By on January 25, 2013

Sergio and 1.4L Turbo MultiAir in better times at Dundee. Chrysler Photo

The latest sign that the product planners and marketers at Fiat and Chrysler have muffed the launch of the Dodge Dart is the announcement that their Dundee, Michigan engine plant that builds the Dart’s turbocharged 1.4 liter Multiair FIRE engine has fired or reassigned 58 employees and is eliminating a second shift. The shift reduction follows remarks at the 2013 NAIAS media preview by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne blaming poor Dart sales on the powertrain offerings. “The powertrain solutions we made available to that car, in today’s world, in hindsight, were not the ideal solution,” Mr. Marchionne said. Consumers have been disappointed in sluggish performance of the Dart.  TTAC reviewer Michael Karesh said that 1.4 L turbo motor was “soft south of 3,000 rpm”.

In the critical C segment, where many manufacturers sell 200,000 (or in the case of the Honda Civic >300,000) cars a year in North America, the Dart sold only about 25,000 units since it was introduced in July.

The Dundee plant, originally a joint venture between Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Daimler, is Chrysler’s only American factory that makes four cylinder engines. After the changes, the plant will still employ 750 people. In the personnel moves, fourteen probationary employees were let go (the UAW is appealing their termination) and another 44 were reassigned to other jobs. Chrysler spokesperson Jodi Tinson put a positive face on the plant announcement, since the same factory will soon start building more of the 2.4 liter TigerShark engine that Chrysler hopes will be a better fit for consumers, but her comments more or less acknowledge that product planners made a mistake with the Darts that first hit the showrooms. “We have a new powertrain for the Dart coming online, and so we are rebalancing the mix for the Dart.”

According to Marchionne, another drivetrain improvement for the Dart, a nine-speed automatic transmission supplied by ZF, won’t be ready until 2014.

The Dart is the first new Chrysler product that wasn’t already in the pipeline when Marchionne and his minions were gifted the company by the U.S. government’s task force on restructuring GM and Chrysler. If I’m not mistaken, the production of a MPG small car was part of the government’s conditions on Fiat’s control of the Auburn Hills automaker. The piecemeal way in which the Dart’s powertrain choices are being expanded gives the impression that the car was rushed to market, using whatever they had on the shelf, in this case the 1.4L turbo, originally intended for a smaller car, the Fiat 500.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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102 Comments on “Slow Dart Sales Cause Elimination of Shift at Dundee Engine Plant, There’s No Replacement For Displacement...”


  • avatar
    gslippy

    “soft south of 3,000 rpm” is a generous statement.

    I’ve driven the 500 (non-turbo, manual), Dart 1.4T manual, and Dart 2.0 automatic. The most pleasant to drive was the 2.0 automatic. The 1.4 is a dud, particularly in city driving where torque is nice to have.

    The Dart’s stick is no treat, either. A little-known fact is that its automatic is actually a Hyundai unit, and it’s pretty nice.

    The Dart interior is OK; the exterior is excellent; ride is good; workmanship is middling. But its last hope is a strong 2.4 motor. I can’t see what’s taking so long to launch it. I want to love the Dart, but Dodge is making it tough.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      …The Dart interior is OK; the exterior is excellent; ride is good; workmanship is middling. But its last hope is a strong 2.4 motor. I can’t see what’s taking so long to launch it. I want to love the Dart, but Dodge is making it tough…

      +1 I have the exact same impressions after seeing/siting in them at the car show. Have not driven so have no impression in that space.

    • 0 avatar
      Loser

      “I want to love the Dart, but Dodge is making it tough”

      Agree 100%.

    • 0 avatar
      klew2013

      Have had the stick 1.4 liter turbo manual Dart since summer and I have to say that I love it. Has power probably because of the turbo. I drove the Fiat 500 for almost a year and for 2 people it was fine but when I had to take both grandkids there is no room in the back for 2 car seats that makes it easy. I do like the interior since it finally looks techno with the dashboard displays. And love the look of the car. Everyone asks about it when I’m out. I’m hoping they iron the bugs out soon.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Nothing the Pentastar V6 and maybe a little AWD can’t fix.

  • avatar
    benzaholic

    Aw sheet.
    If’n it ain’t got a few hundred ponies and if’n it cain’t get to 60 in less than 5 seconds, it’s nuthin but a -mobile.

    I haven’t driven it, but why are 160hp and 184 lb-ft (according to http://www.dodge.com/en/2013/dart/performance/) for around 3200 pounds considered to be almost dangerously weak in the US these days? People just must not know how to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Fiat must have rented Hyundai’s dyno, because the 160 hp Dart is slower than everyone else’s 138-150 hp compacts. Putting up with a turbocharger while getting inferior straight line speed is a hard sell to anyone with the slightest clue about cars as well.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Those who would complain about 20lbs/hp have obviously never driven a 1960s VW transporter.

      • 0 avatar
        moedaman

        “Those who would complain about 20lbs/hp have obviously never driven a 1960s VW transporter.”

        They were especially nice trying to get on an interstate highway. I owned one and I’m still alive to talk about it.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Those who would justify a new car against a 50 year old crapbox have obviously never read the price portion of a modern window sticker.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @benzaholic:

      I agree with you in principle. However, the Dart’s 1.4T is substantially weaker below 3000 rpm than anything I’ve driven before. The quoted 160 HP is near redline. They might say it has 184 ft-lbs of torque at 2550 rpm, but I couldn’t feel much of it until almost 4000 rpm.

      So what you get in city driving is a sluggish car that suddenly surges forward just as you need to slow down. The lack of low-end torque means you’re constantly shifting. I found the manual 1.4T pretty unpleasant to drive. For me, it’s not about 1/4-mile times or top speed; I’m really interested in driveability, and the heavily-vaunted 1.4T doesn’t have it.

