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2016 Dodge Dart: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader June 2016

The 2016 Dodge Dart is a joining of forces: a compact Chrysler with a little help from corporate parent FIAT. Chrysler is no stranger to the compact segment, from the workaday K-cars of the '80s to the perky Neon of the '90s, but the company fell behind with the advent of the Dodge Caliber, a low-quality hatchback best known for populating rental lots at airports.

Happily, however, FIAT has decades of experience building small cars in Europe, so the company offered up the mechanical bits from its widely praised Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback for the Caliber's replacement. Dodge's stylists and engineers made a nip here and a tuck there, and voila: The satisfying Dodge Dart was born.

To be clear, the Dart is very much its own car. Modifications for the American market include a unique sedan-only body style, a new interior and the option of an 8.4-inch touchscreen paired with Chrysler's excellent Uconnect infotainment system. The chassis is also longer and wider than the Giulietta's.

But one thing that's been preserved in translation is that palpable Italian zest for the open road. Unlike most compact cars, the Dodge Dart feels like it was built by people who love to drive, with ride and handling characteristics that are befitting of a sport sedan. There's also a real sense of occasion in its tidy sheet metal and sculpted, high-quality interior.

The Dart's downsides include an equipment roster that's biased heavily toward higher trim levels, as the entry-level SE model lacks connectivity features and doesn't even come standard with air conditioning. But car shoppers are increasingly willing to spend $20,000 or more for a small car, and if you're one of them, you definitely owe yourself a test drive in the Italian-American Dodge Dart.

What's New for 2016?

The Dart is unchanged for 2016, save for two new appearance packages: a Rallye model for the base-level Dart SE and a Blacktop package for the Dart GT.

What We Like

Distinctive styling; great fuel economy and power with turbo engine; cool available technology features; lots of customization possibilities; fun to drive

What We Don't

Sparse standard features on lower trims; extra-efficient Aero package only comes with a stick shift

How Much?

$18,000-$25,400

Fuel Economy

Within its five trim levels, the Dart offers three engines. The base-level Dart SE uses a 160-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, available with 6-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Manual versions return 25 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, while figures drop to 24 mpg city/34 mpg hwy with the automatic.

The economy-minded Dart Aero uses a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that also makes 160 hp. That engine brings gas mileage to 27 mpg city/39 mpg hwy with the 6-speed manual or 27 mpg city/37 mpg hwy with the optional 6-speed automatic.

All other Dart models use a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 184 hp, a muscular figure for a compact sedan. With that engine, the standard 6-speed manual returns 23 mpg city/33 mpg hwy, while the optional 6-speed automatic is rated at 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The Dart is offered in five trim levels: the base-level SE, the fuel-efficient Aero, the midlevel SXT, the sporty GT and the upscale Limited.

Shoppers who choose the base-level Dart SE ($18,000) shouldn't expect much. The sedan features only the basics, such as 16-in steel wheels with hubcaps, a CD player and power windows. Air conditioning is optional as part of the Convenience Group, which also includes keyless entry, power locks, a USB port and Bluetooth. A new Rallye Appearance Group is optional for 2016.

Step up to the Dart SXT ($20,400), and you're rewarded with several new items. Most importantly, the midlevel SXT offers the new 2.4-liter engine, while the fuel-efficient 1.4-liter is optional. But the SXT also adds standard air conditioning, keyless entry, power locks and 17-in wheels. There's also a split folding rear seat with a trunk pass-through.

Pick the Dart Aero ($22,000), and you'll find a similar list of equipment to the SXT, but you'll also get the 1.4-liter engine standard. That's because the Dart Aero's goal is gas mileage, and the model uses features such as active grille shutters to return nearly 40 mpg.

Above the Aero is the sporty Dart GT ($23,100), which boasts a sunroof, dual-zone air conditioning, heated front seats and a park-assist system. The GT also offers sport steering and a sport suspension, both tuned to improve handling, along with a dual exhaust and dark headlight surrounds.

Topping the Dart range is the Limited ($25,400), which adds several features, including leather upholstery, an automatic transmission, a push-button starter and Chrysler's Uconnect navigation system.

The Dart offers many options, ranging from a sunroof to its Uconnect navigation system with a large 8.4-in center-mounted touchscreen. Also available are safety features such as rear cross-traffic alert, xenon headlights, a blind spot monitoring system and automatic high beams. SXT and Limited models offer the 1.4-liter engine for efficiency-minded drivers, while rain-sensing wipers and proximity keyless entry are also available.

Safety

The 2016 Dodge Dart comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and 10 airbags (front, front-side, front-knee, rear-side and full-length side-curtain). Options include rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams and a blind spot monitoring system.

In government crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Dart earned a 5-star overall score consisting of a 5-star frontal rating, a 5-star side-impact rating and a 4-star rollover score. In testing conducted by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Dart earned a stellar Top Safety Pick designation.

Behind the Wheel

Although the Dart's Giulietta-sourced suspension tuning was softened for American roads and tastes, there's still the soul of a driver's car in even the humblest Dart SE. The ride is never harsh, but it tends toward firm. The car tackles corners with verve, reminding us of the nimble Mazda3. Dodge knows, however, that the Dart will spend most of its time commuting, so it's still plenty comfortable when you're sitting in traffic or navigating well-worn urban streets.

Like other SE models in the Dodge family, the Dart SE doesn't bring much to the table in terms of technology. There's a standard 3.5-millimeter audio input jack, but iPod/USB connectivity is optional, while the 8.4-in touchscreen is unavailable.

Properly equipped, however, the Dart is a technological powerhouse. It all starts with that huge touchscreen, which is one of the most fun and intuitive you'll find in any car. Compared to the complicated MyFord Touch system in the rival Ford Focus, the Dart's Uconnect touchscreen is an ergonomic knockout, providing iPad-like clarity and ease of use. Another great feature is the versatile 7-in thin-film transistor display in the gauge cluster, which looks great and can be customized to show the information you value most. We'd just like to see expected niceties, such as iPod/USB and Bluetooth integration, made standard across the lineup.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Honda Civic -- The latest Honda Civic is one of the best compact cars we can remember, as it touts handsome styling, a roomy cabin and a long list of available equipment. We highly recommend checking it out.

2017 Hyundai Elantra -- The recently redesigned 2017 Elantra is an excellent new compact car that offers everything most shoppers want, including a 10-year warranty and a longer list of safety features than the Dart.

2016 Mazda3 -- Like the Dart, the latest Mazda3 offers handsome styling and excellent technology. It also touts impressive gas mileage and an available hatchback body style.

Used Ford Fusion -- The Fusion is a midsize sedan that touts excellent technology, handsome styling and several engine options, just like the Dart. But it's bigger, which is a benefit for drivers who need more space. Prices are higher, though, so you may have to consider a used model.

Autotrader's Advice

Although we appreciate the 1.4-liter turbo for both its high-revving ability and its exceptional fuel economy, we find it hard to turn down the muscular 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. We strongly suggest you test out both engines to decide which is right for you.

In terms of trims, the Limited is a great choice for shoppers interested in luxury, while the GT offers an option for sport-minded drivers. The SXT is the best compromise for drivers who want a good compact sedan with a long list of available features.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Dodge Dart: New Car Review - Autotrader