BEHIND THE WHEEL: 2013 Dodge Dart Arrives at Dealership; I Finally Get to Drive One


UPDATING MY JUNE 27, 2012 STORY; Here’s what I said then: 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!


Fast forward to Aug. 7: I brought my 2010 Dodge Caliber in for servicing, oil and filter, air filter, rotating the tires, etc. and lo and behold, next to the red Dodge Dart Rallye that I reported on June 27 was a silver Dodge Dart Limited, with the same 1.4 liter turbo engine and six-speed manual transmission. (The color is officially “Tungsten” but it’s silver metallic; the interior is black).

The best part of the story, I got to test drive the car! I’m reporting the impressions of a fairly short drive in the fully equipped (power seats, sunroof, etc.) car, which is priced just under $25,000.

Here are some impressions:

> The car has a very upscale interior, with outstanding fit and finish and the look of a car selling for $10,000 to $15,000 more. The passenger seat has a hidden compartment accessed by pulling up the seat cushion.

> The clutch was smooth in operation and six speeds should be more than enough to get the most out of the 16-valve turbo engine. It has the same dual exhausts of the Rallye model.

> I didn’t time  0-60 mph, but it should be in the 8 second range. The power comes on smoothly in all gears. The sixth speed is basically a super highway cruising overdrive ratio. There was no automatic transmission model for me to test. When a car comes in with an auto tranny, I’ll update this report. I’m guessing most of the cars will leave the dealer’s lot with an automatic.

> The Dart is much quieter than my Caliber, which has been discontinued. My Caliber transmits plenty of pavement noise to the car’s interior; I didn’t feel any with the Dart.

> (Repeating from my previous column): The 16-valve Intercooled MultiAir Turbo engine offers a nice 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 horsepower as the 1.4 turbo, but with 143 lb-ft of torque. The other transmission option on the 1.4 liter Rallye is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

> 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 — like fishing rods and similar 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.

> 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. It has a domestic parts content of just over 50 percent. The engine is made in the States, the manual transmission is from Italy.

Summing up: Chrysler has a winner in the Dart. It’s a good looking car and it’s plenty sporty. The interior is a big improvement over the Caliber’s — worthy of a car costing thousands of dollars more. I wish the company had included a hatchback model, but the Dodge Journey is still available for those inclined in that direction.

* * *Editor’s Note: Motor Trend test of Dart Limited:

They got 8.2 seconds 0-60 mph 



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