      Interestingly, Edmunds has acquired a long-term Dart with the 1.4T and the DDCT (auto) tranny; they basically hate the transmission, which is a very bad way to start a long-term test. I would have hoped this tranny could work better with the 1.4T, but evidently not.

      http://www.edmunds.com/dodge/dart/2013/long-term-road-test/2013-dodge-dart-sxt-rallye-ddct-transmission-is-substandard.html

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      Drive it; it does not live up to the spec sheet.

      Edit: Given the old Neon reputation as a “chick car”, aimed at teenage girls and twenty-something women, I’ve heard from women who’ve given it a shot based on the appearance that it didn’t deliver for them, either, because even pedal-to-the-floor, the Dart does not get off the line with any haste, which is really all you care for in a city car.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Raising once again, the as-yet unanswered question: is less displacement and forced induction better than more displacement without forced induction, from the perspective of power, “driveability” and fuel economy (in the real world, not the EPA test).

    Ford, GM and BMW, among others, have invested heavily in turbocharging (I remember in the 1980s, when BMW proudly advertised that, unlike some competing European makes (Saab, Volvo) it did not sell turbo charged engines in the US (the 745 was never legally imported into the US). Honda has held back from the forced induction trend, and it’s one venture into turbocharging (the first generation RDX) was a gas-hog. Interestingly, the second-gen RDX, with a V6, exceeds the turbo version’s performance in both acceleration and fuel economy, according to the car mags.

    • 0 avatar
      -Cole-

      There is a replacement for displacement.

    • 0 avatar
      lzaffuto

      Although I love the response of a larger displacement engine, there is nothing wrong with the idea of using a smaller engine with forced induction instead. You can gain incredible torque at impossibly low rpms. The problem is execution. You have to have the right base engine paired with the right size and rpm spooling turbo, then tune, tune, and tune. When you are done tuning, tune some more. You would think that a European company like FIAT that has a lot of experience with small forced induction motors in its native market would have this nailed. Apparently not.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        FIAT is an Italian motor company, and owns Ferrari.

        In Europe, especially Italy, Formula-1 is THE last name in motorsport, and Enzo Ferrari prided himself on his obsession with the sport. As a result the European market tends towards engines that emphasize very high revs and power-delivery that encourages you to wring-out the engine as it emulates the performance-curve of Formula-1 cars (which are the way they are because of Formula-1′s strict displacement limits).

        Americans tend to prefer engines that deliver high torque very early in the rev-range, some would call them ‘Lazy’ engines, and it’s one of the reasons why Pushrod designs have stayed so competitive in the American market.

        Another thing, in Europe I’ve noticed a tendency to equip compact and mid-size cars with very small engines that in America would only be tolerated on sub-compacts and ‘city-cars’. I’m wondering if the problems with the Dart drivetrains don’t stem partially from Sergio trying to push European driving preferences upon the American market out of ignorance?

      • 0 avatar
        ZekeToronto

        Les wrote: “I’m wondering if the problems with the Dart drivetrains don’t stem partially from Sergio trying to push European driving preferences upon the American market out of ignorance?”

        That’s doubtful. Sergio learned to drive while growing up here in Toronto. And by the time he was driving in Europe, he was already in a larger displacement tax bracket.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        Canada =/= America.

      • 0 avatar
        ZekeToronto

        Les wrote: Canada =/= America.

        The array of new vehicles sold in Canada is nearly identical to what’s on offer in the United States (the pedant in me notes that US =/= America either). Specifically, the percentage of sub-1.5 litre cars sold here is pretty similar to that in the US … and in that sense neither country remotely resembles Italy (or most of Europe).

        It’s far more likely that the real answer to the question you posed was revealed in a subsequent post–namely that the 40MPG 1.4 litre engine in the Dart resulted from a commitment between Fiat and the US government, relating to their takeover of Chrysler.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        Sorry, I just keep getting told from I don’t remember where that Canada’s automotive tastes aren’t America’s (You know damn well what I mean ;) ) automotive tastes, so oversimplifications ahoy.

        Still, how is Sergio growing-up in Canada to have anything with what was originally said? Fiat is still an Italian company that’s primarily oriented to a European market that favors absurdly small engines in relatively large cars (The Dodge Avenger for example, at least in Britain, is offered with over half a dozen engine options including several sub 2-litre offerings, not a one of the offered engines is the Pentastar.) and ALL cars regardless of displacement being tuned to rev high and deliver most power at high-revs (which would explain why the FIRE motor is so lack-luster below 3,000 RPM compared to the similar-displacement engine in the Cruze).

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      I think that as a general rule, a modern turbo setup allows for a smaller displacement engine that is more efficient at light load than a corresponding larger displacement non-turbo engine. But there’s a penalty over the larger displacement non-turbo when running at heavy load (i.e.: accelerating hard). So, the goal should be to have enough engine grunt that the engine can accelerate adequately for the EPA test (or real-world use) without having to pay the fuel penalty of running the turbocharger.

      With modern engine management systems, turbo engines tend to run a fairly high compression ratio for efficiency when the turbo isn’t running. But when the turbo is running, the turbo-induced compression ratio is too high and so the ignition system delays spark and changes valve timing to eliminate knocking. But those countermeasure hurt fuel economy.

      The RDX you mention is an example where the weight of the “light” truck is enough that the turbo runs too much, hurting efficiency over the V6 model. It was probably optimized to give enough power without turbo boost to ace the (older) EPA tests, but “real world” driving dips into the turbo all too often.

