By Kelsey Mays on January 7, 2012
Dodge hasn't had a small sedan since the Neon, a car it would just as well have you forget. (In 2001, the Neon still had a three-speed automatic. 'Nuff said.) Well, a compact sedan returns to its lineup late this spring, and Dodge dusted off an old nameplate to christen it. The Dart is based is on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, sold overseas by Chrysler (and Dodge) parent Fiat, and it should match the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus for style points.
The Dart eschews the slab-sided styling from the Avenger and Caliber, choosing Elantra-like curves up front and a much smaller grille than the Dodge norm. The Charger's runaround taillights characterize the Dart's rear, but the whole of it wraps atop a curvier shape to the Charger's boxy tail. Longer and wider than most segment rivals, the Dart boasts a lot of interior room — 97.2 cubic feet, beating the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra. The Dart also gets a four-wheel-independent suspension, not the segment norm.Inside, the Dart's wraparound dash borrows elements from the Charger, with gauges and a center display under the same hood. Uplevel trims have a stitched hood and LED wraparound lighting. An optional 7-inch configurable display sits between the gauges; it can show digital or simulated analog speed, as well as vehicle information, radio settings and more. Chrysler's available UConnect center touch-screen — a whopping 8.4 inches — is the same size as that on the Charger. Dodge will offer five trim levels, from SE through R/T, with more than a dozen interior trim and color combinations, seven wheel options and 150-plus Mopar parts.
A 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard, with a turbo 1.4-liter four-cylinder optional. Both engines make 160 hp, but the smaller engine — equipped with Fiat's MultiAir valve system — has 184 pounds-feet of torque, 39 more pounds-feet than the 2.0-liter. It teams with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, while the 2.0-liter gets a conventional six-speed auto. A six-speed manual is also available with either motor. Expect the 1.4-liter to be the fuel-economy leader, though figures are pending. The Dart R/T, meanwhile, gets a 2.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder that's good for 184 hp and 171 pounds-feet of torque; it works with a six-speed automatic or manual.
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Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey