By now, you’ve probably spotted a few Dodge Darts on your local roads; after all, they have been on sale for practically six-months. The first drives of the Dart came around the time we were adjusting our review format, meaning we haven’t yet unearthed its digits. Given the buzz surrounding the resurrection of the Dart, we figured it’s about time we did. So here it is: The Dodge Dart, Jalopniked up and everything.
(Full Disclosure: That sonofabitch Justin Hyde stole Alex Lloyd from us many many moons ago, but Alex owed us another post before he left and it was this review. For reasons I can't even remember, this post kept getting overlooked and every few weeks we'd joke about how we kept forgetting about it and then promised to run it later that month.
It never happened, and hanging out with Alex and Justin this last week at the New York Auto Show we remembered we never actually did publish it so I promised them it would run now. So here it is, hopelessly out of date and entirely untouched by me, your terrible editor.
It's worth noting that Chrysler actually listened to some of these complaints and changed their offerings for the 2014 MY, including powertrain changes such as "the 2.4-liter Tigershark Multi-air2 engine is standard on the SXT, Limited and GT models (and there is no Rallye model, it is a package on the SXT now), mated to a six-speed manual or the Powertech six-speed automatic. The 2.0L is only available on the SE, and the 1.4L Turbo with the DDCT transmission is only available on the Aero model."
The Dart, last seen in 1976, is back to help Chrysler rebound after their infamous Chapter 11 reorganization; but its importance stems even further. With Fiat and Chrysler getting hitched, the Dart is their first love child, and it enters a segment fraught with competition.
To have any hope of success, Chrysler knew their marriage to Fiat would be key; and that partnership enabled Dodge to utilize an acclaimed platform from across the pond: the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. But with this platform comes expectation, and as we’ve seen before: when people expect, it’s easy to fall flat.
Despite the vast competition, for the enthusiast, there isn’t a great deal of choice in the compact sedan segment. The Civic was a miss – although the improved 2013 model is now available - and the Corolla is the dullest car on the planet (again, a new model is coming, but don’t expect Toyota’s beige mentality to stray too far). The Focus sedan is good but it looks terrible compared to its hatchback counterpart, and the Nissan Sentra has the worst gearbox known to man. Should I go on?
The Dart, therefore, has an opportunity to become the cool kid on the block; it clearly has the right ingredients. The problem is that most Americans thinks of Alfas like the Royal Family: fascinating, mythical, and legendary. The truth of the matter is the Royals are nothing more than people, all with their problems, and, in many Brit’s opinions, over hyped.
Reality seldom lives up to expectation.
Despite its Alfa platform, the visuals are all Dodge. It’s like a less sinister Charger, with its narrow grille and droopy nose. It still looks mean, and that feeling is mimicked at the rear where a couple of large tail pipes complement the Dart’s aggressive demeanor. The rear taillights, again, are reminiscent of the Charger, only better looking and more modern.
I love the look of the Dart, especially as you venture up the spec list adding sportier tweaks. It holds a presence in a segment filled with bland that is most definitely welcomed. I’d go as far as the say it’s the best looking compact sedan on the market.
When I first jumped behind the wheel of the Dart Rallye, I was unimpressed. It is awash with plastic trying too hard to look like leather, and I expected better. But my car did not have goodies like leather seats, making it somewhat of an unfair comparison. Still, for $24,685 – the cost of my optioned out Rallye – I anticipated more.
The savior is that you can get more. Opting for the leather seats - if you can you should – makes the entire ambience of the cabin change, as it diminishes the impact of the plastic and enables the red accents to pop. With the car optioned this way, you get an interior that lives up to the promise.
The seats are comfortable and supportive, and achieving the optimal driving position is effortless. Despite my early concerns, the Dart’s insides began to grow on me.
The Rallye I drove was kitted out with the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo from the Fiat 500 Abarth - a stonking little motor. It has a pleasing sound – unusual for a compact sedan – and pulls well throughout the range. The turbo lag isn’t as noticeable as it is in the Abarth, which is nice, but more grunt would be preferable.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but the motor coming standard on the Dart GT is a 2.4-liter Tigershark, producing 184-horsepower and 171-lb. ft of torque. That is a chunk more horseys compared to the 160 put out in the 1.4L Turbo, but less torque as the 1.4L boasts 184 lb. ft.
Having not driven the 2.4L, it’s hard to say which is best. While I did enjoy the 1.4L Turbo, I expect the anticipated Dart SRT to steal the show.
Four-wheel disk brakes come standard on the Dart, which is something that cannot be said for all its competition. The pedal has the right amount of initial bite without feeling too grabby, but braking at slow speeds sometimes feels a touch jerky. In general, however, I have no complaints. For a compact sedan, it does everything it should.
