hanging out there, intimidating the early adopters.

        This isn’t a Dodge/Chrysler specific criticism, but I’ve noticed that many compacts are ebbing ever so closer to mid-size and even some full-size vehicles in terms of pricing, also. I realize many will chime in with the now boilerplate “if you load a compact car with options, it’s going to get expensive, etc.,” but some of the optional equipment on these compact cars is standard on larger vehicles.

        It’s pretty unbelievable to see the MSRP on the Hyundai Elantra Karesh mentions, let alone the MSRP of the loaded Dart.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Since Fiat has been in charge for some time and this is a Fiat design, I’m hoping for not the typical frack you Chrysler design/quality/reliability issues we’ve come to love and expect in the last twenty years from them.

    • 0 avatar

      +Unrivaled tech package
      +Exterior looks
      +lower price than Elantra – especially when loaded.

      You have to wait for the 2.4L if you want serious power. frankly, chrysler should have given you the Pentastar V6 option like the 200c.
      I’m waiting to drive the SRT8 version – but I did enjoy the Rallye Multiair manual version.

      It’s a shame they couldn’t make the Dart a RWD/AWD format because the southern states woulda’ snapped the RWD version up and the other states up North coulda gotten plenty snow crawling out of the AWD. YES- I know, it’s too expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        nickoo

        Looks are subjective, but that front end looks hideous with the black trim pieces and the cross hair grill. It’s time to ditch the cross hair.

      • 0 avatar

        nickoo

        I LOVE IT.

        If I needed a car this size, I’d buy it with the biggest engine possible.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        Throw in ANY options with ANY transmission, and for me it’s a winner. I hope Fiasler doesn’t succumb to Toyotification like most everybody else. If people want a future with 3 pedals they need to show cars like this some love.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        “Throw in ANY options with ANY transmission, and for me it’s a winner. I hope Fiasler doesn’t succumb to Toyotification like most everybody else. If people want a future with 3 pedals they need to show cars like this some love.”

        What’s remarkable about this car? I mean, it’s a squinty Corolla with a riskier powertrain. It doesn’t handle all that well, isn’t spectacularly appointed, and drives/rides like an appliance. It’s already Toyotafied; heck, it’s generic-by-design. If you wanted an atypical compact, the Calibre and PT Cruiser long since left the building.

        I really wish people would stop expecting miracles, or for that matter, stand-out products, in a class that’s by default all about commodity appeal.

      • 0 avatar

        I actually do find the Ford Focus to be a stand-out product in this segment. My review of the Dart would have been more positive if the Focus did not exist. But it does.

        The next Mazda3 could also be very good, if it drives like the current car but has an exterior and interior like the CX-5.

        As is I’d opt for the Dart over a Civic, Corolla, Sentra, or Elantra. Probably the Cruze as well.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Michael – Your review was one of the most negative I have read of the Dart. Maybe you didn’t intend for it to come across quite as harshly, but I am surprised to see you recommend it over so many others after reading this.

        Nobody seems to like the Civic, Corolla, and Sentra. If I remember right you think the Elantra’s suspension is a mess. Why the Dart over the Cruze though?

      • 0 avatar

        I think the reason the review seems so negative is that I was comparing the Dart to the Focus, and I really like the Focus. If I’d compared it to just about any other car in the segment my take would have been more positive.

        But what would be the point of comparing the Dart to a car that’s not among the best in the segment?

        Reasons for picking the Dart over the Cruze are that it is a little more fun to drive and offers a some additional features. The top engine in the Cruze, which is nearly as heavy, is a 138-horsepower 1.4T. The Cruze, on the other hand, feels more solid, but here as well the gap isn’t large. I’d probably need to drive these two back-to-back to rank them.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Good info. I would love to see more comparison tests on this site, though I’m sure resources and logistics are an issue.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @psarhjinian

        The only thing less risky than the current Corolla powertrain is a Schwinn.

    • 0 avatar
      Charliej

      What he is saying, is that enthusiasts will hate the car, but normal people will like it. So it should do all right in the market place. What percentage of auto buyers are enthusiasts? How many read tests on TTAC?

    • 0 avatar
      carpycarpenter

      I have a 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye, and oh I can tell you it is the biggest piece of crap I have ever owned. It is my first bran new can, and already (I am gonna make this as short as possible) the engine has seized, the clutch sensor went out, the breaks completely failed, the windshield had no weather stripping in it so when I went to go through my first car wash water came seeping in, all my dash controls keep randomly shutting off. The plastic panels on the sides of the inside of the car are falling apart…. I know what your all thinking JUST LEMON LAW THE CAR… well I got suckered into signing for a life time warrantee and it stated that I would not lemon law the car based on the fact they are giving me a life time warranty…. Chrysler will not do any good faith buy back and I just thought you all should know do not spend any money on this car or you time!!!!!