      Examples where the turbo models work well (especially if measured by the EPA tests) are the various recent engines in the BMW 3 series. The 3L turbo handily overpowered the non-turbo but with very little EPA loss. The 2L turbo gives similar power to the 3L non-turbo but with better torque and EPA scores.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Well, the RDX, considering its size, was pretty porky. In the example, I drove, starting off from a dead stop and keeping up with the traffic was a little tricky. There was a definite lag to the turbo and the car wasn’t moving much, then the boost came on, and the car was accelerating more quickly than necessary. So, perhaps that accounted for the mileage penalty. But there are some pretty impressive n/a engines out there, too. I rented a Mustang V-6 for a week vacation, and it really did a righteous 30+ mpg when speeds were between 50 and 60. That compares pretty well with my turbo (2.3l) Saab 9-5, which has 45 less hp and, I believe, is pushing a couple hundred pounds less weight . . . and achieves the same observed mileage under those conditions.

  • avatar
    Onus

    I think the problem is just poor choice of turbo charger. They should put one that spools faster and they wouldn’t have people complaining about. Power is inline with what everyone else sells.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      The new wave of axial flow, dual side and vnt equipped turbos promise to further reduce lag and steepen the torque curves of smaller engines. Some neat stuff can be found at http://turbo.honeywell.com/

      As one who owns a 2.2 with a VNT hacked into it, I’m tickled to see that particular technology return, albeit in the diesel arena.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @Onus: I think you’re right.

      My friend’s Cruze 1.4T automatic moves along just fine. And all reviews I’ve seen of the Sonata 2.0T say that its boost is nearly instantaneous.

      Fiat’s engine has good final specs, but the power & torque curves are misshapen.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    “The powertrain solutions we made available to that car, in today’s world, in hindsight, were not the ideal solution,” Mr. Marchionne said.

    Ridiculous! Obama said that Fiat needed a 40 mpg highway compact, and the 1.4 multiair FIRE!!!! engine was how they achieved it. How can it not be ideal when it satisfied Chairman Obama?

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    have we found out what the fuel economy of the 2.4 is? if it drops down into mazda 3 2.5 territory, I don’t see much of a market for the car either, although the Jetta has proven me wrong about lack of interest in a small car that’s gets no better mileage than a larger or sportier one. With the Focus ST, Mustang V6, and Hyundai Genesis 2.0t all offering around 30 mpg highway with far more hp than the 2.4, and a Mazda 6 now offering 38 mpg for a larger car with a similar sized engine but no curb weight penalty vs the Dart, this 2.4 better impress.

  • avatar
    Speed3

    Dodge has been selling around 4.5-5K Darts a month lately. The Dart should have an easy time breaking 60K units for 2013. Once the rebalancing of engines gets sorted, the 2.4 comes online, and the 9-speed hits the market, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dart break 100K no sweat. Also, the ho-hum interior is nothing that can’t be spruced up in a mid-cycle refresh (I believe Chrysler has done pretty well on that front before).

    While the Dart is not going to be selling in Civic volume anytime soon, its just replacing the Caliber which wasn’t exactly the sales juggernaut. I’m still fairly optimistic for the Dart.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I think the problem is that this car doesn’t draw attention for anything. The interior is meh, the exterior is meh, nothing special about the engine or the price or the warranty or even the colors. The name is only nostalgic to people too old to be in the market for this type of car, and there is no real link to any sort of history anyway, a real Dart would be a bargain Charger, not a Civic competitor. It isn’t powerful enough or sporty enough to get the enthusiasts attention, and it is too much a risk to get on the radar of non-enthusiasts who can shop Honda/Toyota/Kia/Hyundai at the same or better pricing. Oh, and there are way too many models and engine choices, its confusing even to me.

    I dont understand how Dodge can slam-dunk the Charger, the Challenger, and the Ram trucks but cannot figure out how to build on that for the rest of their lineup.

    This car should have been the second Fiat model for the US, they should have kept the front end styling and hatchback from the Giulietta, or better yet made this the first mainstream Alfa, then marketed it as the upmarket Italian-styled option of the compact sedan market.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      As far as warranties go, I think Chrylser either needs to up the standard warranties or start publicizing their extended warranty options more. The best information we got about it came from their website and then me calling Chrysler directly to get it confirmed. The Fiat dealer was pretty up to date on it but the Dodge dealer wasn’t. A key reason my parents got the Fiat 500 was the lifetime bumper to bumper warranty, and if my sister gets a Grand Caravan here soon (a likely scenario), the availability of that warranty will be a big part of reasons for that sale too.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        ‘lifetime bumper to bumper’????

        how much did that cost?

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        That’s not a standard warranty, you pay for it and it is not cheap. Hyundai and GM do the 100k powetrain warranty included. Not to mention, a lifetime warranty only helps if you plan to keep the car a really long time. Not many buyers do that these days.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Chrysler slam dunked the Charger, the Challenger, and the Ram – and the JGC and the Wrangler besides – because those segments aren’t about practical. Chrysler can make a big, powerful car with bold styling as well as anyone in the world. Those cars sell to the heart which keeps the things Chrysler can’t do well – reliability, resale, economy – out of the discussion.

      How do you do that in the energy star appliance segment? The industry benchmark there is the Corolla, do those buyers even have hearts? The Dart has to be small, bland, and slow or it wouldn’t be a Dart.

      Build an economy car to Dodge’s strengths and you’d have the Charger SE. Which they already have.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    I agree with his assement. People buying dodge sacrifice some status. So they want something with power. This how they move the Avenger. Lots of torque steer sure – but tons of power out of the 3.6 and its cheap.

    Don’t get me wrong. With the right transmission forced induction works quite well. But you need to design it like VW/Audi with their 2.0 and turbo. This gives you enough torque from 900-1500 and then plenty after that..(260lbs). Its actually more driveable then a larger displacement V6.. Very little turbo lag because you can tell the tranny to keep rpms above 1500 (which is what it does in sport mode).

