2013 Dodge Dart Rallye Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Dodge's insistence on offering Hobson's choice when it comes to the compact segment makes it critical that whatever is being offered - be it a sedan one generation or a hatchback the next - better be good. Introduced for the 2013 model year, the all-new Dart replaces the Caliber hatchback of 2007-2012, and is the first compact sedan in Dodge's lineup since the Neon (SX 2.0 here in Canada) was discontinued in 2005 after an eleven-year run.

The Neon was well packaged, reasonably stylish for its time, and a decent performer, but as a 2005 example I drove recently reminded me, it featured rather lacklustre interior design and materials, and it wasn't exactly a paragon of build quality either, so although it sold well its demise went generally unlamented. The Caliber was better in regards to interior design and build quality, but it in turn was a bit shy on style and performance (at least in standard trim) and it doesn't seem anyone much misses it, either.

Dodge now has a European partner in Fiat, so the new-to-market Dart gets a healthy dose of Italian DNA, using a slightly stretched and widened version of the acclaimed Alfa Romeo Giuliette hatchback platform and an Italian engine too, at least in some applications. The result is a car that delivers plenty of good-looking style (it's arguably the best looking sedan in the segment), smile-inducing performance, excellent fuel economy, and a good value-for-money proposition - it's not the cheapest compact available, but in higher trim levels it couples a reasonable price tag with a wide array of nice-to-have features.

The Dart comes in five basic trim levels: SE, SXT, Rallye, Aero and Limited (a performance-oriented GT model is coming soon, featuring a 184-horsepower 2.4-litre engine). Pricing starts at $17,950 including destination charges for the SE and runs upward to $24,840, destination in, for the Limited. My test car was the mid-range Rallye model, which starts at $21,090. The standard engine is a 2.0-litre "Tigershark" 4-cylinder that develops 160 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque and is hooked up to a 6-speed manual transmission (a conventional 6-speed automatic is available as a $1,300 option).

The base SE model, while attractively priced, takes an old-school approach to the features list with 16-inch steel wheels, no air conditioning, manual outside mirrors, a one-piece folding rear seatback without armrest, a basic UConnect-enabled 4-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, no rear cupholders, no retained accessory power and no engine options. You'd be forgiven for thinking it probably gets roll-up windows and manual door locks too, but it does actually get power windows and doors locks, and projector headlamps for good measure.

Things get much better with the SXT, which costs $2,600 more but adds 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power mirrors, a 60/40 split-folding rear seatback with armrest and pass-through (so lots of transportation options), premium cloth upholstery (this appeared more "durable" than "plush"), a six-speaker audio system with colour LCD display monitor, rear cupholders, retained accessory power, security system, and the option of adding a $1,300 turbocharged 1.4-litre "Turbo Fire" engine. This engine is basically the same as in the Fiat 500 Abarth and it adds a healthy dose of mid-range torque (184 lb-ft compared to the base engine's 148 lb-ft) while simultaneously improving fuel economy. Horsepower remains the same at 160. If you want an automatic with this engine, it gets a 6-speed dual clutch automated manual unit that costs another $1,300.

My test car's Rallye trim added to the SXT trim with leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, fog lamps, driver multi-information display and keyless remote entry. The Rallye package also features a unique, more aggressive front fascia with blacked-out headlamp bezels and grille crossbar, and a wide variety of interior colour options (black-and-red in my test car, complementing its Redline Pearl paintwork).

Rounding out the model lineup, the Aero gets the 1.4-litre engine and a series of aerodynamic improvements to maximize fuel economy, while the Limited gets an included automatic transmission, leather upholstery, heated front seats, premium audio system and more.

