The 2013 Dodge Dart represents the next chapter in Chrysler’s uneven journey through the compact segment. The original Dart, also a compact, was introduced in 1960. It enjoyed robust sales and near-fanatical owner loyalty throughout its 13-year run but was displaced by the larger and famously unreliable Aspen.
In 1994, the Dodge/Plymouth Neon, with its low, low sticker price and 150-horsepower engine, shook up a segment long dominated by the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. But 10 years later, the Neon lost its job to the “compact” Caliber hatchback, which, by all but the strictest measurements, could pass for a crossover SUV.
Today, it’s out with the Caliber and in with the brand-new Dart, a true compact that offers aggressive styling, a wide body and a heavy dose of horsepower, all for a starting MSRP of $15,995. Business Fleet’s own Chris Brown tested the turbo at Chrysler’s Fleet Preview. “Suspension felt firm and planted; it cornered without squeal after giving it a college try,” he reported. “With the turbo’s added torque, the Dart is quick, not fast, but plenty confident at higher speeds.”
That emphasis on performance will help distinguish the Dart from its established competitors, as will its European heritage: The Dart borrowed its frame, suspension and steering from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the modern version of which was launched in 2010 as a five-door hatchback. But the Dart looks and feels American, from the crosshair grille to the rainbow-like array of available colors.
Options abound as well. The Dart is currently available in the base SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited trim levels, and an R/T (road and track) version is on the horizon. The SE comes with few standard options but can be upgraded to include A/C, power doors and mirrors and keyless entry.
The SXT includes 17-inch wheels, and an upgraded upholstery, instrument cluster and more; and the Rallye exterior package includes fog lamps and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Both can be upgraded to include any number of creature comforts. The Limited includes the whole package plus 18-inch wheels; the R/T is expected to include the same, along with a bigger engine.
The new Dart faces stiff competition in a crowded segment. But rock-bottom pricing, better-than-average fuel efficiency and superior drivability should lend Chrysler’s new compact more staying power than its predecessors.