    The problem with forced induction isn’t the driveability. It’s the fuel economy. Real world city driving in a small turbo engine gets TERRIBLE fuel economy – just like a V-8. Only stop/start and/or hybrid systems can deal effectively with stop lights.

    The absolute best engine for everday driveability is a OHV V-8 IMHO. The modern Hemi/LS1 engines best anything in the world for all around driveability. But a regular V6 only sounds a little better then a good turbo 4.

    The key is that large displacement engines develop so much torque throughout the rev range. The engine always responds to throttle input with no lag. And they work well with automatics which is what regular people drive.

    In my experience I have found driving conditions much much bigger factors in fuel mileage then engine size. People imagine that tiny engines will get them such great gas mileage. But that’s just not how it works.

    • 0 avatar
      spartan_mike

      “The absolute best engine for everday driveability is a OHV V-8 IMHO. The modern Hemi/LS1 engines best anything in the world for all around driveability. But a regular V6 only sounds a little better then a good turbo 4.”

      I love the Hemi in my 05 GC, relaxed power when you take it easy, and a great run to redline when you push it. I’m just getting sick of the 8.5 mpg. I frequently wonder if I would do any worse in an Escalade or an H2.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I’m not an expert, but I think the 8.5mpg that you’re getting in even a relatively (by current Fiatsler standards) old Hemi in your GC indicates some type of problem, assuming you’re not racing stoplight to stoplight or doing 95mph+ on the highway.

        On topic, the Dart’s interior is its its weakest attribute, and not class competitive, IMO.

        It’s as if they tried to add layer and depth to it in order to set it apart, but made it look dated, instead.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @CelticPete: I’ve owned mostly 4-cylinder cars all my life. Most of them have great driveability. Besides a mismatched turbo/engine combo in the Dart, the car is just too heavy.

      If the Dart was 600 lbs lighter, a normally-aspirated 4-cylinder would be fine in it.

      Today’s ‘small’ cars have bloated up dramatically, thanks to regulation and consumers’ taste for bling, and sound deadening. The tin cans I drove in the 80s would be unacceptable today.

      • 0 avatar
        Onus

        I love the old cars. They have a personality, even with bad wind noise.

        My friends family has a Plymouth Horizon. Fantastic visibility. Love riding in that thing.

        They found that one a few years back after another one they had was in a wreck. It’s pretty clean too.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      V8s are awesome for highway cruising, but I’m not ready to agree that they are the best overall.

      Even an NA 4-cylinder can ambush people at a light and work its way through city traffic, provided it has appropriate gearing. I would not want a V8 if that was what my commute looked like. It’s all about picking the right tool for the job.

      Spend a lot of time on the highway?…V8

      Stuck in heavy traffic and/or lots of lights everywhere you go?…NA I4 or hybrid

      Run into a bit of everything?…6-cylinder is a fine middle ground. Audi/VW do well with their 2.0T, and Ford’s 2.0T in the Focus ST apparently works well too.

  • avatar

    Shame. Seems like NAmericans are not ready for smaller displacement engines. Blame on history, blame it on people who can’t drive (step on it guys, it won’t break), but the engine is really good. OTHOH maybe it is too small for a car the size of a Dart.

    Derek, I also seem to remember some noise about Fiat producing smaller engines in America as part of the deal. Now that they’ve done that and filled the pre-condition, they can move on to the kind of engine that Americans know how to handle, namely the 2.4.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Blame the buyers for rejecting a car that isn’t competitive. Car and Driver knows how to stand on the gas. They got 26 mpg as opposed to the 33 mpg they received from a 2012 Civic EX sedan driven in the same manner, and which was just as quick. One would have to be born earlier today to believe that a 1.4 turbo was as good of an ownership proposition as a Honda 1.8 NA, so why buy one for worse economy and no performance gain?

      • 0 avatar

        It’s a smaller car, granted, but here in BRazil you can get a Punto with the 1.4 turbo or a 1.8 (called e-tor.Q or some such by Fiat, it’s an evolution of the 1.6 fitted in the first new Minis). The 1.4 is faster and, when driven gingerly, more economical. Driven like it should be it returns about the same as the 1.8 16v. That’s an in house comparo of course.

        CJ, I know you love your Japanese, but the Civic does nothing for me. I prefer the looks, inside and out, of the Dart. As to content level I couldn’t say.

        In my experience, the Civic (except hatch from 90s that I loved, with 2.0 I think?) doesn’t like to be pushed. Fiats are usually somewhat sloppy in the city but button down really good at speed. The steering is usually very good. The gear action is sometimes vague. The car takes what you throw at it. Since the Dart is an Alfa, and Alfas are Fiats nowadays, I think I’d prefer the Dart over the Civic. Warts and all. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        @Marcelo – being from Brazil you are used to Fiats and to small cars, so I can see why you may prefer it to the Honda. Here in the US where over 80% of the buyers are just looking for a good car, the Dart represents an unknown risk, compared to a Civic that is practically guaranteed to be a trouble-free car with great resale value.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey mnm4ever!

        Sure, I agree. It’s kind of like the VW Gol or Fiat Palio or Uno here, the default choice. In my history of car buying, rarely have I gone with the default choice. Usually, the rest of the market goes my way after a while. I bought Fiats when nobody did. Now I buy Renault and Fords. Nobody buys them! If you read my posts, you’ll see I hated the Hyundai HB20 while the Chevies are looking strong. Sigh! It sucks to be a front runner as I usually lose in re-sale value, but I drive what I like.

        I get your point. There are many like that here. But a car…we (the enthusiasts who supposedly know better) should pontificate to others that there are other possibilities out there. Or else we’ll all end up driving Civics or Corollas (in US) or the aforementioned cars in Brazil.

