Today we took the keys to a 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, a car we came to with a closeted cheerleader approach. We were excited to see how well the company who once went bankrupt is coming back from the dark days of building less than enjoyable cars.
Unfortunately we have come away with a less spirited zeal, having been let down in some key areas. Some have to do with the equipment choices on the model we tested while others have to do with the very design and build quality of the Dart which was unfortunately not up to the levels of its competition.
To start with, the Dodge Dart is one of the first new products born of the Fiat-Chrysler marriage, a car based heavily on the platform architecture of the Italian Alfa Romeo Giulietta sedan. This is a promising start. In development however the Dodge Dart was then married to American design and engineering finesse which seems to have diluted what began is sterling DNA.
Our Limited model was equipped with the 160 horsepower 2.0 liter “Tiger Shark” four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission built by Hyundai in Korea. This engine is loosely related to the GEMA “World Engine” which used to be shared between Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Chrysler.
The “World Engine” was rough, noisy, and generally well criticized as being agricultural grade. Despite what Chrysler engineers have told us of substantial updates to the valve-train and intake components, we find the TigerShark evolution to remain less that refined and lacking the dynamic response of the 1.4 liter MultiAir turbocharged engine which is also available in the Dart.
The six-speed automatic was clunky at slow speeds, slamming and jerking into gears. Accelerating in traffic around town the transmission refuses to downshift unless you floor the throttle, often lugging the rough and noisy engine. You can shift manually however if you want to have more control over shifting to get power when you need it.
In fuel mileage, the 2.0 liter Dodge Dart is rated by the EPA at 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. Our testing gave us exactly 30 mpg combined averaged observed. While we found the drive-train less than enjoyable, it nets decent fuel economy. Power from the engine is also more than adequate.
With the same 160 horsepower, the available 1.4 liter MultiAir turbocharged engine gets much better fuel economy at 28 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Furthermore, it’s much more pleasing to the ear and foot to drive. The 1.4 liter is available with both a six-speed manual and upgraded six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission that is much more dynamic than the one equipped with the 2.0.
Inside the Dart is where our next wave of criticisms fell. The interior is just a disappointment on many levels. While our Limited came with very comfortable leather seats, upgraded trims, and a full array of technical features, all of this was overshadowed by build quality and execution that is far below any of its competitors.
Rattles and squeaks throughout the dash, door panels and roof headliner made driving a panic attack for our OCD tendencies. Parts and pieces of the dash and door panels all have inconsistent material color and finish sheen that make them all appear made and designed by different companies. The dash panel at the base of the windshield has odd speaker patterns cut into it that look unfinished and well, cheap.
Switch gear and basic controls have a quality feel however, while good continuing the inconsistent theme of the cabin. The Dart comes with a touchscreen control center which handles audio, navigation (if equipped), HVAC and car settings. The screen is easy to read and understand for the most part, but there are a few quirks we didn’t much appreciate.
The HVAC controls for instance are split between the hardware knobs and controls below and the touch screen. Some of the controls are handled for knobs like fan speed, temperature and such. But if you want to tell it to send air to the floor, windshield or vents you have to dig into the touch screen menu. If you didn’t know there were an expanded set of options in the touch screen, you would be helpless to adjust all functions.
On the plus side the upgraded sound system is phenomenal in sound thankfully, as it was needed to drown out the interior rattles. There is ample storage in the large glove box and a neat storage compartment under the passenger side seat cushion. Our Dark also had the LED back lighting around the instrument cluster which provided a nice warm glow at night.
On the road, the Dart handles with precision due to its Italian sedan underpinnings. Steering feel and braking response are all well improved over previous Chrysler offerings. The ride is solid and stable, reasonably quiet on the highway. It’s a pleasurable driving experience that is out of place with the rest of the car.
As we said, we started this test wanting to like the Dart, but we came away let down in areas of refinement, design execution, and build quality. If you must have a Dodge Dart we strongly recommend you choose one with the much more dynamic and enjoyable 1.4 liter turbocharged engine. At least you will enjoy the drive.
In the final analysis, we can’t say we would yet recommend the 2013 Dodge Dart over competitors such as the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, or any offering from Asian brands. The Dart still perpetrates many of the negative stereotypes American cars earned in the 1980’s and 1990’s which gave rise to import brands.