Behind the wheel of the 2013 Dodge Dart SXT and Limited

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lineup of 2013 dodge darts.JPGI recently had a chance to spend a couple hours tearing
around Texas in the 2013 Dodge Dart; one being a Dart Limited with the 2.0L
Tigershark engine and the other an Dart SXT fitted with the 1.4L MultiAir turbo
engine and the 6-speed manual transmission.  (I drove the red Dart in the middle and the silver Dart on the left side with the all-silver fascia of the Limited trimline)

Before we get into the specifics of the 2013 Dodge Dart, I
should point out that I have spent a significant amount of time in the 2012
Ford Focus and the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze – two of the bestselling vehicles in the
C segment sedan class that the Dart officially enters next month.  Dodge hasn’t had a serious contender in this
rapidly growing segment since they killed off the Neon in 2005 but friends…I am
here to tell you that the new Dodge Dart is the big hit that the Chrysler Group
needs in order to take a slice out of the compact sedan segment.

First of all, let’s talk about the drivetrains of the 2013
Dodge Dart.  Due to the late availability
of the Dart R/T, I didn’t have a chance to drive a Dart with the 2.4L Tigershark
engine but I put a few hundred miles on the new 2.0L Tigershark and the 1.4L
MultiAir engine borrowed from the Fiat 500 Abarth.  The 2.0L Tigershark is the standard engine
for the Dart SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited with 160 horsepower and 148lb-ft of
torque making it one of the more powerful engines in the class – with only the
Ford Focus equaling it in horsepower while still posting less torque than the
entry Dart engine.  This engine is
strong, even when mated to the automatic transmission (forgive my love of the
clutch pedal) and it allows the Dart an impressive pull from a stop along with
strong ‘passing gear’ acceleration on the highway.  Around town at lower speeds and RPMs, the
automatic transmission shifts quietly and smoothly with the naturally aspirated
engine being just as quiet but when you put the pedal to the floor – the
transmission pulls the 2.0L engine well into the higher RPM range at which
point you can hear the roar of the Tigershark engine.

The 2.0L entry engine of the 2013 Dodge Dart is a fine mill
but for those who want a more engaging driving experience – the 1.4L MultiAir
turbocharged motor mated to a manual transmission is the setup for you.  While the horsepower output is the same as the
2.0L engine, the 184lb-ft of torque of the Fiat 500-turned-Dart engine makes a
big difference.  From a stop, there is a
slight pause in acceleration while the turbo spools but by 2,000rpm or so – the
Dart Turbo puts you back in the seat hard and keeps you there as you bang
through the gears.  While a short throw
shifter would be on my wish list if I were to buy a new Dart Turbo, the manual
transmission is user friendly both in the clutch function and in the shift
pattern.  I drive a great many vehicles
with a manual transmission and I found the Dart to be one of the easier
vehicles to get in and learn how to drive it hard – quickly.

The 2013 Dodge Dart does offers a nice, comfortable ride
around town and on the open road but when you want to hammer the corners – the
Dart is quick to oblige.  The Dart has a
larger look than other cars in the class but on the road it is very nimble;
feeling like a much smaller car in tight quarters.  At high speeds on the highway, the car was
incredibly smooth for a lightweight sedan even on rougher surfaces where other
sedans in this class are rough and noisy over uneven road surfaces.  I’m looking at you…Corolla.

Overall, the 2013 Dodge Dart offers better performance than
the competitors in the class both in terms of acceleration and handling without
sacrificing in the way of comfort when not pushing the performance boundaries
of the new Dart.

Based on the performance capabilities of the rest of the
current Dodge brand lineup it should come as no surprise that the 2013 Dart is
powerful and fun to drive but one area where previous compact Dodge products –
and those similar models from other brands – have often suffered is in interior
quality.  This is a segment plagued in
the past with low quality materials with pleather wrapped cardboard and
exposed, practically unfinished surfaces. 
However…those are not problems that affect the new Dodge Dart.

One of our test vehicles was the new Dart Limited which is
packed full of all sorts of high tech gadgets including the 7″ customizable
driver information center, the gigantic 8.4″ infotainment screen in the dash
and a premium sound and navigation system. 
However, even without those higher end amenities the Dodge Dart is still
a very nice, solid car.  The standard
cloth surfaces in the SXT Turbo we drove is unlike other cloth upholstery options
and the heavy duty feeling material provides a much higher quality feel than
other entry level cloth interiors. 
Everywhere a driver or passenger will rest their arms – be it the center
console, the upper edge of the door or the mid-door arm rest – there are
incredibly soft padded surfaces.  The
interior provides plenty of headroom, elbow room and leg room for front and
rear riding passengers; even when four adults are riding in the Dart.  You could likely fit a fifth adult but it’s
getting a little cozy in the back once you get that extra person in the middle.

The 2013 Dodge Dart looks awesome on the outside and packs
tons of content inside, even for the lower priced models.  With more options, more standard features and
a whole lot more power than competitors in the booming C segment sedan class –
the new Dart should surely be the huge success that the Chrysler Group has been
lacking since the Neon left the lineup. 

Dodge and Mopar enthusiasts have long been clamoring for a
real, solid replacement for the Neon and having driven the Dart in two
different trimlines – I believe that the 2013 Dodge Dart IS the car that will
bring back the success seen during the Neon era.  Once the Dart R/T arrives in the third
quarter of this year we will have a legit sport model and with the Dart Aero –
the 2013 Dart will likely be the most powerful and most efficient compact sedan
in the American market.

The 2013 Dodge Dart will begin arriving in dealerships this
June in SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited trimlines and I insist that everyone who is in
the market for a compact sedan checks out the Dart before making their final
decision.  This car offers everything
that the competition has and more…with a price that makes it one of the more
affordable cars in the segment. 

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