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2013 Dodge Dart: First Drive

  • Stunning good looks
  • Lots of cool tech inside
  • 12 exterior colors, 14 interior choices

There’s no state that’s more quintessentially American than Texas. So it’s fitting that Dodge would invite us to Austin for a turn behind the wheel of the all-new 2013 Dodge Dart. Fitting because the new Dodge Dart looks and feels as purely American as Texas itself.

Of course, the 2013 Dodge Dart isn’t purely American, thanks to parent company FIAT, the car is based on the Italian Alfa Romeo Giulietta. The basic Alfa has been tweaked significantly to give the Dodge Dart its distinctly American flavor.

Looks Like a Dodge

Dodge’s familiar crosshair grille combined with slightly bulging fenders plus LED lights and dual exhaust on some models give the car a substantial look. In fact, the Dart’s striking and aggressive look is something other small sedans like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Cruze lack – this difference alone should get plenty of shoppers to consider the Dart. More stylish competitors include the VW Jetta, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra.

Inside, the Dodge Dart matches the high-quality interior of the Ford Focus. The upper part of the Dart’s dash and most controls are either soft or just have a nice, substantial feel. There are some hard plastic bits on the lower part of the dash, but it’s nicely textured and lacks a low-buck appearance.

Stiff Competition

The Dart also has the same kinds of compelling tech features as the Focus. At just over $20,000 the Dodge Dart Limited includes features like a virtual gauge display, a touch screen, voice control for iPod, phone and navigation, streaming Bluetooth Audio – the only difference is, the Dart’s tech may be a little easier to use. Still, place all the Dart’s competitors side by side and we’re betting it will come down to Focus vs. Dart for most shoppers.

Dodge is so confident about the Dart’s real-world appeal; they brought a Focus, Civic, Corolla, Elantra and Cruze all the way to Austin, Texas just so we could judge for ourselves. That’s a gutsy move and speaks volumes about Dodge’s confidence in this little sedan.

Sporty Sedan

On the road, both the engine and transmission deliver a level of civility and refinement that are far superior to previous Dodge compacts. The 1.4 liter turbo is the most rewarding to drive but even the 2.0 liter engine with a six-speed manual is spunky enough to be fun. The smaller engine with the automatic transmission is the least fun and the least responsive.

Just a few min behind the wheel of the Dodge Dart and it’s obvious the car’s substance matches it’s notable style. Handling is predictable and even sporty but never harsh or too firm (a lot like the Focus). The Dart is rewarding to drive hard on back roads but also delivers enough comfort for everyday commuting. Dodge engineers say they’ve specifically tuned the suspension to deliver a comfortable ride in a straight line with just enough firmness when cornering to make the car fun.

Lots of Choices

And to make sure buyer have as much fun as they want, the 2013 Dodge Dart comes with three engine choices. Base SE models get a 160 hp, 2.0-liter engine, there’s also a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. It’s also good for 160 hp but has more torque so it feels livelier. Also, because the 1.4-liter turbo delivers its power from a slightly smaller engine, it’s more efficient. Opt for the Aero version of the Dart that uses the turbo 1.4 liter engine and you can expect better than 40 mpg on the highway. A 184 hp, 2.4 liter Dodge Dart R/T will be available as well, look for it in late 2012.

Along with the three engine choices come three different six-speed transmissions, a standard manual, a more high performance dual-clutch transmission (available later this year) and a six-speed automatic transmission.

The 2013 Dodge Dart is offered in five different versions. The base SE is pretty basic, even air-conditioning is optional. The SXT adds expected features like alloy wheels, keyless entry and air-conditioning. Rallye models get a sportier look with a different front end, fog lights, dual exhaust and leather wrapped steering wheel. The Limited is the most luxurious version with a digital gauge cluster, 8.4-inch color touch screen for U-connect features plus a rear parking camera and 10-way power driver’s seat. Gear-heads will want the R/T with its 184 hp, 2.4-liter engine, 18-inch alloy wheels and heated leather seats.

But buyers are not stuck to just these versions of the Dart. Buyers can opt for one of 12 exterior colors, 14 interior color and trim combinations plus six wheel choices Also, most options are affordable and don’t require expensive option packages. For those who remember the original Dodge Dart, this level of personalization if probably the only thing the new car has in common with the old – in the 1960s a Dodge Dart could be anything from a thrifty straight-six powered four-door to an pavement scorching muscle car.

Most compact sedan shoppers won’t remember prior versions of the Dodge Dart. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because the 2013 Dodge Dart is good enough to stand on its own two feet both as a compelling compact sedan and as an American car we can all be proud of.


Brian Moody
Brian Moody is an author specializing in transportation, automotive, electric cars, future vehicles as well as new, used, and certified pre-owned advice. He also specializes in liking ridiculous cars like the Buick Reatta, Studebaker Lark, and the GM A-Body wagons from the late 80s and mid-90s. Why? You'd have to ask him. Brian graduated from Cal State Long Beach and has been creating written... Read More about Brian Moody

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