2013 Dodge Dart: Better Than SnookiS

The many great Itailan-Americans who helped build this country would be furious to discover that their culture is now represented by the cast of Jersey Shore. Perhaps the 2013 Dodge Dart and its combination of Italian and American influences can undo some of the damage with what's possibly the best mixture of the two cultures since hamburger pizza.

Based on the Alfa Romeo Guilietta, the new Dodge Dart could be the first great compact car from Chrysler in generations. It's more advanced than the Neon, less ungainly than the Caliber, and immediately competitive with all the other cars in its class. Dodge is also backing up the vehicle with a trio of engine and transmission choices.

Let's start with those drivetrain options because that's the only info about these new vehicles that hasn't already leaked out. If you notice some overlap you're not alone. The performance is almost perplexingly similar.

The base engine is the 2.0-liter "Tigershark" four-cylinder, which uses port fuel-injection and independent variable valve timing to produce a reasonable 160 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. This engine will be available with the standard six-speed manual and Powertech six-speed automatic. This engine will be available on the SE, SXT, Rallye, and Limited trims.

Next (sort of) is the 1.4-liter MultiAir engine, which is a version of Fiat's turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine that puts out 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. This will be available with the manual transmission and the special dual-clutch six-speed automatic.

View gallery »

Finally, for R/T models there will be the 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with MultiAir 2. This new engine is the largest and produces the most power at 184 horsepower, though the torque lags behind the 1.4-liter engine at 171 lb-ft of torque. As the name suggest, it features Fiat's MultiAir system.

The other big advancement for Chrysler and its small cars is the appearance. It's undeniably attractive, especially when stacked up against the company's prior offerings. With or without the Charger-inspired rear LED stack there's a fluid design lacking from the lineup.

These improvements carry over to the new interior, which appears to be an even bigger turnaround from the Caliber than the exterior. Anyone who has spent ample time in a Caliber knows the interior is on par with a Power Wheels Jeep sans the refinement and softer plastics. Not so with the Dart. Inside there's a softer, more comfortable design.

A first-in-class customizable TFT gauge cluster is one option available for the new car, which is something typically offered on cars like the Jaguar XF and Ford Fusion Hybrid. There's also an 8.4-inch available touchscreen media center. These are just a few of the more than 150 options for the car.

Welcome to the new bizarro world where you'll want to skip the Toyota at the rental counter for the small Dodge.