        BTW, if I lived in the US I’d look very closely at the Cube or Challenger. Those make me take a second look. In Brazil, if money were no object, I’d buy a Fiat 500 or Doblo, though my reality means that when I get around to buying a new car I’ll probably buy another Logan or Chevy Cobalt. If the money really comes in I wouldn’t object to buying my wife’s dream, the Renault Duster, though I balk strongly at her other dream the Chevy Captiva.

        But that’s just me.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I think I agree with you, even though I have no idea what any of those cars are! And I understand about how we enthusiasts should encourage ppl to look at other choices, but it is hard to fault the Honda for dead solid reliability. And the Dart isn’t really very fun to drive anyways.

        But I like how you think, the Challenger is a pretty sweet ride, but my preference is still for the Mustang. But the Cube? No thanks. I made some friends from Brazil at one of my long term consulting gigs, I was all ready to start looking for a job down there with them, until they told me about the car situation… no big V8 musclecars?!? A Fiat 500 if money were no object? Don’t think I like that.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey mnm4ever!

        Hahaha. We live in different realities!

        The Mustang also gets my thumbs up. But there’s something about the Challenger that makes me prefer it over the Ford. Of course, this is without driving either (that is if you don’t consider me driving a 70s Dart or a 90s Fox Mustang 5.0 knowledge enough!). No Camaros, thanks.

        The Cube speaks to my Brazilian side. A funky small car that doesn’t sell as well as a Soul? I like it. Of course, would have to drive one.

        Yep, 500 is entry lux here. Considering our lower purchasing power, the 27.5k USD dollars Fiat charges for one is pretty stiff for me. Again, this car speaks to my inner Brazilian. I like its smallness, design, interior. I dorve one yet briefly. Ok but not mind blowing. Would love to get to know one on a regular basis. Plus, it has none of the uber teutonic huge wheeled pizza plaater interior of the mini. In Brazil people think Mini is German. With all the good and bad that entails.

        As to the cars I’d probably buy, the Chevy would have double thinking since it has but a 1.4. The Logan and Nissan Versa (basically a Logan in a kimono) have a 1.6. The Logan is really square but it looks like a car. The Versa has some of the goofiness of the current anime Japanese design language. Actually the exterior doesn’t bother me but the interior..Yikes! Sadly, the looker in this group is the Cobalt (no relation to American Cobalt, actually a Sonic underneath).

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        The Challenger is a very bad a$$ car, and if I was bigger or taller I would love it. But I’m not, so it just feels huge to me. I still like the attitude. And a 90′s Fox body Mustang was awesome, if you drove that then you know what a muscle car should be like!

        I love the 500 also, but here it’s basically an entry level car, so the value proposition is better.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Sadly there’s a 25 year high wall erected by M-B in this country preventing myself and others from importing some of the more appealing sub-two litre A- and B-class automobiles. Even if I limit choices to forced induction engines to compensate for my high altitude locale, there’s a good selection to choose from.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Marcelo, the problem is the 3200 lb Dodge Dart has the weight of a much larger car like a Nissan Altima, but Chrysler needs it to compete on fuel economy with smaller, lighter weight cars like a 2800 lb Honda Civic. It’s like you’re hauling a pair of obese girls in the back seat of your compact car everywhere you go.

      The Dart falls in between market segments in the US, neither small, economical, and nimble nor “family” sized. It will take both a bigger engine and cash on the hood to compensate for this fundamental mistake. Ironically, the original 2900 lb Alfa Romeo Guilietta might have have been a better competitor for those buyers who want a small car and I guarantee the Alfa Romeo brand would command higher transaction prices than Dodge.

      • 0 avatar

        I think you nailed it. The weight is the problem. How much does a Cruze weigh? Like others said, apparently it’s better than Dart. I don’t believe Fiat, err Chrysler, would have messed up the mechanicals. Or, they did it just to satisfy a guv pre-condition and really rushed it and now the ‘real’ Dart is coming.

      • 0 avatar
        MrGreenMan

        At 3200 lbs, let’s resurrect a “boat” from a decade ago:

        1999 Oldsmobile 88
        Full sized car — bigger than an Impala — on the old H-body FWD platform; had a tow package and could move a ton cross-country
        3,465 lbs (so only 265 lbs heavier than this Dart)
        3.8 L V6 producing 205 hp and 230 torque in a level, flat torque curve
        EPA rating 19/29 – Real world that I achieved regularly was 18 city and 31 highway on a 4-speed transmission (GM had a very tall fourth gear)

        Comparing this to the Dart, what’s the point? Parking?

        Edit: And, I tended to drive it to attempt to win every traffic light as well earning that 18 mpg city.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Excellent points Mr Green Man.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        MrGreen just recited a pretty incredible contrast.

        It shatters the conventional wisdom that cars from the 80s were heavy boats and that new cars are lightweight by comparison.

        I’d presume much of the weight in new vehicles can be attributed to required safety standards and emissions’ requirements, and if I’m even partially correct, than the additional weight isn’t a bad thing by any stretch (I happen to believe, as just one example of this, that stability control is the most beneficial technological advances in auto safety since seat belts, and far more effective than ABS in helping to avoid single and multiple car accidents).

        But this sets up a paradox whereby automakers are decreasing displacement of motors and otherwise resorting to supplemental devices such as turbochargers in order to try and boost power output to compensate for additional weight of all that safety and pollution control equipment.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @MrGreenMan

        People have very different expectations these days. They expect even the smallest cars to be roomy, quiet, and able to crash into things without killing them. And cars have GROWN substantially over the years. The Dodge Dart is HUGE compared to what small cars used to be, of tomblike quiet, and very safe. All of that adds either weight or cost. Since Americans won’t pay real money for “cheap” cars, it adds weight. If the Dart was 500lbs lighter everyone would be complaining about how loud and tinny feeling it is.