  • avatar
    Wolfy

    I like high over stuffed seats and am glad dodge can regain and be competitive in the segment.

  • avatar
    dundurrbay

    What a negative review. I understand that every car has its flaws, but I do believe this is a great effort from dodge in the C segment. There may be competitors who have the edge in certain areas, however, IMO the dodge has a nicer interior vs. the Focus/Cruze in lower trim levels, and a much, much wider variety of trim levels and engine options. It remains to be seen if it will be a reliable vehicle, but the Cruze/Focus/Elantra haven’t been without their teething issues, either.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      As has been pointed out elsewhere, there is no TTAC party line for reviews, and reviewers call them as they see them. Indeed Michael’s review is not particularly positive (damned by faint praise?) but based on his comments and the photos, I see little to argue with. That interior certainly does have a 90s look … not to say that some people won’t like 90s interiors, though!

      • 0 avatar
        dundurrbay

        I think it has to do with the amount of hype the car received before launch. I was disappointed too, but when compared to competitors, it doesn’t seem all that bad. A matter of taste.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        Not so much “damned by faint praise” as eroded by unrelenting vitriol. Seems odd in for such an anodyne vehicle. Whats next – A Nissan Versa Ate My Baby!!”?

    • 0 avatar
      RoadiJeff

      “What a negative review.”

      He is obviously infatuated with the Focus and thus the bias against the Dart. I’ve read several Dart reviews from popular magazines and they pretty much gave it high marks.

      Don’t take Karesh’s review too seriously but instead do a Google search for something like “Dodge Dart Review” for some accurate feedback from the pros.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    I guess Ralph went back on his word about grey interiors.

    Seriously though, Chrysler….the interior looks awful in this color. Should have never been launched in this color combo at all.

    • 0 avatar

      I think they said no more light gray. This is dark gray. But then they also offer the interior in light gray. So, yes, Ralph appears to have been overruled. I’ve heard that light interiors are very popular in the southern states, and they might have decided that they’d lose too many sales without a light-colored interior.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        So why not beige or cream? Or blue? Red? Anything?

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        If they wanted a lighter interior for southern states they should have offered tan.

        Gray is an awful interior color. It doesn’t look as good as black and lacks the class of tan. I personally like dark tan or brown the best, but unfortunately you mostly see those on luxury brands, and even then rarely.

        I also think lighter interiors keeping the heat down in the sun is greatly overrated. They get hot enough that the difference if the interior was black is trivial. Horribly uncomfortable either way.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        They would have to ship a first aid kit with every all black interior car here in Texas. However, using light grey woven cloth inserts (no mouse fur!) for the seating surfaces combined with black trim can work. See Toyota Camry SE. What doesn’t work is the cheap looking rounded molded plastic parts. Considering all the good work Chrysler corp has done on improving the interiors of other models, I’m surprised they dropped the ball with the Dart.

        If someone really loves Dodge and the cross-hair, why buy a 3200 lb Fiat-based Dart over an Avenger with Mitsubishi DNA and cash on the hood?

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    “Parts of the Dart’s interior appear similarly dated, with the center stack and console marked by the organic shapes and non-flush faceplates of a 1990s Pontiac.”
    -Also see the Olds Intrigue.

    “Materials quality is fairly good, with cushy armrests among the many soft-touch surfaces, but isn’t quite up to that inside a Ford Focus or a Chevy Cruise.”
    –Come on, “Chevy Cruise?!”

    The Dart head rests/restraints look sharply canted forward.

  • avatar
    jmo

    “Why buy one?”

    I’ve heard that it’s very customizable in the way that cars in Europe are. i.e. if you want an S250 4-cyl diesel with every option Mercedes will sell it to you. It’s not toyhonda DX,LX,EX and if you want a sunroof you need to get everything else in the EX package.

    Is that the case?

  • avatar

    Mike:

    You made a brilliant comment in your SRX review that I’ve always agreed with:

    “Large organizations are prone to overly simplistic thinking. It’s just too hard to communicate anything complicated or nuanced to all involved. One overly simple idea: reduce the size of the engine, and fuel economy will improve. Need a performance variant? Shrink the engine a little more and add a turbo. The actual result in the case of the Cadillac SRX: a base engine with too little torque and an optional engine for which GM charged $3,820—to provide performance similar to everyone else’s base engines. ”

    I’m so annoyed with these companies chasing fuel economy numbers and releasing underpowered cars. There is supposed to be a 2.4L coming with way more power, but the fact it isn’t here NOW for the initial critic reviews hurts these cars. These companies should release the most powerful option first and then step back to the lesser powered cars.

    As for the interior of the Dart, it doesn’t look as vivacious as what Hyundai is making, but the technology wins me over every time. Taking the tech options from the Charger and slapping them into the Dart was a brilliant move. Now – if only they’d gone whole hog and slapped a Pentastar V6 in there too!

