Automotive writers like myself suffer from a sickness sometimes called first drive-itus. Essentially first drive-itus is when an automotive has a different opinion on a vehicle than when they first drove it on a first drive event. No one is quite sure how first drive-itus manifests or where it comes from. There is a reason I’m telling you this because I think I had first drive-itus. A couple of years ago, I had the great fortune of heading down to Austin, Texas, to be one of the first people to check out the brand new Dodge Dart. At the time, I came away very impressed and said in my first drive that competitors should be watching their back. But recently, I spent a week with a 2014 Dodge Dart SXT and I came away somewhat disappointed. Read on to see why that is.
The Dart in my eyes is still one of the best looking compact models on sale today. While the basic shape seems to mimic a number of compact models, Dodge’s designers took some elements from the larger Charger and Challenger to help make the Dart stand out. Those elements include the crosshair grille up front and long taillight in the back. On the SXT model, you get a set of seventeen-inch alloy wheels which add a nice touch of class to the Dart.
As for passengers, the front has more than enough space for anyone and the seats provide excellent support. The back seat doesn’t fair as well due to head and legroom being somewhat tight. At least the seats have good support.
When I first drove the Dart, there was choice of three different engines; a 2.0L MulitAir four-cylinder, a 1.4L Turbocharged MultiAir four, and a 2.4L MultiAir. Since that time, the 2.0L is only available on the SE model, the 1.4T has been relegated to the Dart Aero model only, and the 2.4L has become the volume engine. The 2.4 makes 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. This can either be paired to a six-speed manual or my tester’s six-speed automatic. The 2.4 paired with Fiat’s Multiair tech got the Dart moving in a hurry. Power is available throughout the rev range, so you don’t feel like the vehicle is underpowered. Refinement is very much tops with NVH levels kept a minimum. The six-speed automatic provided very smooth shifts. On the fuel economy front, the EPA rates the Dart 2.4L at 23 City/35 Highway/27 Combined. I saw average of 27 MPG for the week.
One of the high praises I gave the Dart when I drove it was how much fun it was to drive. This still holds true. When driving the Dart on some curvy roads, it felt poised with little hint of body roll. Steering was nicely weighted and provided good feedback I as drove along. A lot of this comes down to the CUSW platform the Dart rides on which was derived from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. However when I was not driving along the back roads, I felt the engineers engineers forgot to make the suspension able to cope with road imperfections and potholes. Driving along Michigan’s ‘amazing’ roads, the Dart felt too stiff and made passengers feel like they were being jostled around. I actually wrote in my notes whether or not the Dart’s suspension was made out of concrete. On the plus side, wind and road noise were kept to minimum levels.
When I concluded my first drive report on the Dart, I said that it could make the domestic and import competition a bit nervous. Now after spending a week in the Dart, I’m not sure about that statement. The Dart has a lot good things going for it such as amount technology available, unique design, an impressive engine, and fun to drive characteristics. But when you drive the Dart day to day on the road, the road quality problem rears its head and for many, is a huge turn off. The Dart is almost there, but it needs a bit more finishing work.
Disclaimer: Dodge Provided the Dart SXT, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 2.4L Inline-Four with Multiair
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM: 184 @ 6,250
Torque @ RPM: 171 @ 4,800
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 23/35/27
Curb Weight: 3,348 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Belvidere, Illinois
Base Price: $18,495.00
As Tested Price: $22,025.00 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)
Six-Speed Powertech Automatic Transmission - $1,250
8.4-inch UConnect Touchscreen Group - $595
UConnect 8.4 FM/AM/NAV - $495
SiriusXM Satellite Radio w/One-Year Subscription - $195