One of the sharpest looking compacts around | The new car does carry the same formula that made the original Dart popular in its day.
There’s been an obvious trend over the last few years with the big three domestic automakers to build cars that attempt to recapture the “glory days” of the domestic car. Now, I personally struggle a bit with the idea of retro styling. I’d rather see a vehicle progress through its generations, evolving to the styles and trends of its time – that’s what makes certain cars so iconic. This sort of revival has been hugely successful in attracting the right buyers to the right cars; and that is why I am anxious to see how the re-born Dodge Dart fares. While a nostalgic nameplate may help sell a middle-aged guy a Camaro or Charger, the Dart is a car targeted towards a younger crowd, and I am not convinced that crowd knows what a Dodge Dart is or was.
All that to really say, that if the new Dodge Dart is going to compete for younger buyers with the likes of the Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra, it’s going to need a lot more than a nostalgic nameplate. So, I grabbed the keys of a brand new 2014 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye to see for myself how it stacks up.
I do have to admit that I think the Dart is definitely one of the better looking cars in this class, Dodge did a great job with the “racetrack” LED rear tail lamps and aggressive blacked out front grill on my Rallye trim tester, which give it a very sporty look and helps to set it apart from everyday traffic. One thing I found rather disappointing for 2014 was that Dodge has done away with the exciting color pallate that was previously available; it definitely takes a certain person to want a bright orange car, but I think the Dart lends itself well to the more eccentric colors, so my white tester did feel a little boring.
Happily though, the excitement picks back up under the hood. My tester was equipped with the top tier 2.4L Tigershark engine with MultiAir technology (variable valve timing), which really does feel at home in this platform. Putting out 184 horsepower, the Dart has plenty of pickup with minimal throttle lag, and what I would consider the best exhaust note in its class. Enough power is available at all RPMs to make passing fun and easy, and the engine doesn’t feel like it’s strained or running out of juice. Opting for the 2.4L does ensure that the Dart at least feels like one of the quickest cars in this class, despite the fact that it’s also the heavyweight of the compact segment. Another option box I’d be checking off is the $1500 6-speed automatic over the manual – the Dart’s automatic box is done right. The best part is that I didn’t have to pay much for the extra power in that my average fuel consumption for the week was a healthy 7.9L/100km, right on par with my numbers in the Mazda3 GT.
So it looks hot, and it packs a hot little engine, but where this Dart starts to cool off a little bit is in the handling department. Being one of the heavier cars in its class, the extra weight is definitely felt behind the wheel and the car doesn’t feel quite as light and nimble on its feet it could. This does make driving the Dart on the curvy back roads a little less fun than say a Civic or the Mazda3. However that is my enthusiastic side talking. My everyday realistic self actually quite enjoys the fact that the additional weight and power gives the car an extra solid and comfortable ride at highway speeds, making it an efficient little commuter with the more mature and refined dynamics of a larger sedan.
Inside the Dart is a pleasant place to be. With an MSRP just under $26,000 my tester came with the two most important option packages available. First on the list is the Uconnect 8.4 inch touchscreen infotainment system, an excellent system and a must in all Chrysler products. Next is the “Sun & Sound” package. With a rather hefty $2300 price page, this package gets you the goods with a big power sunroof and a banging 500-watt stereo with subwoofer. While these two packages get you mostly everything a young aspiring professional needs, I couldn’t help but feel that Dodge could’ve thrown in automatic climate control and express up/down features on all windows as these are both little gadgets that buyers are starting to expect at this price point. The premium cloth bucket seats, complete with white racing stripes, in my tester were quite comfortable. Plus, as much as I want to fault the racing stripes I have to admit they look pretty cool.
While I don’t think the Dart nameplate itself will resonate with younger buyers, the new car does carry the same formula that made the original Dart popular in its day. It’s a practical and well-rounded compact, with a choice of hot powertrains and a unique style. This makes it a definite contender in its class and well worth considering for anyone looking for something a little different, without having to make any real compromises.