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Not everyone cares about power. Both the current engines are FAR more than adequate. The stupid HP race needs to stop, cars 25 years ago were more than fast enough.

      • 0 avatar

        Not everyone cares about power?

        Maybe you haven’t noticed but the number one complain on most new cars is their performance. Not through curves and corners, but straight line. I understand that acceleration comes at a cost of fuel economy, but I think car makers would err better on the side of performance than fuel economy.

        Why risk getting negative reviews and take a chance on the customer being sent next door?

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        i thought it was normal strategy to release the ‘cooking’ models and delay the performance models until later

        better to get people to buy now rather than letting them wait for what may or may not come

        and then when it does come, they trade up

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Is that a Hofmeister kink I see there in the C pillar? Nice.

    Still, most of the middle box looks too much like a Neon.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “Woof, woof; woof, woof”!

      Sorry, but every time I see your “Kelly’s Heroes” avatar, that’s my first thought!

      Now I have a dilemma: Which avatar do I like better: yours or Sean Connery from “The Longest Day”?

      …there I go with those negative thoughts…

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Kelly: Well Oddball, what do you think?

        Oddball: It’s a wasted trip baby. Nobody said nothing about locking horns with no Tigers.

        Big Joe: Hey look, you just keep them Tigers busy and we’ll take care of the rest.

        Oddball: The only way I got to keep them Tigers busy is to LET THEM SHOOT HOLES IN ME!

        Rather profetic statement if you place Dodge v. VW in place of the M4A2E8 Sherman v. Pnzr VI Tiger.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        I’ll take a Sherman any day – the fuel doesn’t leak all over the place and they’re fun to drive, I’ve heard.

        The Tiger was overly complex and unreliable…

        There’s a valid Chrysler vs. everyone else comparison in there, somewhere.

        For the record: “Kelyy’s Heroes” is the ONLY movie I saw TEN times at the theater back in the day. “Barbarella”, with 7, is second…

        I did meet Mr. Sutherland and Jane Fonda in Okinawa and have B&W Polaroid pics to prove it!

        I’ll not hijack the thread again.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Front three quarter is very 2nd generation Neon, while the roofline is 2006 Hyundai Elantra. Basically, it looks like the car Chrysler would have introduced 7 years ago if they hadn’t missed the market with the Caliber.

      It would have been nice to see some performance numbers and observed fuel economy figures. The ones the monthlies have achieved have been pathetic, like someone at Chrysler is nostalgic for the ’70s.

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      ‘Always with the negativity.”

      “We like to play music when we go into combat, it….calms us down.”

  • avatar
    dejal1

    What’s wrong with fairly high seats in a 4 door sedan?

    The dashboard looks much better than the Elantra where the center stack is symmetry run amok. The Elantra was probably made that way so the center stack can be used for LHD + RHD cars.

    About the only visual thing I don’t like, is red gauges. Are the gauges as red as the promo pictures show them?

    • 0 avatar

      The graphics are red in the SXT, but the gauges you’re thinking of are the reconfigurable LCD instruments in the Limited and R/T. I still haven’t driven one of those, so can’t comment on the usability of their gauges.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I can only think of one word that describes the interior:

    “blobby”.

    Fisher-Price must be proud.

    Our 1999 Stratus had more sharp edges, and not just on the plastic mold lines, either!

    Too bad, the exterior looks rather nice, if undistinguished.

    I’ll stick with Chevy for now, thank you.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Ouch! I like the looks, it has unique styling features that look good to me. Haven’t driven one yet but I am a likely shopper for this. Oh, and sittting higher in a car is a good thing, IMHO.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Good review Michael. I’m very interested in this car and its success or failure, as we haven’t had a viable subcompact from Chrysler for a long time now. I have yet to experience one, I’ve only seen them and then only on the road. I haven’t been to my local CJDR dealer to look in the last several weeks, but there weren’t any on the lot at the time.

    A couple of things stand out. In previous experiences with Fiat products, I’ve really liked the fact that the seating position is high. I was never a fan of the low seating position of some cars, although at that time the visibility (from all cars it seemed) was better than it is now. I’d thought the higher seating position would eliminate the near-necessity of a backup camera. Oh well.

    And yours is not the only review to pan the drivetrain combination. I’m wondering if the 2.0 and the upcoming dual clutch tranny will be a better combo? Granted, you lose the grunt, but if the combination works better it’s a compromise that may be livable. Others have criticized the on/off nature of the turbo motor, I didn’t see any such mention in your posting. Was that your experience too?

    I see the comments about the back seat room, how was the trunk? Is it a good usable space or oddly configured? Does this car have goosenecks or hydraulic rams holding up the lid?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      The trunk is enormous.

    • 0 avatar

      I commented that there’s not much power below 3,000 rpm. Others blame boost lag, but there’s not much down there even after the turbo spools up. I have a 500 Abarth with a similar engine this week, and if you pull out onto a major road or make a left turn from same without the engine over 3k the oncoming traffic approaches at a frightening rate.

