The single most important thing about the 2013 Dodge Dart is that it proves Chrysler is still in the game. The new Dart compact sedan may not leapfrog every other compact on the market to set lofty new heights of excellence. But it's stylish, fun to drive, offers some pioneering features for the segment, and is competitively priced. And the last time the company introduced a sedan you could say that about--the Chrysler 300--was 2005.
From the car's roominess inside to its strong Dodge design roots, the Dart is a breath of fresh air in a compact segment that threatens to become even more beige than it has been. Just consider the competition.
On one end is a newly strong competitor, the Hyundai Elantra. It's undeniably stylish, gets great fuel economy, and offers plenty of value for the money. On the other end is the aged, invisible, unappealing Toyota Corolla (due to be replaced for 2014), saddled with an archaic four-speed automatic transmission and numb electric power steering. In between are the stylish but pricey Ford Focus, the good-citizen Chevy Cruze (still the quietest highway cruiser of the class), and the somewhat disappointing all-new 2012 Honda Civic.
"This car didn't even exist on paper in June of 2009," Marchionne told Steve Kroft on CBS's "60 Minutes" days before the first press drive in Healdsburg, California. Dodge didn't have any dual-clutch or 2.4-liter R/T versions to sample, just the 1.4-liter turbo and 2.0-liter, some with the six speed automatic, some with the Honda-slick six-speed manual.
Three years is a short time to bring a new car to market, even if it starts with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. By now you've read about most of the changes, including 1.2-inch-wider tracks, a longer wheelbase, and 12 inches more overall length than the hatchback Giulietta. Chrysler tweaked suspension geometry for rougher roads in the U.S. to include a dual-rate rear in the Dart, firm in one direction and multi-rate in the other. It has 68-percent hot-stamped high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel, and active grille shutters in the lower front fascia.
Back in the Game
The 2013 Dodge Dart is a strong effort, a car that should instantly allow Dodge to compete with its established rivals after several years on the compact sidelines. It looks great, is priced aggressively, stacks up nicely in terms of power and efficiency and offers a whole slew of premium options.
Beyond that, the Dart handles; it has mojo. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta DNA that went into it has emerged intact, albeit in a somewhat larger, trunkified form.
From where we sit, the 2013 Dodge Dart is definitely worth a closer look. There's an obvious comparison test in our near future but, whatever the outcome, Dodge's return to the increasingly important compact segment should help put it on a path to a far rosier future.