I was at the New York Auto Show when Dodge took the wraps off of its new Dart, the first car the world would see as a result of Fiat’s take over of struggling Chrysler. Dodge’s last compact, the forgettable Caliber did not impress anyone, and I think it is fair to say Dodge would like us all to forget about that car. The media swarm at the Dart’s reveal was massive. And the Dodge execs hammered the fact this car has Alfa Romeo DNA. The press swooned. Normally at a car show, a new car is revealed, everyone moves on to the next press conference. This is when I get my pictures of the car. But not the Dart. The media never left. All day long, hours after the reveal, photographers and TV crews from around the world swarmed around the new Dart.
Unfortunately, us car journalist’s views do not always coincide with the general public. Sadly, since its debut, the Dodge Dart has been a slow seller. For that, it would not be fair to blame the Dart entirely. I feel that Dodge’s indifference to compact cars over the past several years simply has most new car buyers not even consider the brand. And I think with the Dart, Dodge execs recognize that. The person who has in mind a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla will not be swayed with the Dart. So, Dodge decided the Dart would not be a plain vanilla compact car.
Instead of a boring, appliance like device, the Dart is actually a very handsome car. Perfectly proportioned and dashing in design, the Dart is arguably one of the best looking compacts available today. There are plenty of styling cues from its big brother Charger that tie the Dart into the Dodge family, but it is not overdone. Our test car’s paint color, Header Orange, was over the top. Yes, you could literally see me coming a mile away. This is not your Grandma’s beige Corolla.
If Dodge’s had a weak spot in the past, it was definitely in the interior. Thankfully, the Dart offers a tastefully done interior. For my family of three there was plenty of room, visibility was excellent, and the controls intuitive and easy to use. I especially liked the 8.4″ screen that controls navigation, audio, climate control and other functions. It is easily one of the best interfaces in the business. The quality of materials was above average for the price paid on the Dart. However, there is a downside. I wouldn’t call the Dart uncomfortable, but the ideal driving position seemed to elude me during my week with the car. As much fiddling I did, I nver felt like I was sitting in the car right.
As far as engines go, Dart buyers have three choices. Base Darts come with a 2.0L four rated at 160hp. The higher mileage Aero has a 1.4L turbo, also rated at 160hp. Our test car, the GT, features a 2.4L four rated at 184hp. All Darts come standard with a six-speed manual, and a six speed automatic is optional. The Aero model has a six-speed automated manual that has been criticized for slow, clunky shifts. Our Dart GT sounds aggressive at start up, and acceleration is frisky. However, EPA fuel economy ratings of 22/31 MPG City/Highway are pretty disappointing for a modern compact car. Handling and braking are excellent in our sport-tuned GT. The bottom line here is you crave great handling and an engine with attitude, and are willing to pay the price at the pump, the Dart GT may be for you.
You can get yourself into a Dart for $17,000 and change, but our test car was the GT, the sportiest iteration of the Dart. The base price on our car was $20,995USD. Standard equipment included Nappa leather seating, 8.4″ touch screen display, Bluetooth, dual zone auto climate control, heated seats, heated steering wheel, SiriusXM satellite radio, ambient LED interior lighting, power seats, fog lamps, 18″ alloys and dual exhaust tips. Our car’s options included the Technology Group (Rear park assist, blind spot and rear cross path detection, auto high beams, rain sensitive windshield wipers, ), and navigation. Including destination, our Dart GT rings in at a respectable $25,125.
In the vast market of compact cars, the Dart is a unique option. Again, one gets the sense Dodge threw up their hands and decided no matter what they do, they will not sway any buyers of the Civic/Corolla crowd. So instead, we have a slightly edgier compact that is perfectly competent. But for the same money, you may have to give up a couple options, the VW GTI or Jetta GLI are far more satisfying rides. The Dart is a solid effort, and light years ahead of the Caliber. But with such lackluster fuel economy figures, a majoy factor in this class of car, I fear the Dart will continue to be a slow seller.