      • 0 avatar
        Brantta

        In which car there is MUCH power below 3,000 rpm?

        6th gear, 50–70 mph, (similar rpm’s, 70mph is 2500rpm, C&D data):
        Dart 1.4T 160hp 14.4 seconds
        Forte 2.4 173hp, 16.4 seconds

        Karesh comments on Forte:
        “Forte SX feels quick. Credit the 2.4-liter’s 173 horsepower, the short initial gearing of the six-speed manual”
        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/review-2011-kia-forte-sx/

        What gives?

      • 0 avatar
        JCraig

        What he’s saying is there in your quote. The short gearing of the Forte makes it feel quick when taking off, like turning onto a busy road.
        The same reason my 08 Elantra feels quick around town. First gear is so short you fly by 3k RPM in no time.

        These cars that have tall gearing maximized for MPG feel slow and sluggish.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Branta,

        part of the issue with Karesh is that I think he may be unconsciously comparing his Mazda Protege 5 to many of the car with it’s relatively quick launch from a dead stop, no, not enough to chirp the tires, but it feels sprightly, I know as I have the same car, though with the 4spd sport stick auto.

        That said, the motor really comes alive at about 2800+rpm, just let it wind up to 3K-4K and it’ll begin to pull strong, typical of most 4 pot motors, found in pretty much any car in recent years.

        It’s not to say the Mazda motor’s low end torque is especially weak, as it isn’t, but it’s as plentiful as it is in the higher revs though.

        It sounds like the Dart has the same issue, perhaps a bit more so due to its curb weight.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I test-drove one at my local dealer last month, when they first appeared on the lot. I’ve been very eager to try one, and I really like the looks.

    Well, I was disappointed. To say the 1.4T is ‘soft’ under 3000 rpm is generous – it was a dog. There is a lot of turbo lag, with a great surge above 4000 rpm.

    Sixth gear is useless for anything but highway cruising, and I found I was constantly shifting to find the right gear. My test drive was maybe 6 or 8 miles in business district and suburban driving, up to maybe 55 mph.

    See that center armrest? It raised my elbow up to an unnaturally high position, which made me reach down find the shifter knob. I couldn’t really understand this since I’m 6’6″. At least I fit (sort of) in the driver’s seat.

    I found the clutch to be very heavy, almost Corvette-like, to the point where I embarrassingly stripped third gear once.

    Construction quality was so-so. The headlight switch panel was loose in the dashboard. The gray interior was ghastly.

    I hated the low-end dashboard cluster, finding it to be weirdly Tron-like and hard to read. The backup camera was very nice, however, and I’ve never used one before.

    I left thinking (to my surprise) that I’d like to try the 2.0 automatic in a higher-end model as a last resort.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      I’m surprised by the big turbo lag that you experienced. There are so many good small-displacement turbo engines on the market today with minimal turbo lag that I don’t understand why FIAT would have done something different. A small turbocharger generally would be quite responsive to throttle application, and I wouldn’t think that 115 hp/L should require a large turbo.

    • 0 avatar

      As noted above, I didn’t find that the problem is turbo lag, but that there’s simply no power at lower rpm even after the boost arrives.

      I also found the clutch too light rather than too heavy. I drove the Dart when I had the TT RS, and nearly put my foot through the floorboard the first time I depressed the clutch. But I then stalled the car because the clutch doesn’t engage at all for the first 90% of its travel, then quickly does so with virtually no feel. So I can see why you’d botch some shifts. Worst clutch in recent memory.

      The clutch in the 500 Abarth, which I have this week, is similar. I got used to it after a few days. But there are much better clutches out there.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Karesh, can’t comment on the Abarth, but found the clutch in the regular 101 horse Sport 500 to be light, but decent and had some feel to its take up, like my much heavier clutch in my former ’92 Ranger.

        I found the clutch in an ’08 Mazda 5 to be vague in how it engages, the throw of its shifter not as precise and ended up with a sport auto ’03 Protege 5 due to it just feeling “just right”, even though I’d have preferred it to be a 5spd manual.

  • avatar
    geeber

    I’ve seen them at both the Philadelphia Auto Show and the Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals. They look much better in the upper trim levels.

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    What’s wrong with high seating all of a sudden? I thought people were buying cute utes and SUV’s because they liked that feature.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      The issue with high seating, well for myself at 6’1″, is that feeling of not sitting IN the car so much as I’m sitting ON it. Kinda like you’re driving it from the perches of a dining room chair instead of a deep bucket.

      And by people buying cute utes and SUVs, I believe you mean women who are avoiding the practical choice of a minivan or wagon and men who somehow believe a CUV will improve their ‘cool’ status.

