Dodge Dart a step forward
The 2013 Dodge Dart offers a decent ride, but acceleration in the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine on the Limited test model had a turbo lag.
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2013 Dodge Dart Limited: Sometimes the apple falls far from the tree.
Price: $25,065 as tested ($19,995 base; $15,995 for a starter model).
Marketer's pitch: "How to change cars forever: Start with a simple idea. Think. Drink coffee. Design something totally original. Do it again. Call in the engineers, call in the car guys, call in the nerds. Build a prototype. Mold it. Shape it. Love it. Give it a starting price under 16 grand. Uh-oh, finance guys. 'You can't do that.' Kick out the finance guys. Take it to the track. Tweak. Tweak. Take it to the car shows. Call the critics. Win some awards." (Yeah, I loved that commercial.)
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com says that "none of the engines provides especially quick acceleration," but it offers a "degree of refinement, quality that ... puts it among the top compact car choices."
Reality: It's not changing cars forever, but it's a nice step forward.
What's in a name? When I first heard Dodge resurrecting the Dart name, I figured they must have thought that the coast was clear, that everyone who ever owned a 1960s-'70s version had died off.
Not so fast. I remember the Dart from the shrill-starting examples plodding and whining and grinding to a halt all around my boyhood Northeastern Pennsylvania neighborhood. I spent hours on their flat bench seats feeling Darts list from turn to turn, the speedometer needle floating in time with the curves.
What's new: The 2013 Dart certainly isn't that, and I never expected it would be. The 2013 Limited is pretty enough inside and out to cast out any of the old demons of Dartdom.
Inner beauty: Though the outside is attractive, the Limited's leather seats (part of the $895 Premium Group option, which also heats the front seats and steering wheel) really caught my eye. The bottoms curve outward while the backs scoop inward. Inviting and appealing best describe them.
And they offer comfort, as well, though Sturgis Kid 1.0 reports the sloping design makes the rear seat a little snug on headroom.
Bonus, they have a hideaway storage cubby under the front passenger seat. Neat.
Driver's Seat: For the driver, though, the six-speed transmission suffers from what I've dubbed "Chrysler Clutch." I suffered this in a 1993 Dodge Dakota and a 1982 Plymouth Horizon, and the legacy continues. The clutch throws are too long, giving the driver's left leg a workout.
The gear throws are long, as well. Dodge Dart drivers will be known for their malformed bodies, with bigger left bottoms and right tops.
On the road: The 1.4-liter I4 intercooled turbo engine I tried adds $1,300 to the price. But I'd suggest trying out the base engine first. I found the turbo lag to be noticeable in a "Should I really try pulling out in traffic?" way. The performance picks up with the rpms, but can take a long time to do so.
The handling is not bad, but not exciting. The Dart hugs the ground, so country roads with lots of dips are especially fun. Winding roads can be entertaining, and the exhaust note is pretty. But the steering is fairly American.
Technology: The $495 Uconnect navigation screen was large and lovely. All the stereo and navigation functions are across the bottom of the touch screen, and the system is easy to follow. The LCD screen is clear and crisp, and the backup camera is better than real life.
But I never did get the GPS to work for more than a few minutes at a time.
Hidden tunes: Finding the CD player was a challenge that sent me scurrying to the owner's manual. It's inside the armrest. Not a terrible location, but it still makes changing CDs on the fly difficult.
Fuel economy: I thought sluggishness would pay at the pump. This version of the Dart is advertised at 27 city and 39 highway, but I only averaged 28 m.p.g. in a country-heavy mix of driving.
Where it's built: Belvidere, Ill.
How it's built: Dodges tend to land in the bottom of Consumer Reports' reliability tests, but their newest models (the Challenger and Durango) show improvement.
In the end: The Dodge Dart Limited shows that the company is on the right track. But a few snafus and a couple of design limitations make the overall package less than inviting.
First Published February 13, 2013 12:00 am