Editor/Reporter - CheersandGears.com
May 18, 2012
In 2008, Chrysler was dreaming about their possible future. The economy was in the tank, sales were down, and they were losing money in every which way. Development had come to a standstill as everyone in Chrysler headquarters wondered the same thing: could we pull off a Hail Mary like we had done many times before? The answer was yes and the Savior would come in the form of Fiat.
Since then, Fiat/Chrysler has been hard at work bringing out vehicles that were just sitting there during the Cerberus reign and introducing the Italian brand back into the U.S. But there was one question unanswered: What would happen when Chrysler and Fiat worked together on a new car? We all dreamt that would somehow involve a platform and powertrains from Fiat, and design involve a mix of Italian and American.
Well the answer comes in the form of the new Dodge Dart. Part Italian and part American, does this new compact sedan prove dreams can come true or not?
Next: The Exterior Look
The Dart’s exterior is very polarizing and unique, something that is appreciated in the growing compact car class. The overall shape doesn’t share the same squared off look as the larger Charger and Challenger. Instead, Dodge designers went for a rounded shape on the Dart, which helps give the compact a drag coefficient of 0.289 cd.
But don’t think the rounded shape means the Dart has gone soft. It’s still a Dodge and carries a lot of attitude. The front end carries Dodge’s trademark crosshair grille seen on the larger Charger and Durango. Depending on the model, the Dart’s grille can either be in chrome or the same body color as the car. On either side, a set of projector headlights help pronounce the scowling profile.
The profile includes slightly bulged front and rear fenders, and contoured sheet metal for the doors. The backend of the Dart features the wide LED tail lamp array seen on the Charger and Challenger and a “Bangle-esque” trunk lid.
One of the big points Dodge made to us during our time with the Dart was the amount of styles and customization that will fit drivers. The Dart will be available with twelve different colors and come in the choice of five trim levels. Each of the five trims has their own design tweaks to help them differentiate from each other. For example, the Dart Rallye comes with a black grille surround, black inset headlights, and chrome exhaust tips. The Dart Limited swaps the black grille surround with a body color one, a chrome crosshair grille, and chrome door handles.
Next: The Inside Story
Chrysler has really been stepping up their game with the design and quality of their interiors and the Dart is no exception. Curvy lines, putting controls in easy reach for the driver, and using soft touch materials were the main takeaways.
During the drive, I had the chance to sample the Dart Rallye and the Limited. The Dart Rallye is step above the SXT model, which gains you supportive cloth seats with a stripe running down the middle and a set of analog gauges with a trip computer.
Then there’s the Limited model and it steps up the features list by a ten fold. Step in and you find optional leather seats that provide a good amount of support and comfort. Facing you is a stitched dash and a gauge cluster that includes a customizable seven-inch TFT screen which displays speed and trip information.
Both the Rallye and Limited came equipped with the optional 8.4-inch touch-screen for Chrysler’s UConnect Infotainment system. The system provides AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio, iPod and aux connectivity, Bluetooth, Garmin navigation, and a backup camera. Playing around with UConnect interface, I found it easy and intuitive to use. And if you’re wondering, there are controls for the radio and climate control right underneath the screen.
Back seat passengers might have a bone to pick with the Dart. Headroom and legroom are a bit on the tight side, even though the Dart is classified by the EPA as a midsize.
Next: Driving Around in the Dart and Final Thoughts
Ride & Drive:
For the Dart, Dodge offers the choice between three engines and two transmissions for each engine. The engine lineup includes:
- 2.0L Tigershark four-cylinder: 160 HP and 148 lb-ft of torque
- Six-speed manual or automatic
[*]1.4L MultiAir turbo-four: 160 HP and 184 lb-ft of torque
- Six-speed manual or dual-clutch transmission
[*]2.4L Tigershark four-cylinder: 184 HP and 171 lb-ft of torque
- Six-speed manual or automatic
- Six-speed manual or automatic
During the drive, I drove the 2.0L four and six-speed automatic, and found it to be a decent base engine. The 2.0L is quiet and smooth. However, you do have to rev the engine over 3,000 RPMs to get moving quickly. As for the six-speed automatic, it delivered smooth shifts. But it had tendency to hold onto first gear longer than wanted and didn’t like to upshift on hills.
Dodge says the Dart 2.0L will get an EPA fuel economy rating 25 city/36 highway/29 combined. During the drive through the Texas Hill Country loop, I matched the combined rating of 29. Big contributions to the Dart's efficiency come from the aerodynamic styling, underbody panels which reduce drag by 7%, and an active grill shutter system which reduce drag by 3 to 5%. Those who want more performance and better fuel economy should check out the 1.4T which gets 27 city/39 highway/29 combined and get can get 41 highway MPG thanks to a new Aero model.
The Dart’s trump card lies in the driving dynamics. Dodge employs a modified version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s platform for the Dart. Up front, the suspension uses MacPherson struts. The back gets a bi-link independent suspension. The Dart’s steering is nicely weighted and gives a direct feeling of the road. Put it all together and the Dart sports a dual personality; Out on the curvy Texas Hill roads, the Dart felt poised and composed when taking a corner, yet on the open highway back to Austin, the Dart provided a smooth and quiet ride
One item I do need to nitpick is the Dart’s brakes. During the first few minutes of driving, I found them to be a bit touchy when I was trying to slow down or come to a complete stop. After those few minutes, the touchiness went away. Hopefully, the brakes get sorted out before the Dart hits dealers next month.
The first joint product from the Chrysler and Fiat partnership appears to work. A polarizing exterior design, knockout interior, engaging drive, and a countless number of ways to make it your own means the new Dodge Dart could make both the domestic and import competition a more than a little nervous.
It was only a few years ago when Chrysler was just dreaming about what the future holds. Now with Fiat and the new Dart, Chrysler can begin living out the future.
DISCLAIMER: Chrysler provided the travel, accommodations, food, and vehicles during the trip.