    • 0 avatar

      I generally like high seating, but in this case it doesn’t feel quite right. Most likely that you sit so high that the windshield header intrudes into the forward view.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    “But the height of the car is pure 2012, so there’s a lot more metal over the wheel openings than you’d have found on a circa-2000 Dodge. . . The SXT Rallye’s wheels, though 17 inches in diameter, appear undersized.”

    –I think bigger windows would have improved the appearance. In some ways, the problem is similar to that of the Volt, but GM added the black plastic strips, for better or worse.
    Sajeev should do a ‘Vellum Venom’ on the Dart!

  • avatar
    LeadHead

    It absolutely baffles me when two reviews talk completely differently about the same car.

    Popular Mechanics recently did a review, and they found that the Dart rode harsher than the Focus and Elantra, but was the most sporty and most fun to drive.

    They did end up picking the Focus as the overall winner though.

    • 0 avatar

      The Elantra’s ride is simply a mess.

      For me, the Focus’s ride is both firmer AND better, it just feels so solid and tied down. But for some people its firmness seems too firm, and a less tightly managed ride feels better.

      The specific roads could also be a factor. Many magazines review cars in California, where the roads tend to be better than here in Michigan.

      Finally, I’ve noticed that it makes a big difference how aggressively I’m driving a car. Some cars seem to ride better the harder you push them, while for others it’s the opposite.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        If roads in Michigan are noticeably worse than California, then off-road capable SUVs must be mandatory in Michigan. I haven’t spent much time in southern California, but roads in the SF Bay Area are awful.

        I think people living in snowy states assume that since most of California has no real winter, the roads must be at least decent. At least that’s what I thought living in MA before moving to CA. This is quite far from the truth.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        @burgersandbeer

        Having lived in both California and Michigan, Michigan roads are far worse than California roads, even those around the Bay area.

        I’ve been to many states, and I’d be surprised if Michigan didn’t rank in the bottom 10 of 50 for road quality.

        It was always remarkable to me as to how much better the roads became once one hit the Ohio border traveling south down I-75, and how they stayed better, through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

        The roads around Miami, on that note, are pretty awful, as well, surprisingly.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        That’s the one thing I just don’t get about Hyundai. Their suspensions are literally among the worst designed & implemented of any manufacturer, whether the Elantra or Genesis Sedan.

        They made such huge progress in other aspects of manufacturing technology, quality and design…what is it about suspension design that perplexes them so?

  • avatar
    carguy

    The Dart has a great looking exterior but the 3,200 lbs curb weight and 2 liter entry level engine make little sense. Having to spend more money to get better fuel economy is backwards for this segment.

  • avatar
    plunk10

    I predict this thing will be heavy on incentives and fleet sales. I do not look forward to renting one in the next year or so.

    If Dodge wanted to hit a home run, they could’ve reduced the MSRP a bit. For that price, people will look to other brands with a better recent compact car history.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “I predict this thing will be heavy on incentives and fleet sales.”

      Unfortunately, that quote made me think back to 1974, when, at the time, a friend worked in the Fenton, MO Chrysler plant and I asked him one day why Chrysler products were bought by so many people in spite of how junky and flimsy they were compared to GM and Ford products at the time.

      His answer? “Because they can buy them cheap!”

      Well, OK…

      Sure, that was 38 years ago and their cars have improved – this from a Chrysler buyer and owner for 20 years up to 2002, but the sentiment still seems to be the same or little-improved in many quarters.

      For Chrysler’s sake, I hope the critics are wrong…

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Great review as always, Michael. And kudos to the truedelta comparison mechanism….it really does provide insight….

    “Son, I am disappoint”. When I first glimpsed the Dart, I thought “Neon Redux”. The interior proves it. Not to say it can’t be competitive, but in coming so late to the game Dodge should have differentiated somehow. A mini-wagon?

    I see no compelling reason to even sniff this out unless you’re a Dodge boy or financially strapped. The Mazda3 and even the Cruze (and Verano now that discounts are arriving) seem better fare….

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      One reason is size. Although it sounds like the back seat comes up short, the Dart is a wide car. This helps quite a bit with space in the two seats most commonly occupied. At least I get sick of fighting over center armrest space and bumping elbows every time I need to shift.

      Of course With the Jetta around, the extra size isn’t necessarily a trump card.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Dodge just doesn’t understand their weight problem. Look at the porkers in their lineup.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Same with GM. They haven’t gotten the weight loss gospel yet. Luckily Honda, Mazda, Subaru, among others, have all embraced the weight loss gospel in recent years.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Weight loss is a great way to help city fuel economy while improving all dynamic areas; however, these are not sports cars. A quiet and comfortable ride is important too. Maybe even more important to more people.

        I know what a Honda sounds like at highway speed. Without actually driving either a Cruze or Dart, I would pick either over a Civic for a road trip or long commute. The extra weight isn’t necessarily lazy engineering.

