2013 Dodge Dart long-term test: Off on the right foot, mostly
The Dodge Dart is such a car. Nostalgia for the stalwart rear-wheel-drive version of the '70s -- coupled with recent mediocrity in a market segment formerly occupied by bubbly, rarely reliable Neons -- left some of our staff feeling ambivalent toward Dodge’s latest subcompact. Given its Italian roots (the Fiat Group sells these with Alfa Romeo badges in other markets), the Dart will again need to prove itself to American consumers.
Stepping up to the challenge, Dodge offered to let Yahoo! Autos put a Dart through a 12-month test, during which time we'll attempt to run the car through as much of its 36,000-mile warranty as possible. Having logged 2,755 miles on a Dodge Dart SXT Rallye over the past month and a half, we're pleased to report that so far, it’s been pleasantly reliable.
Our Dart SXT came fully loaded with Uconnect navigation, the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine ($1,300) paired to a dual-clutch automatic ($1,100) and 17-inch hyperblack wheels ($395), bringing the $17,995 base price to $24,885.
The entertainment package is money well spent — the Alpine stereo system thumps with a full bass not found in many luxury cars, and the treble is crisp without pricking your ear drums. The navigation touchscreen is quick, intuitive, and provided better traffic updates than Google Maps on an iPhone. We did, however, discover a few cockpit quirks; the red-lit speedometer appears to have been designed by ancient Egyptians with all its hieroglyphics, and functionally, the Bluetooth has appeared to cut out on us sporadically.
It might seem strange that a 1.4-liter four cylinder engine is an upgrade from the base model’s 2-liter unit, but it’s the same 160-hp powerplant as the one in the Fiat 500 Abarth, and has proved more than adequate. On undulating mountain roads, the Dart easily passed slower moving trucks with the rev-happy spunk of a Jack Russell terrier, although the dual-clutch transmission responds somewhat lethargically to gear changes, emulating a traditional slushbox more than a manual. In one instance, it failed to grab gears at all as I passed a stalled car, and burnt clutch smell followed the wail of an engine spinning.
Gear mishap aside, the Dart excels as a cruiser. The suspension only gets choppy on the harshest of roads, and the ride never gets tiresome, even on six-hour road trips. Although none of us hit the 39 EPA-rated highway mpg—averaging around 33 mpg on longer stints—the Dart never went below the 28 EPA-rated city mpg. That’s invaluable with the continual threat of gas prices on the rise.