        Run that old H-body through a modern crash test and see how well it doesn’t do.

        I don’t think the Dart is a great car – they obviously made some serious product planning errors. But let’s take off the rose-coloured glasses, shall we?

  • avatar
    Freddie

    I have really wanted the Dart to succeed, if for no other reason than the widespread availability of manual transmissions in the Dart line-up. I would hate to see other companies look at the Dart experience and say “See, nobody wants a stick. From now on it’s CVTs for everyone!”

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Nobody wants a Dart. It doesn’t matter if it is a manual, conventional automatic or DCCT automatic. Other companies aren’t badly enough run to believe Fiat’s claim that it was manual transmission availability that caused this car to fail on the market.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Launching initial Darts with a stick was a mistake for two reasons:

      a) The last 30 years have proven that Americans don’t want a stick, although I’ve owned many.

      b) The Dart’s stick is not a good one.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      A Chevy Cruze LT weights over 3200 LBS also but gets by with 138 HP and 148 torque. The similar weight Dart claims 160 HP and 184 torque with the same size engine with the same number of transmission gears. Me wonders if the dart 1.4t was rated using the same folks that did Hyundai’s fuel economy.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        Have there been complaints about the Dart’s top-end performance compared to the Cruze?

        Could be the numbers are accurate, and reflect european-style tastes in engine tuning… and the reason why the Dart’s 1.4T is such a lump at low-revs while the Cruze isn’t.

  • avatar
    rextang

    When these first came out, my brother in law was car shopping and I sent him to the Dodge dealer to look at the Dart. It is absolutely a likeable car for this segment….. however the numbers they were quoting for a limited or mid-level trim lease didn’t add up. Perhaps on account of no residual history, the poor thing couldn’t compete. He ended up with a Buick Verano – on the market about 6 months but with a finance program to back it up. Multiple Buick dealers were bending over backwards to earn his business. Dodge dealers were happy to quote mid 400′s on a Dart for 15k/yr…. We see this happen over at Honda. People say, “how can someone buy such an ugly car”…. There is almost always an affordable financing/lease incentive.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “the poor thing couldn’t compete”

      Exactly! You hit the nail right on the head there, bud.

      There were individuals who expressed doubts about the viability of the Dart in that segment where Fiatsler was trying to compete with the industry’s biggies, while offering nothing that would elevate the Dart over its competition.

      The Dart was marginally larger than some of its competition but pricing it right there alongside Corolla and Civic, someone at Fiatsler was delusional.

      The Dart’s price-point would have been better competing with the Elantra. And the Dart still would have lost against the Elantra because the Elantra returns a lot more value for the money than the Dart does, for the same money.

      That’s not to say that no one will buy a Dart. At least 25,000 people have, so far. But if Sergio had pinned his hopes on a bread&butter money maker in that segment, the Dart should have been a better value.

      What is a great Fiatsler value is the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. I would place the Chrysler 300 as a close second, and the RAM 1500 as third.

      Those four vehicles have brought Chrysler back from the dead, allowed Sergio to repay the loan-shark rate loans from the US Treasury, and breathed some life back into dying Fiat to where it can stand on its own two financial legs now.

      There’s nothing wrong with the Dart that can’t be fixed, but it is nothing special when compared to Civic or Corolla. Hell, even the Elantra would get my vote before a Dart would.

      For the money the Elantra is tops! But Corolla and Civic consistently outsell the Elantra as well because the Corolla and Civic retain so much of their value at trade-in time. The Dart, none of the above.

      • 0 avatar
        silverkris

        I think FIAT got a hell of a deal back in 2009 when they were able to get 20% of Chrysler for no cash. It’s a stretch to call buying off the Fed’s share in 2011 as “loan-shark rates.”

        But I agree that Chrysler’s done real well in paying off their debts early. Especially when Fiat’s European home market sales are down now. Let’s hope they can turn around the Dart.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      silverkris, those words were initially spoken by Sergio. And I believe that was in reference to the low-interest loans that were extended to Ford and other auto manufacturers at that time.

      I know this has all been relegated to the dust bin of automotive history, and I know that Fiatsler has turned its Chrysler subdivision around now.

      But given the overall picture at that time where no one would touch Chrysler’s carcass and that the US government was actively seeking any “buyer” for Chrysler’s remains, I see the 20% and the $1.3Billion as a bribe for Fiat to take Chrysler off our hands. Money well spent?

      So I would agree with Sergio that the money that was extended as a loan to Fiat to take Chrysler, was let at an exorbitantly high interest rate.

      Presumably, this was to off-set in some small way the billions upon billions of dollar losses the taxpayers would incur for bailing out GM and the US auto industry.

      The Obama administration knew upfront that these losses were coming, just like with Solyndra and every failed venture that this administration has underwritten. But as long as I don’t have to pay taxes, I’m cool with it.

      The Fiat 500 bombed in the US. The Dart bombed all the way around. Fiatsler just doesn’t have too much money to play around with. They’re not like GM that is implicitly backed by the US Treasury, and will be again in the future, if need be.

      In an interview with 60 minutes that chronicled the miraculous rising from the dead of Chrysler under Fiat, Sergio said that there was very little margin for error.

      The 500 was error number 1. The Dart was error number 2. I think Fiat will carefully choose its next strategy.

      BTW, I own a 2012 Grand Cherokee and, surprisingly, it has been just as good as our 2008 Japan-built Highlander. I hope it stays that way. I think Chrysler’s success can be directly attributed to Daimler’s development of Chrysler’s best sellers today.

