The 2013 Dart is the first Chrysler Group vehicle built on a Fiat Group architecture, but it won't be the last – and shouldn't be if this is what the combined engineering and design muscle of the two auto makers can achieve.
The car looks good, has the best seats of any small car starting for less than $16,000 (base price $15,995 plus freight), and before the end of the summer you'll be able to get your Dart with three engine choices, three transmission offerings, five trim levels, seven wheel choices, 12 exterior colours and 14 interior colour and trim options. Chrysler wants to make a splash with this car, so it is going big because it doesn't want you to go home empty-handed.
“We're priced right with the rest of the segment, a super-competitive segment,” says Chrysler Canada marketing vice-president Ed Broadbear, listing off rivals that include the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Rio, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Jetta and more.
Canadians buy compacts like no other type of passenger car. “And we haven't had a competitive compact car,” he says, pointing out that compacts account for 23 per cent of all new-car sales in Canada – some 350,000 last year.
Aside from the head-spinning array of choices, an approach Broadbear and his confreres liken to the freedoms offered to pickup truck buyers, the Dart will generate buzz based on its looks (a blend of North American and Euro flair) and its size (Chrysler says the Dart's total interior space exceeds that of the mid-size Chevrolet Malibu sedan).
The exterior design is clean (aerodynamic to the tune of a 0.285 coefficient of drag, which is good), with slightly different versions of Dodge's signature crosshair grille up front, smooth side panes with just the hint of a crease running their length just below the greenhouse, and a tail lit up with 152 LED lights.
The interior is roomy and has a centre stack canted in a driver-centric way. And it does not look or feel like the designers were inspired by Filene's Basement in a quest for bargain basement supremacy.
Trim levels? SE ($15,995), SXT ($17,995), Rallye ($19,495), Limited ($23,245) and R/T ($23,995 and not available until the fall). While the base model has power windows, door locks and the like, buyers should be careful to have a long look at what comes with each package. For instance, if you want a 60/40-split-fold-down rear seatback, you'll need to get the SXT; the base SE has a single-piece folding rear seatback. Air conditioning is not available on the base model, either, and will add $1,300 to a pricier Dart.
Inside, what you should notice first is the what the designers call a “floating island bezel.” This is the part that houses an available seven-inch “Thin Film Transistor (TFT) customizable gauge cluster display with light pipe surround” or the “Uconnect Touch 8.4-inch touchscreen Media Centre.” The big touchscreen is worth mentioning, too; it allows for easy management of navigation inputs and the like.
Want to store things? The glove box is so deep you can reach in almost to the elbow, and will easily swallow an iPad. The centre console has auxiliary jacks for your iPod and so on, and throughout there are side-pockets and cubbies. A particular highlight of the interior: ambient lighting for the door handles, map pockets, foot wells, glove box, storage bin and illuminated cup holders.
The engine options are all four-cylinder types and, while none have direct fuel injection, as is the case with some rivals, they are all highly competitive. The starter powerplant is a 2.0-litre “Tigershark” rated at 160 horsepower and though it traces its roots back to an engine first developed with Hyundai and Mitsubishi, the engineers say 80 per cent of what's in the Dart is all new.
Next up is the 160-horsepower, 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo (a $1,300 option on the SXT), while high-performance power comes from the intercooled turbo that is the 184-horsepower Tigershark 2.4-litre. Transmission choices: six-speed manual, six-speed automatic or six-speed Dual Dry Clutch (DDCT) transmission.
Dodge officials never missed a chance to remind me that the Dart is based off of the “award-winning Alfa Romeo Giulietta” and as such is has been engineered to have killer driving dynamics. I'd argue the Focus is a quicker, more nimble ride in the city, but the Dart feels solid and planted in long, sweeping turns and on the highway in general.
What is undeniable: The Dart is an elegant design, one well priced and apparently executed with passion and a commitment to making Chrysler a force among compact cars.
As Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne just put it to Automotive News, “I can make as many [Darts]as the market calls for.” He and the rest of them at Chrysler are hoping for many thousands of market calls.
- Read Jeremy Cato's account of the Chrysler revival here: Chrysler and Fiat: the odd couple triumphs
- And don't miss our picture gallery: In pictures: The 2013 Dodge Dart