Chrysler is taking no chances with its latest entry in the highly-competitive compact sedan segment, the Dodge Dart. The retro-badged four-door can be had in more than 1,000,0000 different trim level, powertrain and option combinations in order to appeal to the largest possible percentage of the buying public.
We recently had the opportunity to slip behind the wheel of the Dart 1.4-liter dual-clutch automatic, which is a late-introduction powertrain combination positioned in the middle of the lineup in terms of power and sporting appeal. With 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of twist, the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder matches the horsepower of the standard, naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter mill but serves up an additional 38 lb-ft of torque. A range-topping 2.4-liter four rated at 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque will arrive this fall; we'll drive it closer to its on-sale date.
While we've already driven the 1.4-liter with the standard six-speed manual, this was our first experience with the dual-clutch transmission. Available exclusively with the mid-level engine (other Darts get a six-speed torque-converter automatic), the six-speed "Â˜box is dubbed DDCT (Dual Dry-Clutch Transmission) by Chrysler.
Darts with the 1.4-liter and DDCT combination will begin hitting dealers in September.
Though developed by Fiat and Alfa Romeo, the DDCT was specially calibrated by Chrysler for the Dart. This fine-tuning for the U.S. market is evident in the transmission's easy-going nature when left to its own devices in auto mode: shifts aren't notable for their haste, but are delivered with a smoothness that closely resembles a conventional automatic. They are heard rather than felt.
The resemblance to a torque-converter automatic continues in low-speed, parking lot-type situations, where the DDCT featured little of the herky-jerky, highly throttle-sensitive behavior that plagued early dual-clutch Ford transmissions.
In manual mode, we found that DDCT responded obediently to ratio requests during hard acceleration, serving up crisp but unhurried shifts. In partial throttle situations, the transmission seemed to hesitate for an extra moment before delivering the desired ratio.
We were a bit miffed that revving the engine past 6,000 rpm induces an automatic upshift, though it's unlikely that the target audience will be exploring the upper reaches of the tach with much regularity. Steering wheel-mounted paddles aren't part of the package, so gear changes are effected through the shift lever, which is a conventional-style unit as opposed to the stubby and somewhat fussy knob used in Chrysler's eight-cog full-size sedans.
The EPA has yet to announce official fuel economy ratings, but it's unlikely that the DDCT will offer an efficiency increase compared to the the manual-equipped model, which returns 27/39 mpg.
Transmission aside, our Dart tester was nearly identical to the manual-equipped 1.4-liter model we drove back in April, with a fairly roomy interior, an engine that provides ample mid-range thrust and some of the more responsive handling dynamics in the segment.
Leftlane's bottom line
Drivers used to the buttery-smooth shifts of conventional automatics will find little to dislike with the DDCT. However, those expecting a more performance-oriented 'box in the vein of Volkswagen's DSG will be a bit disappointed. Enthusiasts looking to maximize driving engagement will probably want to stick with the stick.
So, while it isn't as sport-focused as we'd hoped for with the 1.4-liter, we think the dual-clutch-equipped Dart represents an appealing blend of power and convenience for those not inclined to operate a third pedal.