      The only way I see Fiatsler turning around the Dart is to drop its price and make it competitive with an Elantra because a Civic or Corolla the Dart will never be.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    I am very curious to hear some of your thoughts comparing the Dart to the Cruze. The Cruze is a fat (not phat) “compact” with a high curb weight but corresponding solidity, small turbo engine which only provides average fuel economy and power. Yet the Cruze seems more liked then not, whereas the Dart seems to be a flop. Is this as a result of the Cruze under promising and delivering (in the sense that the Cruze is a functional, inoffensive transportation appliance, and wasn’t ever intended to be otherwise) and the Dart overpromising and under delivering (it’s pretty racy looking, after all, based on a hot Fiat, etc.)?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The Cruze beat the other current compacts to market. It enjoyed a brief moment of relative competence, or at least of relatively high content.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      The Cruze has a better interior, and its 1.4T runs a lot better than the Dart’s. It’s actually a pretty well-built car. And I’m a GM hater, of a sort.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      I’ve had the Cruze three times as a rental (each time with the six-speed auto), and I like it on the whole. Car and Driver must’ve been absolutely caning it to see an observed 25 mpg. My first two rentals, I was seeing about 37 mpg (in driving that was about 75% highway/25% suburban and calculated off the odometer and gas pump, not off the trip computer). My third rental, I saw 33 mpg. In addition to C&D’s heavy right foot, I also wonder if the 1.4 turbo is a particularly “tight” engine when new. The higher figures were obtained on year-old cars with 30,000+ miles on the odometer; the low figure, on a car with 4 miles on the odometer when I picked it up.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      FWIW, my dad LOVES his Kruze Eco, he has the 1.4T with a stick, he commutes 90 miles a day in it, loves the power and handling, says its amazingly comfortable for a small car, he averages 40mpg. I found it to have pretty good power delivery too, I think the stick helps, and it does feel very well made. He knows cars too, he traded an S2000 in on the Kruze and likes the Kruze better. On the contrary, my mom HATES her Elantra and cant come close to 40mpg even on long highway trips.

    • 0 avatar
      DPerkins

      I liked the looks of the Dart so I test drove one with a dual-clutch automatic. Dreadful. The salesman tried to convince me that it would “improve in the months ahead as it learned my driving style”. Layer on top of that an ill-fitting interior, orange-peel and dirt in the paint on the hood, high prices for any options that you would like, and there was no way I was buying one.

      By comparison the Cruze LT Turbo is quieter, refined, has a good ride-handling balance, the interior is nice and well put together, and the 1.4l turbo has lots of useable torque down low.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I think the Cruze is flat out terrific for what it is. A medium small, nicely appointed economy car. No pretentions of sportiness. It is adequately fast when it has to be, quiet, rides smoothly, and in general is pretty much the perfect rental car. I’ve even always gotten very good mileage from them, if for no other reason than there is nothing about them that spurs one on to caning the thing.

      Not a car I would ever in a million years buy, but a car I appreciate after landing late at night in a random city. Which pretty much makes it a great car for the overwhelming majority who care very little about cars.

  • avatar
    stars9texashockey

    I think the problem with the 1.4 Multiair engine is that its performance is hampered by the black sweater it is required to wear.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    It aint a Dart unless it has a 225 slant-six !

  • avatar
    probert

    Fiat is pandering and it isn’t paying off. VW decontented the Passat (?) counting on 2 things – As long as it looked like the original and was cheap Americans would buy it. It worked. But the key is that there was an original.

    Fiat is trying to dumb things down but there’s no original to come down from – so it’s just dumb.

    They have sweet cars in their inventory and my suggestion is to grip their huevros, get over the 500, and send over some Pandas etc. . Keep them peppy and agile and shut the f up. Honda did it with the Fit so it’s a proven avenue to success.

    My message to Marchionne: Bring over your small sharp cars, quit your whining, stop your pandering, and don’t wear sandals with socks.

  • avatar
    wmba

    800 lbs, that’s how much more a Dart weighs than an Abarth with the same engine. The Dart version has the wastegate screwed down tighter for an extra 15 lbft of torque. Whoopee.

    The Dart weighs almost 200 lbs more than a new Altima. Dreadful engineering on Chrysler’s part. Car and Driver weights, not nanufacturer BS.

    Fuel consumption is directly proportional to mass at equal rates of acceleration. The turbo argument is specious for the average guy who doesn’t beat on a car. The Acura RDX turbo was pathetic, nowhere near as good as my Legacy GT in actual use.

    All the early Darts were 1.4 turbos with 6 speed manual. Try finding anyone these days in the general population who had any interest after an initial look. They never came back to look at the 2 liter model in the fall, because they had already purchased a Civic or Elantra. And if they actually did, they found another engine with no interest in life.

    The MultiAir engine is incorrectly implemented for fuel economy. It could be arranged to operate in Atkinson cycle mode with software changes, but they run it the exact opposite way. God knows why, because they throw away thermodynamic efficiency on every cycle of the engine. Read about it on pattakon.com.

    I hoped that some savvy American Chrysler engineers would go over the MultiAir and sort it out, but the stories one hears about how snooty Fiat bosses are about their technical superiority means that’s not going to happen. Also Fiat is not up to date in either engineering computer sysyems or QA in the build. Development is performed at half-price and deemed good enough by the Fiat bosses.

    Now we have a 2.4 MultiAir Tigershark engine about to debut. Is it a Mark 2 development or more of the blinkered same? We will soon know.

    So we have a porker of a car, a meh set of engines, a very average car and Sergio doing the chicken dance.

    The Dart is a bit of a dud.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Definitely not 200 lbs more than an Altima:

      From Buff Book:
      Altima: 3187 pounds (I-4), 3355 pounds (V-6)
      Volkswagen Passat: 3225 pounds (I-5)
      Mazda6: 3329 pounds (I-4)
      Honda Accord: 3433 pounds (I-4)

      But it does make you ask why this car weighs so much.

