By David Colman
For: Alfa Flair, Build Quality, $ Value
Against: Underpowered, R/T Not Immediately Available
Okay, let’s get the important stuff out of the way upfront. No, it doesn’t have a Slant Six under the hood, a push button automatic on the dash, or Tinker Bell script reading “Dart” on the rear fender. The new Dart is the first offspring of the US government-brokered shotgun marriage between Chrysler and Fiat. Fiat, which owns Alfa Romeo, supplies the Dart with a stretched Alfa Giulietta platform. Chrysler, which owns Dodge, supplies the USA build facility, heritage nameplate, and dealer network. The result is a marriage made in heaven – an Alfa Romeo for the price of a Dodge!
The first Darts go on sale in July, 2012. Eventually 5 different models will be available. The range begins with the SE, with disc brakes at all 4 corners, 10 air bags, and a base price of $15,995. One step higher in the pecking order is the $17,995 SXT model, with such upgrades as 17 inch wheels, power mirrors and door locks, and keyless entry. A sportier Rallye model, with dual exhausts and black chrome headlamps, retails for $18,995. The Limited version – which we drove – adds Garmin Navigation with a 7 inch dash-mounted touch screen, 10 way power seats, and rear view camera monitors, for $19,995. A 2.0 liter “Tigershark” motor producing 160hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque powers all 4 models. A 1.4 liter, turbocharged, 168hp motor is optionally available for $1,300. Dodge will also introduce a more powerful R/T Dart later in the model year. The $22,495 R/T will benefit from a 2.4 liter “Tigershark” powerplant producing 184hp and 171 lb.-ft. of torque.
To convert an Alfa Giulietta platform to Dart duty, Dodge widened the tub 2 inches and added 10 inches in length. The chassis is constructed from 68 percent hi-strength steel, and the car is built in the United States. A series of baffles and underbody streamlining panels insure that the Dart’s coefficient of drag (Cd) is just 0.285. Body panel gaps are remarkably tight, and wind noise inside the cabin is nil.
The Dart feels spacious and airy. Everything about the interior seems to belie its sub-$20,000 base price. The instrument binnacle, for example, is double seam-stitched, and surrounded by an ethereal neon border that glows reassuringly at night. The backs of the seat belt receptacles are padded with felt to keep them from scratching the finish on the center console. The navigation system is a joy to use, with bold graphics, and navigational directions displayed on the instrument panel directly in front of the driver. The main video panel on the dash supplies such ancillary information as the posted speed limit of your current position next to your GPS-calculated current speed. In other words, you’ve got no excuses for fibbing to the officer about your lack of speed limit awareness. As soon as you pass a new speed limit sign, the system magically resets itself to the new reality. Watching it do so is uncanny.
The 160hp “Tigershark” is more of a minnow than predator when you step on the gas. Even rowing the 6-speed Powertech ATX automatic gearbox through the ratios won’t make up for a decided lack of grunt, with only 148 pound-feet of torque on tap. Order the $1,300 optional in-line turbo 4, with 168hp, or wait for the coming R/T package, because the base engine is a bit overstressed when brisk acceleration is required.
As you might expect from its Italian (Alfa) heredity, handling is a forte of the Dart. The Dodge chassis consists of McPherson strut front, and multi-link rear independent suspension, with flashy 17 x 7.5 inch alloys at each corner mounting Continental ContiProContact 225/45R17 radials. This refined chassis-tire combo generates surprisingly high levels of adhesion. In sweeping turns, the Dart takes a set which it holds resolutely throughout the corner. There is almost no sway, no lean, nor any ride discomfort. Simply put, the suspension calibrations are spot-on.
As a whole, the new Dart verges on sensational, with such unexpected value for price that you’ll have to drive one yourself to find out just how good this resuscitated new/old nameplate really is.
2013 Dodge Dart
- Engine: 2.0 liter in-line 4
- Horsepower: 160hp
- Torque: 148 lb.-ft.
- Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/39 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $22,780
- Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars