2013 Dodge Dart: First drive

FIRST DRIVE

Every now and again, we as people come across something that changes our perception of how something is. Whether it be a presence, object or something of greater substance and value, our opinion of that subject diminishes and becomes something better. Dodge has been trying their hand at changing the minds of the mass majority about their products. The Dodge Dart is the first actual product to come from the Chrysler/Fiat marriage. So what do I think?

To start, the 2013 Dodge Dart shares a very familiar design with both its Italian uncle, Fiat, and among its Dodge brethren. In most cases, trying to make a bi-racial design is a challenge, in and of itself, especially when given a short time frame and having to do so using an already existent platform. Tie in the fact that this car had to be as aero and light as possible, due to the demand for a 40 mpg car, you’d think the Dart would have a Chevy Prizm effect to it. Wrong. The Dart is even more attractive in person than it is in pictures and immediately grabs your attention . There are 5 packages to choose from, being the SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited and R/T, all with enough customization options to have over 10,000 ways to personalize your very own Dart. Now, I could sit here and bore you with numbers, such as the co-efficient drag on this car is 0.285, gas mileage is exceptional at 25/36 (2.0 auto/manual) and 27/39 (1.4T manual), steering ratio for all Dart’s are 15:1, 10 standard airbags for all models and the 2.0 and 2.4 motors were both upgraded 80% over its predecessor’s. No, I’m pretty sure everyone is interested in the car itself, so we’ll get right to it.

To start, again, the styling is very attractive. Based on the Alfa Romeo Guilletta, the Dart comes in at 3 inches taller, 2 inches wider and a full foot longer than its cross-Atlantic sister. The front is very rakish, with a very customizable fascia (depending upon trim level),offset by the familiar Dodge single rear tail light. The profile of the car stand out because it shows just how close this car is to actually being a midsize car. Going into more detail about the rear, the Charger’s influence is represented with its race track inspired, 158-LED tail lamp. Surely, its an amazing attention grabber. Attention was paid very close everywhere you look. Move on shall we.

 

 

The interior is well appointed, ahead of the typical compact car, even in its base form. The first thing you notice is, again, the Charger’s representation on its little brother. The dash is very driver conscious, having a nice, soft touch almost everywhere. Step up to the Limited trim and you can easily compare the Dart to an entry-level luxury car. Pretty impressive, especially considering what vehicle the Dart replaces. Storage capacity is nothing short of amazing in this compact car. There are storage bins right underneath the seats (just pull the seat bottom up), the center console is pretty big with USB and iPod plug-in connectivity; the glove box has enough space to fit a laptop (I’m 6’3 and I fit my whole arm in). Upon getting into the car, you’ll notice right off the bat: those seats are exceptionally comfortable. The Dodge team understands what consumers like, and I’d rate the cloth better than the best compact’s leather seats. Yes, they’re that comfortable, and I didn’t even mention the leather buckets. Top notch. My driving partner was a heavy set guy, a bit taller than me, and he seemed to be completely comfortable, still with enough space to fit someone shorter than 6 feet behind. When I got into the driver’s seat, I adjusted to my liking and could easily fit another me behind. Head, shoulder and knee room are all tops, better than what the class suggests.

Taking a moment to look at the tech features, in the base model you get your standard radio and CD player. A nice little added addition is that iPod integration and USB come standard. Stepping up to the SXT, you have the option for the 8.4 inch screen and, if you can, GET IT! The touch screen is very smooth, fast, and easy to control. The most pleasant experience I had with the screen was the back up camera. You think looking into a 5 inch screen is cool, try the 8.4. I never had to use the mirrors, space coverage was that large. Standard gauges are on the SXT, nothing special. The red and black was pretty nice, though. The TFT 7-inch screen for the speedometer on the Limited model, though, was top notch. Didn’t get much of a chance to customize it, but it’s very fast and easy to read. The stereo system, even on the base is nice. The 600-watt system is very clear, even at high volumes. Easily among the best in class, up there with the Focus’ Sony system.

 

 

Now, let’s get to the driving aspect, which also brings up the negative bits I have to say about the Dart. Maybe its because the car automatically impressed me so much to the point where I expected better, but some things have to be improved. Of course, I could just be nitpicking, but here it goes. The 2.0 and 6-speed auto is a bad combination. Not only was this a pre-production model, but the auto is based upon the Sonata’s auto transmission. Either could be the case, but it was an awkward experience. There’s absolutely no power off the line. You can dig into it as much as you want, but still, no power to be found. That would be okay, of course, the Dart isn’t a drag racer, but that’s not what makes the auto bad. It can be rough at times, it hunts continuously, just always seems to be in the wrong gear and loves to apologize for it. This could possibly be because we were a bit hard on the car; the 2.0 is definitely made for the everyday consumer. If you do opt for the 2.0 though, I suggest the manual. Again, another place where I had to nitpick to find a negative. Only problem I can think of is clutch travel is a bit far. Other than that, it’s among the best. Clutch seems to be weighted correctly, shifter ball feels great in hand, throws are perfect, the 6-speed manual is the way to go. Now, with the 2.0, you’ll find yourself rowing a lot thanks to no grunt down low, but it works amazingly. On the ride/handling side, one issue is tire modulation. Its not butter smooth like the Cruze, you’re gonna feel the times. Not necessarily an issue, but its there. Other than that, no complaints here at all. In fact, this area surprised me more than the interior quality. You don’t even need to step up to the Rallye to have fun in this car. The brakes are amazing, albeit touchy, requiring a slight learning curve, corners very tight, no body roll and the steering is weighted very nicely, as if to mimic a hydraulic system. Driver’s are going to love this car, regardless. I even found that, over not-so-smooth surfaces, the car ate up imperfections without me feeling a thing. Incredible job. Again, another feeling of entry-level luxry.

Now, stepping up to the 1.4T unleashes a new monster. Somebody obviously told the Limited 1.4 that it was a track star, despite getting 39 highway. This car sounds, acts, feels and performs amazingly. You can tell this is an Abarth inspired motor. Handling is a bit better than on the base models, as is the tire modulation. The car loves to run! With just a slight amount of turbo lag, the Dart Limited 1.4T will run you to sixty right under 8 seconds and will gladly take a sweeper at around 100 mpg without even showing any signs of wear. The 6-speed manual works even better with the 1.4T as well, thanks to the beefy and highly usable torque curve. Enthusiasts, you want this model.

 

 

So, how would I sum up the Dart?  I’ll use professional references. In a world where there are smooth and cocky lawyers, hard working and sarcastic surgeons; relaxed and boring office professionals; soft spoken and cost-conscious accountants and those who continue to thrive off of daddy’s huge wallet, the Dart would be considered the pop singer. This car looks attractive and beautiful no matter how it’s outfitted, sounds pretty well in any given situation, moves like a running back and makes you feel comfortable. This car isn’t for everyone, though, as it comes with a few side effects: (1) the beauty of this car will make you crave attention, (2) the handling and performance capabilities will encourage a bit of fun while driving and (3) you might end up realizing your life is boring after hitting a nice curvy road, as this car induces smiles everywhere, even looking at the mpg counter. If you’re in the market for a cardboard box, don’t even think about a Dart, its not the car for you. But if you crave excitement, love the highest of quality and actually enjoy ripping a corner wide open (safely, of course), it’s hard to beat the Dart. Matter of fact, I don’t think it can be beat. Guess we’ll have to find out.


Photo Credit: Copyright 2012 Theodore Donnell Hicks III / Car Fanatics Blog

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