The 2013 Dodge Dart
From The Oakland Press
2013 Dodge Dart brings Italian panache to American practicality
Austin, Texas Ė If conventional wisdom is right, Americans are embracing small cars.†The compact car segment is the fastest growing segment in the U.S. market, accounting for 15 percent of car sales. This segment tends to focus on fuel economy, reliability and affordability as the primary considerations for purchase. All the cars in this segment do reasonably well in those areas, so bringing another me-too compact to market wasnít what Dodge officials had in mind.
With styling now as important in small-car segments as in others, Dodge decided to emphasize style, and give it an Italian flair to boot. The new Dodge Dart is the first American car based on a Fiat platform. As Fiatís hot-rod brand, it was natural to pick Alfa Romeroís Giulietta as the basis of the 2013 Dodge Dart.
And thankfully, they didnít just slap a couple of badges and cladding on the body and give it a new name. Dodge took that platform from a five-door hatchback to a sedan, making it 12.6-inches longer on a 2.7-inch longer wheelbase. Itís 1.1 inches taller, 1.4 inches wider and the track is pushed out a half an inch as well. Now it meets American requirements for a separate trunk, and has space enough for family outings and the ever-possible road trip.
As American as the Dart looks, it has a beauty of proportion and presence that lets you know it generated plenty of warm fuzzies in the hearts of Italian management. Things just seem to look right inside and out. To me, thatís the definition of good design.
I like the Dartís looks a lot. It continues a long-needed emphasis on attractive design in small and less expensive cars.
So Fiatís Compact U.S. Wide architecture gives the Dart a low, wide front with Dodgeís split crosshair grille floating in the front fascia. From the side, the proportions and flowing lines make the car appear even longer and lower than it is.
In back, the slightly hunched shoulders and broad integrated racetrack taillight that flows completely across the carís width let you know this is a Dodge. The Dart has a nicely slippery 0.285 coefficient of drag. The design clearly takes aerodynamics seriously, as the shape clearly works hard to get the air efficiently past the car.
To help make the car even slipperier, the Dart features automatic grill shutters that close whenever engine temperature allows to ďclean upĒ airflow off the nose and around the car rather than through it. Engineers also cleaned up the underbody, which helps the car push its way through the air using less power, which is why aerodynamics are so important.
Pushing out the wheels to the corners lets the inside spaces be bigger than their compact car designation, with interior space equal to many mid-sized sedans. The instrument panel controls and instruments are placed well and are pleasing to the eye, too.
I particularly like the optional heated steering wheel ó a luxury not even available on many expensive cars. Dodgeís clever under-seat storage gives you a very private bin under the front passenger seat on all but the base model. The standard audio system is decent, and thereís an optional 506-watt sound system if you want, as well as navigation, Chryslerís Uconnect control process and a backup camera, all of which used the 8.4-inch screen in the middle of the center console.
The materials used donít look as cheap as materials in economy cars used to look. The seats are comfortable and flexible, with reasonable lateral support. I would guess that the R/T may get a slightly sportier seat.
To keep things quiet inside, in addition to the stiffer body reducing flexibility, noise is kept out of the car from the engine bay, and acoustically laminated front glass and triple-sealed door openings reduce wind noise. It works well, as the car is comfortably quiet at highway speeds.
Dodge is going against the current practice of plenty of specific packages of options, and is letting customers have more customization by ordering options singly and increasing the number of color combinations. There will be 12 exterior colors, 14 interior color and trim combinations, six wheel options, three engine options and three transmissions to mix and match. Officials say custom orders that have to go back to the assembly line still wonít take more than four weeks on average.
Add in more than 150 custom options and themed packages from Chryslerís aftermarket performance and appearance supplier Mopar specifically developed for the Dart.
Perhaps the most important decisions will be those to do with the powertrain. The three engines all offer advantages, although at the press launch, the most powerful engine wasnít yet available. The base engine is a 16-valve 2-liter four cylinder engine producing 160 hp. and 148 lb.-ft. of peak torque. With the six-speed automatic transmission, it drove well and had a comfortable amount of power and pickup. Mated to the six-speed manual, it gets a rating of 27 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.
The 1.4-liter Intercooled Turbo engine also generates 160 hp. but increases torque to 184 lb.-ft. of peak torque. With a manual, itís rated at 27 mpg in city driving and 39 mpg on the highway. I found this engine, which is actually a Fiat engine, more difficult to drive with the manual transmission. Because it was a turbo, you had to keep the revs up to have decent performances, and the manual transmission was sloppy to shift. It was geared reasonably well, but needed to be smoother.
I couldnít help wishing that these engines were direct gas injection engines, because the bit of extra performance and efficiency would have been worthwhile. Unfortunately, Dodge said the extra cost and development time nixed that possibility.
The Dart R/T will come with the third engine, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder creating 184 hp. and 171 lb.-ft. of peak torque. It will also be available with a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission, which should make for plenty of fun with quick clean shifts and a performance attitude.
Dart has a MacPherson front suspension and a bi-link rear thatís tuned to offer the compliant ride Americans demand, but with a more European feel, in the sense that thereís less roll and dipping in the handling. This is helped by a body thatís nicely stiff, which is due to its being 68 percent high-strength steel.
After plenty of driving on the curving ups and downs of Texas Hill Country roads, the compromise works. Unfortunately, the Dart R/T wonít be coming for several months, and thatís the model that will perform the best, at least until an SRT version hits the streets, which Dodge officials wonít yet confirm.
To start with, the 2013 Dodge Dart will be available in four trim levels: SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited, then theyíll add the Dart R/T in the third quarter. The base model has an MSRP of $15,995. At $17,995, the SXT is expected to be the volume model. The Dart R/T will start at $22,495 and even with all the customizations possible, the most you can probably spend in a Dart will be under $30,000. Dodge will build the Dart in America, and itíll also be sold in Canada, Mexico and other countries that use American specifications.
Compact car customers who want style might take a look at the Dodge Dart. Itíll compete comfortably with Hyundaiís Elantra and the value models, all while waving the Iím American flag.
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