There is a level of compliance with the Dart that feels good on rough surfaces, but it also doesn’t feel soft and floppy, like an elderly gentleman in need of Lipitor. I like that – not the floppy manhood – but the ride.
While the Dart cruises in a manner that, for a compact sedan, ticks all the boxes, you can’t help but expect more. This stems back to the mystique of the Alfa Romeo; you naturally compare the car against something it isn’t. At the end of the day, the Dart rides like it should - at least in relation to the competition.
It’s here we expect greatness. We expect the Alfa muscle to show, delivering an exquisite driving experience matching its Italian counterpart. The Dart handles well, but it doesn’t leaving you gushing.
It is, without question, a better handler than much of the competition. The electrically assisted steering feels precise, and the chassis is rigid and taught. The car feels nimble and light on its toes, and grip level is surprisingly good. And, given the nature of economical FWD machines, the balance is far more neutral than you might expect.
The Dart drives admirably, but I keep going back to its Alfa underpinnings. I want the Dart to blow me away, but instead, it simply feels good.
This whole scenario reminds me of a wonderful British drink called Ribena. I miss my Ribena so much, but every blue moon my family will ship me a bottle from England. Without fail, I’m always disappointed. It tastes great, don’t get me wrong, but for some reason, it’s never what you remember. I think this might be the case with Alfa; we expect something unrealistic, and while they are excellent, the vast hype is never quite met. It makes a great car that may otherwise dazzle evoke a feeling of indifference.
Anyone reading a Jalopnik review should be shot if they don’t buy an available manual; after all, it is our duty to be those four or five customers who actually purchase them. With that said, the Dart I drove was an automatic (blame Brad, not me).
Honestly, I wasn’t especially impressed. The Dual Dry Clutch Transmission on my Rallye worked fine most of the time, but when attempting to accelerate from slow speed, there was an annoying lag for the transmission to downshift into the appropriate gear. While lag is not unusual for an automatic, it did seem particularly slow.
The 6-speed manual gearbox, undoubtedly, salvages the day (as well as the score), and by all accounts is the transmission of choice. As with most manuals, it livens the driving experience up immensely. So, unless you adore watching Jeopardy, buy magazines for the crossword puzzles, and generally enjoy a dull, uninspiring life, then buy the manual.
The Alpine 506-watt sound system on the Dart was nothing special. I naturally chose that Taylor Swift song – you know, the one that goes “Trouble, Trouble, Trouble” – to showcase its auditory excellence and found that poor Taylor sounded like a dying puppy… Although, that might just be her normal voice. Either way, I wasn’t blown away.
The sound of the 1.4L Turbo, on the other hand, is remarkably refined. It has a subtle growl in the mid-range and develops a beautiful whistle from the turbo on acceleration. Don’t get me wrong, compared to the Abarth, it sounds like, well, Taylor Swift, but for a compact sedan, it’s smooth with a delicate hint of spice.
Unless you are buying a Tata Nano — where you give thanks for the seat in which you sit — you expect amenities like a CD player and a USB to connect your phone. But the available 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen with Sirius XM, latest weather, fuel prices, movie listings, and Garmin navigation are class leading, especially when you add the voice command with Bluetooth and handsfree calling. Uconnect Web by Mopar can also turn your Dart into a mobile hotspot, should you so choose.
If you haven’t tried Uconnect, you should, as it’s excellent. It’s simple and effortless to navigate, which in today’s cars is rare. The Dart can also be optioned with a 7-inch wide reconfigurable cluster display that can display navigational instructions. For a compact sedan, that ain’t half bad.
The Dart SE starts at $15,995, which is cheaper than most cars in the segment. The SXT ramps up to $17,995 with the Rallye a grand higher than that, and an additional 300 bucks for the Aero. The Limited model starts at $19,995, and the not yet available GT is $20,995.
My Rallye was optioned out to $24,685, which is quite a hike from the $18,995 base price. The jump primarily comes from the $1,300 premium for the 1.4L Turbo motor, and a wasted $1,100 for the automatic gearbox. The preferred package also increases the price by a further grand, whereas the Uconnect, on the other hand, only ramps the price by a reasonable $495, which in my eyes is money well spent.
I deem the Dart good value not because of it’s base price, but because achieves its goal as the coolest car in the segment. I like the idea of not looking like a cheapskate, and on many occasions, people stopped to ask me about the Dart. It looks great and it drives great; that, by reasonable assumption, means it is great. Just don’t get too fixated on the Alfa part. It you take it for what it is, you won’t be disappointed.