2013 Dodge Dart long-term update: Gearbox gripes

July 10, 2013

As we previously mentioned, our long-term Dodge Dart has largely been a pleasant road trip car, but with some transmission quirks. For this update I was planning on focusing on its sluggish shifts — except the Dart’s dual-clutch transmission unexpectedly failed with 6,915 miles on the odometer. An error message flashed on the dash upon startup, which said the car couldn’t engage into any gear. The Dodge got towed to the dealer, where a new pump brought it back into service.

A Dodge representative said they had not encountered any transmission issues thus far, so it seemed like a case of just bad luck. When we got the car back from the dealer, I was eager to test the newly repaired transmission, expecting all the random clicks, clunks, and slips to be gone. Sadly the issues persist, making me wonder if the problem has truly been resolved.

The optional, $1,150 6-speed dual dry clutch automatic transmission, which Dodge engineered to be “as silky and unobtrusive as possible,” has been anything but smooth; our logbook was filled with criticisms about its slow response, herky-jerky shifting, and clunking noises. The term “silky” is accurate in that you can’t accelerate abruptly; should you punch the throttle, the Dart winds up the engine for a solid second before putting the power to the wheels. The experience is much like a manual transmission with a worn clutch: the more gas you give it, the more you get that slipping feeling as the engine revs up with no immediate forward movement. It’s frustrating in rush-hour traffic, and I’d get cut off repeatedly due to its reluctance to close gaps in stop-and-go driving.

Putting the car into manual mode makes gear shifts more responsive, but having to always change the gears yourself seems to defeat the point of an automatic.

That said, these complaints are mostly limited to speeds under 20 mph, and above that the transmission performs admirably. During a recent trip into the mountains near Lake Tahoe, I was very impressed with how the transmission and 1.4-liter turbo powered through steep mountain passes, providing good acceleration at highway speeds in high elevations.

Overall the Dart is a great daily driver and this transmission is the only thing holding it back. Dodge also offers a traditional automatic or manual transmission for the Dart, which are well worth your time to test drive and decide for yourself. After a week behind the wheel, I had adapted my driving style to this new transmission, giving the throttle a beat before accelerating. We’ll keep putting on the miles to see what happens next.