      • 0 avatar

        Some of GM gets it. The new Cadillac ATS weighs just a little more than the Dart, and is the lightest car in its segment.

      • 0 avatar
        Brantta

        @Michael Karesh

        Cadillac ATS isn’t much bigger.

        ……….Cadillac ATS Premium……Dart Rallye
        Curb weight…………..3,461…………3,191
        Length (in.)………….182.8…………183.9
        Width (in.)……………71.1………….72.0
        Height (in.)…………..55.9………….57.7
        Wheelbase (in.)……….109.3…………106.4
        Track, front (in.)……..59.5…………61.7
        Track, rear (in.)………60.9…………61.6
        Legroom, front (in.)……42.5…………42.2
        Legroom, rear (in.)…….33.5…………35.2
        Headroom, front (in.)…..38.6…………38.6
        Headroom, rear (in.)……36.8…………37.0
        Shoulder room, front……55.2…………58.2
        Shoulder room, rear…….53.9…………56.1
        Trunk volume (cu-ft)……10.2…………13.1

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Additional sound deadening, thicker glass, bigger engine and bigger wheels and tires will explain most of that 270-lb weight difference between the ATS and the Dart.

        On the other hand, the Jetta starts at 2800 lbs, 450 lbs less, and it is competing in the same segment as the Dart.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    The Fiat MultiAir technology is actually a ground breaking technology. This engine uses variable valve timing and lift to control air flow. It doesn’t uses a throttle plate!

    I believe engines of this type is underrated by the EPA. Just like diesels are underated by the EPA. Just look at the user reported gas mileage on Fuelly.com or fueleconomy.gov- they are considerably higher than the EPA numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      In theory MultiAir has huge benefits. As executed these aren’t so evident. The FIAT 500 is a light car with a small MultiAir engine, but it’s fuel economy isn’t outstanding.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      In my brief test drive of a Dart (see entry above in this thread), the car was at the very end of its first tank of gas.

      The computer was indicating its average fuel economy was only 21 mpg. Granted, it had been driven by a salesman and presumably a few customers, but that’s not good mileage.

      The MultiAir benefits were not evident to me at all, particularly with its poor throttle response and lethargy below 3-4k rpm. I’ve also driven the 500 with the 1.4 non-turbo, and it’s just as dead at the bottom end.

      My 05 xB is a substantially better commuter than the Dodge 1.4T 6-spd.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        the EPA does seem to underrate them. When my parents got their 500, one of the reasons was that reported fuel economy on True Delta seemed to beat the EPA’s numbers for the car, and they too are doing better, sometime by as much as 3-4 mpg. Never pay attention to the numbers you see on a test car trip computer. People hoon those things around like crazy. When I was in car sales, most of our vehicles were reporting 10 mpg below what they should have been, but our test drive route was all stop and go city driving and people would always drive the snot out of cars.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Also never buy a car that has been hooned the snot out of before it has been properly broken in. Maybe pay attention to the trip computer readings after all…

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        How do we even know that it was the first full tank?

        Cars are not shipped from the factory with full gas tanks, regardless if the plant is 2 miles from the delivery point or the delivery point is around the globe.

      • 0 avatar
        icemilkcoffee

        Before the turbo boost kicks in, the Dodge Dart is essentially a 3200lb car powered by a 1.4 engine. Whereas the Scion is a 2500lb car powered by a 1.5 engine. I have the same Scion xB and I’m constantly surprised by how lively it feels. It’s a slow car that somehow doesn’t feel slow.

        Cars on the lot tend to have lots of cold starts and very short 10 minute stop and go trips at a time. So that 21mpg is not at all representative of the real world mileage.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    The teeny, tiny black triangle in front of the sideview mirrors is very distracting. I think that counts as DLO FAIL.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    I’m a little surprised the handling left you that cold. We keep hearing that this is essentially a Giulietta under the skin, and that car has always gotten rave remarks for its driving dynamics. Has Chrysler made that many engineering changes to the steering and suspension geometry in the name of watering the platform down for American tastes, or is it the added weight that’s hurting it?

    • 0 avatar

      The handling is quite a bit better than a Civic or Corolla. But I was comparing it to a Focus. I think you’ll find UK reviews that say much the same about the Giulietta’s handling–good, but not as good as the Focus.

  • avatar

    Hi Michael,

    Good review, great even, but I disagree. I like high seats and the padding seems good (don’t like Germanic seats). Seems tossable, and the perceived lack of power doesn’t bother me. I like the organic shape. Simple, but beautiful, very Italian. Finally, love the wheels. Don’t seem too big to me. I’ve said it once and will say it again, what I don’t like is oversized wheels.

    The interior seems ok. Nothing special but not lacking either. Agree about the gray, but I prefer light greay to dark. It’d look better in tan or beige.

    Thanks for your honest opinion!