  • avatar
    Boxofrain

    Here in the city I live in on the east coast of Canada, we have two Chrysler dealerships. I saw two Darts last year on the lot of one of them. I stopped and had a look, but they never did anything for me. The service manager at the other dealership told me they were waiting on the Dart before they were introduced, but I have yet to see one on thier lot. Maybe they are hidden behind all the full size Ram trucks that make up the majority of thier sales. I’m willing to bet if they never had a car to sell they wouldn’t notice, as trucks are thier bread and butter.

    Since then, I may have seen one Dart on the street. One. And I’m looking. There are a load of Civics, Ford Focus and Mazda 3′s to be seen everywhere, including many hatchbacks where they are offered. I’ve also seen one Acura ILX on the street. That’s it for those two models. One of each.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Here in western PA, my Dodge dealer claims they sold more Neons in the past than anyone else, which is why they got so many Darts. On their first week, they had 6 in stock, and I drove one of them, and then a different one a few weeks later.

      Today they have 36 on the lot. But even around here, I’ve seen maybe 6 in the wild. Everything else dwarfs it in numbers.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Can hate CAFE and all, but many average people, on left and right, still say “Car companies are holding back technology in collusion with Big Oil! Outta be a law!” Or believe “100 mpg carburators are locked in GM’s warehouse”

    People still expecting 50-100 mpg Escalades ‘any day now’ but know nothing about car tech. So, we get CAFE and its mess.

    OTOH: If gas was taxed high, people would stop buying new cars, and even new clothes, economy would crash.

    There’s no ‘magic bullet, got to look at all options.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Agreed on the 100 mpg carburetor myth. If car companies had it, they’d sell it to gain advantage.

      However, gas is already taxed high, and the F-150 is the best selling vehicle. If gas gradually climbed to $8/gallon, the F-150 would still be a best seller.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The F150 would certainly still be a big seller if gas were at European price levels, but it would not look anything like the behemoth that is sold today. I suspect it would look an awful lot like the global Ford Ranger, complete with turbo-diesel engine.

        If fuel economy is something that is societally desirable, and since we have CAFE that is evidently true, we sure are going about it in entirely the wrong way.

      • 0 avatar

        So krhodes1, a F150 would be in fact a Ranger…So the F150 would in fact not exist…(pulling your leg)

  • avatar
    sketch447

    Chrysler should’ve priced the Dart well below its rivals. That’s what the original Dart was all about: cheap, affordable, sporty.

    It is useful to compare the Dart to the Cruze. I sat in both at the auto show. The Dart’s interior quality was inferior to the Cruze. Dart’s interior seems a decade behind—looser switchgear, spongier seats, looser shifter.

    Fiat just doesn’t get it. I sat in a 500. Parts on the instrument panel were painted plastic that flexed when I touched it. It was a toy.

    Fiat may be a big deal in Italy. But they are no better than they were in the 80s—a crummy car company that hasn’t kept up.

  • avatar
    ajla

    IMO, the best sub-2.0L turbo going in NA right now is the NIssan 1.6T, but no one ever seems to bring it up and even Nissan is only willing to offer it in the froggy-Juke.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    I drove one of these in Oregon over the Christmas vacation.

    I had to google the car’s specs to believe that it had 160 hp and 148 torque.

    The wife’s Impreza has 170/170, has an ancient 4AT, and is a heavier 4WD and yet feels like a rocket sled compared to the Fart.

    This car is an unmitigated disaster. Bland styling, bland interior, crap quality plastics, sluggish engine, ponderous transmission. There’s no Italian “passion” anywhere, except maybe where the harsh ride is somehow equated with “sporty handling.”

    I said before the ONLY way Fiasler is keeping afloat is due to RAM truck sales and the occasional BOF Jeeps.

    The bailout has just ensured that a few hundred union workers have a steady paycheck to supply their weed and liquir.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “occasional BOF Jeeps”

      You mean the Wrangler? The others are unibody.

    • 0 avatar
      Burnout

      I drove a Dart in the Summer, and had a completely different impression…small turbo had plenty of power, interior very nice (when compared to prior Mopar/small car offerings), little six-speed was fine, and handling was great.

      As an econo-car, it’s definitely miles ahead of the Caliber it replaces, better than my daughter’s 2010 Focus, and as good as the other economy cars currently out there.

      Ford’s gonna sell maybe 200,000 Focuses a year (at about 3000 dealerships that works out to about 67 cars per dealer), and I think Marchionne expected about the same or better for the Dart.

      As Dodge ramped up production and parsed out cars in June/July/August, sale numbers were low…since Sept 2012 they’ve averaged about 5700 per month, so they are selling at a pace of about 70,000 per year.

      I think Marchionne expected a pace more like 130-140,000 a year. We’ll see if it picks up. It’s a good car, and as people realize it, I’m thinking it’ll sell maybe 100,000 units in 2013.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    More proof that the government needs to keep there cotton picking hands off Cafe and let the consumers and markets determine where things need to be. Forcing these ultra high cafe regulations prematurely is not only driving the costs of new cars sky high but is also making them far more complex and is also sucking the life out of them with these tiny gutless MPG motors designed to look good on paper. This and the Chevy Cruze are perfect examples.

  • avatar
    Nick

    ‘a nine-speed automatic transmission supplied by ZF’

    9 speeds? How many people really care vs. 6 or 7?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      ZF is planning on selling it to many different makers. In my brain 9 speeds is like having a CVT without having a CVT. It’s sort of a reach around on CVT hate. ;)

  • avatar
    rayb2403

    i have driven many fiats with small turbo charged engines, all have been a blast to drive, fiat have this style of engine perfected, perhaps the problem lies with chrysler/dodge?


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