In addition to its Rallye trim, my test car was loaded with extra-cost options. First amongst these was the $1,300 Turbo Fire 1.4-litre engine. Next was a $295 "Popular Entertainment Group" package that adds things like automatic headlights, 12-volt auxiliary outlet, illuminated front cupholders and vanity mirrors, active grille shutters, tire pressure monitoring system and a useful hidden cubby under the passenger's seat cushion. A $1,000 Premium Audio package added a unique backlit red instrument panel surround (echoing Dodge's "race track" rear light design), iPod control, rearview backup camera, remote USB port, SD card slot and remote-activated perimeter approach lighting. Lastly was a $450 navigation system, which adds an 8.4-inch touchscreen and requires an additional $700 worth of Sirius satellite radio and voice command with Bluetooth.

If I was ordering a Dart for myself I'd also add the LED racetrack taillights ($225), power sunroof ($1,295) and $500 amplified 9-speaker audio upgrade with subwoofer, because the Dart's premium audio system was only "okay," and lacked punch. So, as tested my Dart came to $24,835, but I'd be looking at $26,855 for my preferred package of goodies.

At this price the Dart isn't super cheap, but it's not too bad either when you consider the resulting equipment list. Certainly my test car was a nice place to spend time, with all the comforts and conveniences you could reasonably expect in this segment, and a decent-looking interior with soft-touch materials on the dash top, instrument brow, arm rests and other touch points (hard plastics were used elsewhere, and there's room for improvement in some of them because the textures are a bit coarse and the red accents in the test car didn't really match the red used for the soft-touch panels). The front seats are supportive and roomy enough, and I actually found them quite comfortable, but I can understand some of the complaints I've read elsewhere - they are slightly overstuffed, so the padding has a slightly bulgy quality to it (I expect this would lessen within a few months). The back seats - at least the outer two - fit my 5'11" frame well enough, and the trunk is plenty big at 371 litres.

My complaints are mostly of the niggling variety: I didn't like the twist-knob wiper control mounted on the end of the turn-signal stalk, and I think the instruments could be spaced a little closer together because with my hands at two-and-ten o'clock on the wheel they blocked portions of the speedo and tach (yes, yes, I could just drive with my hands at nine-and-three, I know). Finally, the USB input wouldn't read my thumb drive loaded with iTunes m4a files, which is something most audio systems can do these days without problem. I also had trouble getting consistent Bluetooth connections with my cell phone, but my colleague had no such trouble so this may have just been an issue with my particular older model phone. I did like how the stereo stays on until you open the door, even if you remove the key. That's how it should be done.

On the road, the 1.4-litre equipped Dart has an intoxicatingly nice exhaust burble (like an Alfa Romeo, indeed), lots of torque, and a free-revving, eager character. This makes it a hoot to drive, especially when equipped with the slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, and there's enough power to get from 0-100 km/h in a respectably quick 8.5 seconds. The smiles don't stop at the pump either: On the highway the engine revs along at just over 2,000 rpm at 100 km/h in sixth gear, and in the city its small displacement helps it turn in excellent mileage despite the Dart's hefty (for a compact) 1,495-kg curb weight. Rated consumption with the 1.4-litre engine and 6-speed manual is 7.4 / 4.9 L/100km (city/highway), and I used only 9.7 L/100 in mixed city and highway use despite driving like Mario Andretti the entire time.

In the corners the Dart has accurate and well-weighted steering. The front suspension uses standard Macpherson struts, while the rear suspension is a multilink independent setup, giving the car a very tossable character. Dodge says the suspension was slightly softened for North America to take the edge off it, and while this probably makes sense for most drivers one can only hope that a Euro-tuned suspension is eventually offered for enthusiast drivers (the Neon was quite successful at one point in autocross, and a Euro-sprung Dart could be an equally good weapon). I did notice that the suspension has limits when it comes to absorbing large road irregularities, with the test car's front suspension hammering unhappily going over a recessed manhole cover.

With its good-looking style, fun-to-drive character, wide variety of available equipment and reasonable starting price, the Dart offers a tempting alternative to established contenders such as the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze and Toyota Corolla. If you're in the market for a compact sedan, it certainly deserves a look.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Dodge, 2013, Dart, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page