The marriage of Chrysler and Fiat seemed a somewhat unlikely union when it started in 2009, but it has become a fact of the automotive landscape. Now we have the Dodge Dart – an American vehicle with an Italian platform – as one of its first offspring.
By TOM STRONGMAN
Based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Dart bristles with Italian DNA (Alfa Romeo is owned by Fiat), but its styling is a bit more conservative than its Italian cousin. The basic platform is a modular design that can be expanded to suit various markets.
Chrysler resurrected the well-known Dart name for this new compact sedan. The idea was to design a vehicle whose "exterior proportions say ‘fun-to-drive’ when you look at it," according to Chrysler’s press materials. And, in that regard, I think the vehicle is reasonably successful. It is not quite as visually exciting as the Giulietta but its proportions are pleasing.
The interior has what Chrysler calls a "driver centric" layout, designed to put all controls within easy reach of the driver. Overall, the cabin looks more expensive than one might expect for a vehicle whose base price begins at $15,995. The top Limited starts at $19,995.
The Dart offers a choice of three four-cylinder engines: A 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter; a 160-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, and a 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic and a six-speed dual-clutch.
I drove two models: an SXT Rallye with a base price of $17,995 and a sticker price of $24,390, and a Limited with the 2.0-liter engine and a sticker price of $24,965.
I spent the most time in the Rallye with the 1.4-liter turbo and the dual-clutch transmission. The dual-clutch unit functions much like an automatic, but I felt a bit of driveline sloppiness when the clutch engaged at low speeds. Dual-clutch transmissions are efficient, and this one was rated at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway.
The turbocharged engine has adequate zip, but getting the most out of it requires working the throttle pretty vigorously. The 2.0-liter engine has a smoother driveline because it was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Performance was not as vigorous as the turbo engine, but I liked the smoothness of the automatic transmission.
The Dart’s cabin was designed to be better than most cars in this price segment, a decision made, in part, to overcome Chrysler’s reputation for having subpar interiors. The combination of materials and textures was generally pleasing. The front seats were excellent. The back seat is snug, and friends said it was hard to get in and out without bumping their heads. Trunk space is good.
The Dart rides firmly and there was a noticeable thump over uneven pavement.
The SXT Rallye is not an all-out sports sedan, but rather, a four-door that offers contemporary styling with adequate performance. The Italian flair of the Alfa Romeo has been muted considerably in the transition to a Dodge.
Standard safety features include front, side and side-curtain airbags, along with anti-lock brakes, traction control and vehicle stability control.
The base price of the test car was $17,995. Options included trip computer, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch wheels, overhead console, tire pressure monitor, dual-clutch transmission, turbocharged engine, Garmin GPS navigation, backup camera, satellite radio and active grille shutters. The sticker price was $24,390.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.