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t actually make a judgement about the seat height and padding, other than saying a high seat height isn’t the current style. I actually said that the high seat height would be good for visibility, if not for the depth of the IP and A-pillars.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The Dart is better than the Caliber (but that’s not saying much) and it’s still not the class leader. That means incentives and rebates to get consumers to buy it in any kind of volume.

    The only real bright spot is that it’s not dragging up the rear end (like the Caliber did). That position is now being solidly held by the exceptionally mediocre Corolla. But, then, that car has the Toyota reputation going for it, and for a lot of car buyers, that’s enough.

    In short, the Dart really isn’t bad, but because the competition is so good, it has a tough road to go. As others have pointed out, it could easily be the next fleet (i.e., rental) queen.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    A very good review there Michael,

    I guess I had semi high hopes for this car, and while it doesn’t sound like a truly bad car, it doesn’t come across as absolutely great, but definitely way better than the Caliber. My Mom had to rent one, in appliance white if I recall her saying, and she hated it, it was a POS in her mind, the worst car she’s driven in recent years.

    That said, I don’t find the Dart with too many dated design elements as they seem well integrated into the overall design and the car looks fairly fresh, but not adhering too much to modern design cliches.

    However, with the high rear deck with barely any hint of a trunk between the rear window and the back end, it looks like much too much metal between the wheel arches and the rear deck makes it kind of look like the tall, but with tiny wheels stance of the Toyota Echo and other economy cars from about 2001, and that, to me looks the most dated of them all.

    Sounds to me like the car would benefit from a reduction in overall weight to feel more sprightly than it is.

    I drove the multi-air 101HP Fiat 500 and it didn’t feel slow to me at all, but rather sprightly and I think, even with the turbo, the lack of torque with this curb weight isn’t helping matters.

    One thing I love about the Mazda P5, is the higher lower band torque, but I don’t like to keep it there, the motor comes alive in a big way, from roughly 2500-2800rpm and above so winding it out is best as it’s true for nearly all 4 pot motors, no matter the car and even larger motors benefit from this as well, but 4 bangers tend to benefit the most due to their lack of lower rpm torque in general.

    Since it’s only a sedan and with the lack of room in the back, it’s not for me, but I do hope it does well.

    I may have to test drive the fiat 500 turbo myself and had driven the sport version of the Sport in Feb ’11 on a cold, wet day with snow flurries (but with bare and wet pavement though) and it was hella fun to drive, much like the P5.

  • avatar
    fli317

    When are manufacturers going to stop putting these home plate sized covers over the motors? I actually like to be able to see the motor. Does anyone know who started this ridiculous trend? Why don’t we just lock the hood shut and not let anyone look at it. Maybe a dealer only key to lift the hood? Probably started by Lexus. Understandably, most Lexus owners would rather forget there is even a motor up there.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    Might as well paint all of these gold or silver, put them on 15″ steelies with wheel covers, throw in a crappy 4 speed AT, and give them pitch black stain-resistant interiors that are popular with rental fleets. Because just about every one of these government bailout atrocities will be sold to Dollar and Enterprise.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Replying to FJ60:

      I have no strong attachment to either Chrysler or the Dart. But it’s good-looking to most eyes, rides well, and has some of the most upscale options available in the segment. What’s a “government bailout atrocity” about that?

      The real atrocity was the Caliber, and its cost-cut guttedness was private enterprise all the way.

  • avatar
    tuscreen-auto

    OK, so it looks quite pretty, but it´s objectively worse in any important respect than a VW Jetta.

    Got it.

    :-}

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    It may not be the best, but for those who gotta have a Dodge….

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Too bad the Focus has such a tight interior and cramped back seat. The dart feels somewhat spacious in comparison. The side view is the most generic thing about this car and could be any Asian or Korean compact. The front and rear are the more interesting views of this new Dart.

  • avatar
    ggries

    +1 “…with a hint of second-generation Neon.”

  • avatar
    RoboCop

    Ok, I had to get a profile to be able to respond to some of these reviews.

    First of all, the Dart’s interior is great. There’s soft touch everywhere other than the places you’re never going to touch. The armrest and doors are very nicely done, the wheel feels good, the gauges and dash are very sporty and readable, the trunk is a little small, but the backseat is plenty big.

    I’m 6’1″ and had plenty of headroom and legroom behind myself…

    A LOT more than the Focus sedan…dear lord what is it with all the Focus love around here? For a 2-person or 1-person commuter it’s fine but the backseat in the Accent Hatch feels bigger than the Focus. Also, the Focus’ center stack crackles like a bowl of rice crispy treats when you lightly push on it, same as the new Escape…cracklecracklecracle, so their interior built quality goes down the drain after that.

    For the money the Elantra is the best buy…by far…Mazda’s need jump starting if they sit for too long, especially in the cold, their style is old, and the interior is boring. The Elantra is comfortable, bigger, 40mpg without an Aero package, and I know 3 people with it that get 39-42mpg routinely…I’m 25yrs old too, not 75 and slow.

