The Dart is Dodge's first offering in the compact sedan segment since the Neon was discontinued in 2005. Unlike its somewhat unrefined predecessor, the Dart is a truly competitive model thanks to its Alfa Romeo-derived platform, attractive interior and efficient powertrains.
The Dart takes its name from the successful Dodge compact of the 1960s and 70s. While that model utilized a rear-wheel-drive layout, the new Dart rides on Fiat's front-wheel-drive "Compact U.S. Wide" architecture, essentially a larger version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta's platform. Boasting what Dodge says is an industry-topping 68 percent high strength steel content, the platform is quite stiff and rigid for a small car. The suspension is comprised of MacPherson struts up front, which are tuned to minimize camber loss for more responsive steering, and a multi-link suspension in the rear.
Although based on an Alfa Romeo platform, the Dart derives its styling from the Dodge stable -- particularly from the Charger. Up front is the company's trademark cross-hair grille, which blends into swept-back headlamps that are less conventional than those seen on the Charger. The Charger influence continues at the rear of the car with an LED taillight setup and available dual exhaust.
Dodge says that the Dart's interior, which boasts best-in-class hip and shoulder room, is comparable to that of a mid-size sedan in terms of spaciousness. Strategically placed soft-touch materials give the cabin a premium feel, while a left-canted center stack gives the driver easy access to the secondary controls. Optional high-tech extras abound, including a 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a seven-inch Thin Film Transistor customizable gauge cluster display and an inductive mobile phone charging pad.
The Dart can be spec'd with Chrysler's Uconnect Access infotainment system (for a complete description of Uconnect Access, check out Leftlane's Spotlight On: Uconnect in-depth article).
Generally regarded as one of the more user-friendly infotainment setups on the market, Uconnect Access integrates most of the sedan's audio, navigation and climate control functions into one unit. An 8.4-inch touchscreen mounted on the dashboard is the central component of the system, but redundant buttons and knobs for climate and audio volume and tuning are also included.
Uconnect Access features a voice command system that allows the driver to place phone calls, use the sound system, input navigation destinations and more without taking his or her hands off the wheel. Other notable aspects of the system include the ability to function as a Wi-Fi hotspot over a 3G network - for an additional monthly fee - and downloadable applications such as Bing search.
Under its hood, the Dart offers three 16-valve four-cylinder engine choices: A pair of 2.0- and 2.4-liter engines codenamed Tigershark and a Fiat-developed 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir four-cylinder.
The entry-level 2.0-liter mill is good for 160 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, while the smaller 1.4-liter unit makes the same amount of horsepower but boosts torque to 184 lb-ft thanks to the use of turbocharging and Fiat's combustion-optimizing MultiAir technology.
Available on the SXT, Limited and GT models, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder (which also uses the MultiAir system) produces 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of twist.
Although a new nine-speed automatic gearbox is expected in the future, the Dart is offered exclusively with six-cog units for now. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic supplied by South Korea's Hyundai or a new six-speed dual-clutch transmission that pairs exclusively with the 1.4-liter engine.
Fuel economy for the Dart's various powertrain permutations are as follows: 25/36 city/highway mpg for the 2.0-liter/manual, 24/34 mpg for the 2.0-liter/auto; 27/39 mpg for the 1.4-liter/manual, 27/37 mpg for the 1.4-liter/auto; 23/33 mpg for the 2.4-liter/manual; and 21/30 mpg for the 2.4-liter/auto.
Those looking for maximum mpgs should consider the Dart Aero. It uses the 1.4-liter mill in conjunction with active grille shutters, low-rolling resistance tires and lightened suspension components to achieve 28/41 mpg with the stick and 28/40 with the auto.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Dodge Dart is available in six different trim levels: SE, SXT, Aero, Limited and GT.
The SE comes standard with AM/FM/CD stereo with MP3 capability, LED taillights and "Denim" cloth seats. Under the hood is the 2.0-liter straight-four.
The Dart SXT adds the 2.4-liter Tigershark engine, A/C, 17-inch aluminum wheels, remote keyless entry, an upgraded sound system, an anti-theft system, 60/40 split folding rear seats and power locks. Optional extras on the SXT include an 8.4-inch touch screen Garmin navigation system, a rear backup camera, a sunroof and a 506-watt sound system.
The SXT can be ordered with the Rallye Appearance Group, which adds a black front fascia, 17-inch Hyper Black alloy wheels and a Rallye badge.
The Aero features the smaller 1.4-liter engine and numerous efficiency-boosting bits (enumerated above).
The Dart Limited comes loaded up with an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a backup camera, a seven-inch Thin Film Transistor reconfigurable instrument display, a 10-way power driver seat, automatic headlamps, active grille shutters and premium accent stitching on the instrument panel. Leather upholstery is optional.
The range-topping Dart is the sporty GT trim. To the Limited's features, the GT adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control and 18-inch aluminum wheels. Performance is also upgraded thanks to a sport suspension with frequency-sensing damping shock absorbers, dual exhaust and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder.
The latest limited-edition Dart is the Blacktop. Based on the SXT model with the Rallye Appearance package, the Blacktop adds Gloss Black mirrors and 18-inch Gloss Black aluminum wheels. Those new styling cues are in addition to the Gloss Black mask and split crosshair grille, dark-tinted projector headlamps, projector fog lamps and integrated dual exhaust already standard on the SXT and Rallye Appearance Group.
Dodge Dart Blacktop buyers can choose from seven exterior colors - Redline Red, Header Orange, Blue Streak, Granite Crystal Metallic, Billet Silver, Pitch Black and Bright White.
Buyers can also pick between a Black/Ruby Red or Black/Light Tungsten cloth interior.
Every Dart model comes standard with dual front and side-curtain airbags in addition to front- and rear-mounted side airbags, traction control and stability control.
While the Dart is undoubtedly Dodge's best small car ever, it competes in a segment full of well-designed rivals that are also well worth a look. These cars include the Mazda Mazda3, the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Cruze and the Hyundai Elantra.