When it comes to building compact cars, the past several years have not been kind to Dodge. The cute Neon won hearts in the mid-1990’s, but a lack of refinement and development caused the car the lag behind the competition. The Caliber that replaced it in 2006 was trashed by the press from the start, and buyers seemed indifferent to a compact car shaped like a small crossover, let down by a cheap interior and unimpressive drivetrain. To compete in the car business in North America, it is mandatory that you offer not just an OK, but great compact car. Chevy has the Cruze, Ford has the Focus-it’s now time to see what Dodge has to answer with.
The Garage was present and accounted for at the global premier of the 2013 Dodge Dart at the North American Auto Show in Detroit, and it was clear Dodge understood they have not been offering class-leading products, and that this is a make or break chance to be a player. And that’s only half the pressure on Dodge with the Dart. This is the first car we are seeing as a product of Fiat’s ownership of Chrysler. To say there is a heck of a lot riding on the Dart is the understatement of the year.
While the Dart will be built in the US, Dodge is proud of the car’s Italian DNA. Based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Dart was made longer and wider to better suit North American needs. And no one will mistake the Dart as anything but a Dodge, with its signature crosshair grille and Charger inspired taillamp treatment. It’s our first look at a contemporary compact Dodge. In person, the Dart is well-proportioned, attractive and sporty in appearance. The Dart should be well received in Middle Americal, but there is a distinct Euro flair never before seen in a Dodge.
The Dart will be available in five trim levels, and Dodge was quick to point out the Dart will be easy to personalize with multiple color combinations, and a plethora of Mopar accessories. Three engines will be available, starting with a 2.0L four rated at 160hp, a 1.4L turbocharged four also at 160hp, and a 2.4L four with 184hp. The normally aspirated cars will offer a choice of a six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, while the turbo is available with a six-speed manual or dual dry clutch manual automatic. The Dart will start at $15,995USD, and production is expected to start in the second quarter of 2012.
With the Dart, we finally have a Dodge compact we can get excited about, and a clear signal that Dodge gets the message that their past performance has been unacceptable. In looking at the Dart, I was impressed to the point where if it drives as well as it looks, I would consider owning one myself once the lease is up on our 2010 VW Jetta. The Dart was the media darling of the North American Auto Show this year, and during my day walking Cobo Hall in Detroit the most foot traffic I saw all day, non-stop was where the Dodge Dart was on display. The Garage will keep readers up to date as more details are released, so stay tuned!