October 25, 2014

2013 Dodge Dart Limited: A solid, well-equipped compact car

The 2013 Dodge Dart.

The 2013 Dodge Dart.The 2013 Dodge Dart.The Dodge Dart nameplate, beloved during the 1960s and early 1970s, is back for 2013. But in all but two important respects, this isn’t another quest for retro buzz. Few will confuse this Dart with its predecessor of so many years ago.

Today’s Dart, like the original, is a compact car with a modest price tag and superior fuel economy. Also like the original, it can be colored, trimmed and powered in a multitude of ways.

But the new Dart is truly a car for its times. Although assembled in Belvidere, Ill., this four-door sedan is an international car, with components from Italy, the United States and Mexico. It’s derived from a model sold in Europe by Alfa Romeo, now a division of Fiat S.p.A. – the majority owner of the Chrysler, Dodge and Ram truck brands.

With all that Alfa Romeo DNA, you’d expect the new Dart to look good and handle crisply, and indeed it does. You’d also expect it to be temperamental; the jury is still out on the reliability of this new model. But the tiny Fiat 500, with comparable Italian influence, achieved average reliability scores in its first year – an impressive achievement for any new model – according to Consumer Reports magazine reader surveys.

Our test car was equipped to the max and priced accordingly. The base Dart carries a sticker price of $15,995; our 2013 Dart Limited had a bottom line of $26,265. Among its many options were a rear park assist system, blind-spot and rear cross path detection system, heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, remote start, navigation system and satellite radio.

Our Dart seemed comfortable in its expensive clothes. It felt solid and substantial. It had none of the flimsy plastics or tinny-sounding doors that make some compact cars feel cheap, and the fit and finish were of a high order. Still, at this price, some consumers might be inclined to move up to a bigger car, like a Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion or all-wheel-drive Subaru Legacy.

In addition to its handling prowess, the Dart is an uncommonly quiet, smooth-riding compact. It’s also roomy fore and aft, and the trunk is likewise spacious.

The Dart has done well in crash tests and was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Our biggest complaint about the car was the performance of its transmission. The 6-speed dry clutch automatic transmission responded inconsistently to pressure on the pedal; it really didn’t allow the 160-horsepower turbocharged Four to shine. We would have preferred the base transmission, a 6-speed manual unit. A conventional automatic transmission is available, but not with the turbo engine.

Other engine offerings include a 2.0-liter, 160-horsepower normally aspirated Four, and a 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter Four in the GT model. Fuel economy ranges from 24 mpg city, 34 highway, in the base package with automatic transmission, to 28/41 with the Aero package.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $26,265

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged Four, 160 horsepower, 184 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed dry clutch shiftable automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Weight: 3,186 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 17×7.5-in. painted alloy

Tires: 225/45R17 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 13.1 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons

Fuel economy: 31 mpg city, 37 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular