It's been a while since Dodge has built a solid compact car, so I was a little skeptical about the 2013 Dodge Dart. After putting the first 200 miles on the car, it's clear that this is no Caliber or Neon; it's a legitimate contender against cars like the Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus.

The look of the new Dodge Dart is a clear winner. With all of the holiday shopping and party appearances in the past few weeks, the Dart has met just about everyone I know. And the general story has been something like this:

"What kind of car is that?"
"The new Dodge Dart."

"Wait, that's a Dodge? But it's so handsome...and that screen looks like an iPad!"

My friends and family dig the new crosshair grille and full-surround racetrack taillights (think Dodge Charger), and they rave about the interior lighting and Uconnect infotainment system. Our Dart Rallye also comes with the red and black cloth interior option, giving it a distinctly sporty appearance that complements the red ambient lighting really well.

With its tiny turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, it's not quick, but it still manages to be fun. Our car has the 6-speed manual transmission, and once you get into second gear, the Dart feels both torquey and smooth. And even better, it's easy to drive. The clutch is soft and forgiving, the shifter is notchy and precise and I think the Dart would make an excellent car for a first-time manual driver. It's also quiet inside, despite having a growly exhaust note that suggests that the car is faster than it looks.

I'm hesitant to comment on fuel economy just yet, because in truth, we're still running on the original tank of gas. Once we sufficiently break in the engine and run a few tanks through, Dodge claims that we should earn as much as 39 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 mpg in the city. Someone's just going to have to convince me to stop revving out the engine and enjoying the turbocharger so we can actually get those numbers.

In the meantime, I'm really enjoying the opportunity to show off the latest affordable car from Chrysler. The 2013 Dodge Dart is a looker, and the positive attention it's getting makes me think that shoppers are going to like what Dodge has in store for its future products.

author photo

Davis Adams is a writer and content producer for the AutoTrader.com editorial team. Previously, he helped craft digital media for several automotive industry brands, including Consumer Reports, Toyota and Porsche. Davis feels at home on the track, and he owns a 2006 Lotus Elise that has seen its fair share of autocross courses.

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