Here at the AutoTrader offices, we consider ourselves to be experts on the Dodge Dart. That's because we spent more than a year with a 2013 model as our last long-term test car, and in the past few weeks, we've also tried out a few versions of the 2014 model. That includes a week behind the wheel of the 2014 Dodge Dart Limited, which boasts the sedan's new 2.4-liter engine. So how'd we like it? We've organized some pros and cons below.
New Engine: Mostly an Improvement
Our 2013 Dart long-term car had a slick-shifting 6-speed manual, but its 1.4-liter turbocharged engine left something to be desired. Gas mileage wasn't excellent, and most testers felt the engine lacked the refinement and acceleration offered by some of the Dart's rivals.
The good news is that the new 2.4-liter engine helps to diminish those issues. Acceleration is improved thanks to a power bump from the 1.4-liter's 160 horses to a meatier 184 hp. It's still not enough to make the Dart feel especially exciting, but it's noticeably faster than the 1.4-liter turbo.
The 2.4-liter engine is also more refined than the 1.4 turbo, though some testers feel its improvements didn't go far enough. The smooth transmission is an asset to the car. Engine noise is more subdued than before, but compared to class benchmarks like the Mazda3 and even aging compacts like the Ford Focus, we're a little disappointed that the Dart's new engine isn't more refined.
But the 2.4's biggest problem is fuel economy. The engine is rated for just 22 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, which is a far cry from the Dart Aero's 41-mpg rating. We wouldn't mind so much if the 2.4-liter engine was a huge improvement over the 1.4 or the 2.0, but as it stands now, we can't say that's the case.
The good news is that the rest of the features we've always liked about the Dart are still present in the 2014 model. Our favorite part is the interior, which makes the Dart feel a lot more expensive than it is. Sure, Chrysler has cut costs in some obvious areas, but that's to be expected in a compact car. What's not expected is the abundance of high-quality, soft-touch plastics, the configurable instrument cluster and the soft, comfortable leather seats.
High on Equipment
We're also impressed with the equipment levels of the Dart Limited. For a starting price of less than $24,000 with destination, the Dart Limited boasts an almost opulent lineup of features ranging from a navigation system to leather upholstery, a power sunroof, 17-inch wheels, a power driver's seat and heated front seats. We were recently impressed when we spent some time in a Kia Forte with a long list of standard equipment, but the Dart's list of standard features is even more striking.
We also continue to be pleased with the Dart's Uconnect navigation system. It's easy to use, intuitive to operate and perfectly sized for just about any driver or passenger. In our mind, it's one of the best systems in the business.
2.4-Liter: Worth It?
After spending time with various 2014 Dodge Dart models, we asked ourselves whether the 2.4 is worth the extra money. To get it, you have to upgrade at least to the mid-level Dart SXT, which starts at about $19,000 -- an increase of around $2,500 over the base-level Dart SE, which uses a 160-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder.
Our verdict is that the 2.4-liter engine is worth the money but not for the reasons you'd think. It's not the power or acceleration that woos us but the equipment. Dart models equipped with the 2.4-liter engine (the Dart SXT, GT and Limited) boast a long list of desirable features -- and that, not the new engine, makes them worth the price of admission.