Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hugely-hyped Dodge Dart hits the bull's-eye

This review originally appeared in the February 2013 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California -- Lacking a legit compact sedan, Chrysler/Dodge needed someone to come to the rescue.  And that need begat the Dodge Dart.

Happily, designers and engineers hit the bull’s-eye with this Dart.  With Euro DNA that goes beyond Fiat architecture and Alfa Romeo’s soul, the car also combines the very best of 1960s-70s all-America retro to make the new Dart a package of four-wheeled fun.  Driving it puts a smile on your face.

Funny thing is, I’m betting that most people don’t remember that the old Dart’s 1960-to-1976 run began as a wide, road-hogging, full-size model.  Fortunately, Dodge got wise and sized that car down to a zippy compact vehicle.

The old compact Dart is the essence of the 2013 Dart, only the new version is way better.

My tester was the Dodge Dart Rallye edition, which taught me that you have to do your homework on option packages and model offerings to single out the exact Dart of your dreams.  Think of the Rallye as a juiced-up edition of the Dart SXT.

Labels aside, my tester was thoroughly enjoyable.

The car has a decidedly sporty look from end to end, with sharp angles and clean lines that sort of beg you to get behind the wheel and stomp on the gas.  Power from the tested 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine (160 horsepower) was enthusiastic, but not necessarily sports car robust.  You have to jump hard on the gas to get those turbo revs up and moving.

The Dart can move out when asked, but it won’t chase down a ’Vette.  It handles everything else quite well.  Performance fans will likely opt for the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that will get you about 85 extra horses. 

In my test runs, the Dart Rallye’s accelerations created a fair amount of noise in the cockpit.  But handling was spot-on.  Braking was above average in this segment.

Safety features are off the charts, including driver-inflatable, knee-protecting airbags.  The center stack of controls threw me only a couple of curves as I mastered things within a day.  I particularly enjoyed the sporty black seats with centered stripes in Diesel Gray.  Very cool.

Fuel mileage numbers will please most at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

As I said, given the varied features and models, it pays to check the Dart sticker closely.   For example, mine listed a base price of $17,995, but a long list of options pushed the bottom-line price to $24,460.  Quite the gap there, one you want to figure out BEFORE you’re signing documents in a dealer’s finance office.

One small gripe on the tester: a tardy, overly obvious traffic warning system.  Several times, five minutes into all-but-stopped commuter gridlock, a recorded voice jolted me with the announcement that there was “traffic ahead.”  Uh, thanks, Captain Obvious.

Here’s my advice: Go take a look at this car, even if you don’t plan to buy one.  You’ll like what you see.  Yes, the Dart had a truckload of pre-release hype.  But in this case, the car lives up to the publicity.

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