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2013 Dodge Dart long-term test: Off on the right foot, mostly

Aki Sugawara
March 4, 2013

Once in a while, a car's relevance in the market merits more than the usual 50-mile test drive.

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.

For now, the Italian DNA has largely been a boon to the Dart, and we’ll keep you updated as we tack on the miles. Check back in with us throughout the year to read updates about how the Dart fares over its long-term reliability test.

2013 Dodge Dart Rallye

CLASS Four-door compact sedan
ENGINE 1.4-liter 4-cylinder turbo
TRANSMISSION 6-speed dual clutch automatic
POWER 160 horsepower
TORQUE 184 ft.-lbs.
WEIGHT 3211 lbs.
0-60 MPH 8.2 seconds
EMISSIONS 4.8 tons CO2/year
MILEAGE 27/37 mpg
PRICE AS TESTED $22,100 to $25,395
CONS Weak DCT transmission
PROS Smooth ride, eager engine
TOTAL MILEAGE 2755 miles