BEHIND THE WHEEL: 2013 Dodge Dart Arrives at Dealership; But It’s a Look, Don’t Drive Teaser Car

 By David M. Kinchen

The 2013 Dodge Dart has arrived at my dealership, but it’s a look, don’t drive model. On Wednesday, June 27, 2012, I got to sit in the car, start the engine, check it out, photograph it, but I didn’t get to drive the six-speed manual transmission, fully loaded Rallye model with the 1.4 liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Boo-hoo!

The salesman at Port Lavaca (TX) Dodge Chrysler Jeep  said cars should be arriving during July, so I’ll report back when I get to test drive a car.

Here are my first impressions:

>The 16-valve Intercooled MultiAir Turbo twin-cam four cylinder engine delivers  a very respectable 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. I’m guessing it will be the choice — along with the six-speed manual transmission — of those who want a performance car on a budget. Another  engine option  is a 2.0 liter non-turbo four with the same 160  horsepower as the 1.4 turbo, but with 143 lb-ft of torque. The other  1.4 liter Rallye transmission option is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The CVT tranny on my Caliber is no more. The car I looked at was sticker priced at just under $24,000 and featured a rear-view camera.

> The driver’s seat is adjustable for height, just like my 2010 Dodge Caliber, the model the Dart four-door sedan replaces. I’m 6-1, and my head didn’t scrape the headliner, even with my straw porkpie hat firmly in position. I’m pleased to note that the shifter and controls are perfectly positioned for American drivers. With the stick shift model, the car won’t start unless the clutch is depressed — a good safety feature.

> The trunk is large and has a small door opening up between the back seats, presumably for long objects that otherwise won’t fit in the trunk. When I inspected the trunk, I noticed plenty of sound deadening material,  so this should be a quieter car than my Caliber.

> The workmanship appears to be first rate and the oft-criticized hard plastic of my Caliber has been replaced with softer textured material.

> There is no hatchback model, unlike offerings from other manufacturers in this entry class, and unlike my Caliber. All the Calibers at the dealership have been sold, presumably snapped up quickly by customers who want this feature.

> The gasoline filler cap is on the wrong side, just like my 2007 PT Cruiser, which I traded in for the Caliber, which has the filler door on the driver’s side — where it should be on left-hand drive cars. I don’t know why the company placed the gasoline cap in a position suitable for right-hand drive cars.

> The steering wheel telescopes and tilts; my Caliber — and the PT — only have the tilt feature. A plus for the Dart.

> The car is assembled in Chrysler’s Belvidere, IL plant, just like the Caliber, the Jeep Compass and the Dodge Nitro, which use the Caliber platform. The PT Cruiser was assembled in Mexico.

The new Dart is not just another model for Chrysler, which is owned in large part by Italy’s Fiat; it’s a make-or-break vehicle for Chrysler, a company which is lacking in the entry-level segment. Unlike Ford, which has both the Focus and Fiesta models, and the other manufacturers with similar offerings, Chrysler’s Dodge Dart is the sole entry-level car for Mopar fans. A lot is riding on this car, based on an Alfa-Romeo sedan.

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