    The Dart is a great looking car, there’s a blueish dark metallic grey that friggin rocks and even the non-rallye darts are nice looking in it.

    As for the turbo and handling…both are good for the class…these are nice cars that are a good alternative to the Elantra…but please stop pouring on the Focus love…its a nice car with a horrible dash, tiny backseat, and the transmission isn’t really all that quiet.

  • avatar
    sapalmer22

    I actually just purchased the Dodge Dart SXT a few days ago and I couldn’t be any happier with the car. It is very comfortable and I think it looks great! There is plently of room…I used to have a Kia Sorento and surprisingly, I feel like the Dodge Dart is a lot roomier than my Kia. The gas mileage is great compared to what I used to have. With as much driving as I have been doing, I would have already needed to fill up in my Kia and in my Dodge I still have half a tank left. It is quiet, very easy to drive, and sounds great. I am very happy with my decision of buying the Dodge Dart

    • 0 avatar
      ritchiec67

      I liked your post sapalmer22. I feel the same way about my new Dart Rallye Turbo; love it! It is only a few hours but, my wife and daughter are happy and that carries over to my. I have driven a Dodge Avenger in the past year and it was fine as a rental and if this car becomes a popular fleet rental car then I will ask for it. The 6 speed manual is fantastic as well as the responsive steering and brakes. The seats are very comfortable and seam to conform to my body perfectly; this might be because I am of almost perfectly average dimensions for an adult male. Enjoy your ride, I know I will. The XM radio is a nice bonus for my vast music and news taste.

  • avatar

    Very basic kinda of car, but has some cool features I believe.

  • avatar
    ritchiec67

    I just purchased the Dart with the 1.4T 6 speed manual and Rallye Trim package; it is the awesome ruby red with the black w/white(they call it light grey)racing stripes down the middle of the seats. Just took the 75 mile round trip that I will drive M-F and it was good in the backseat (I am average build, 70″ 165 lbs.) as well as when my wife let me drive home. My 16yr old daughter really liked it(she is a gear head who DVRs Top Gear and watches it on weekend); the plan is for her to use it when she is driving and to take it to college in two years. I plan on commuting with it in the mean time. The price was right and the styling is sporty for an economical sedan. I hope to double my mileage from my 2004 Honda Element(about 21 mph ave.

  • avatar
    Burnout

    Thanks for the post-Christmas laughs Michael…because this review is a joke!

    From the odd compliments (i.e. “Other parts…could not be more current”)to simply wrong observations (“the Dart’s rear seat offers barely enough headroom and legroom for six-foot-tall passengers”…it does offer plenty, I’m 6’1″ 230 and fit fine), it was enough to make me laugh out loud.

    As for the Dart, well, to sum it up in easy-to-read, real TTAC terms: it is a best-in-class car, with good gas mileage, plenty of room and power, and options to make any buyer happy. Except Michael.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Michael…and please keep the jokes coming in 2013!!!

  • avatar
    Maxseven

    When I first saw the new Dodge Dart, I started to laugh uncontrollably – I’m serious about this too. I literally started to shake with giggles and think to myself, “another turd finds its way to the Chryslerogio showroom.”

    What is this “thing” that they decided was a viable, sporty automobile? And to brand it as a fun, performance car to boot!

    The Dart is pure douche-baggery. An effeminate-looking, wimpy, cute little mole on wheels. The car has no haunch, top-heavy stance and a terribly boring confluence of geometry that reminds me of a suppository. All was confirmed first hand, when I performed a detailed examination at the NAIAS. The interior is complete and utter “caca”, a missmash of conflicting textures, poorly executed switchery, and substandard polymer choices. Texture aesthetics are absent. The dash panels are sculpted using the bloat and pucker filter in Photoshop. The black interior attempts to mask these failings – yet this tomfoolery is no match for the keen eye. What mental patient decided that the steering wheel should look like a mid-size pickup’s?

    It is a mystery to me how car companies seem so paralyzed in design execution. It’s as if the originally intended design (by the core design group) is much too scary for the public, so it the car ends up being the product of a long list of “cost-cutting” compromises and then is sent through the “tone-down” department , followed by the “make-shift” team, and ultimately ruins the car, resulting in quintessential mediocracy, boredom, and anemia.

    Call me a Euro-car snob, but anyone driving this car should feel embarrassed.

  • avatar
    DIYer

    Bought a new 2013 Dart SE Aero, which is the high-mileage version. 1.4L SOHC Turbo, with a 6-speed manual. Long pedal travel when you push in the clutch. Silver, with a black cloth interior, and a Sirius radio. Steel wheels with plastic covers. Very smooth ride, easy steering, and quiet going down the road. My current vehicles are 20 years old, and I look forward to driving the new Dart for a least as long. I’ll be driving it out West this May to Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, and Rushmore on a long road trip.


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