Detroit 2012: 2013 Dodge Dart Makes Its Debut (w/Video)

The compact car market is a fiercely-fought one in the United States.  Both younger and cost-conscious buyers are looking for good value, great fuel economy, technology and attractive styling.  If a single vehicle meets all of these criteria, it’ll most likely be successful.  While the Neon sold well in both Dodge and Plymouth guises, the Caliber – which replaced the Neon in 2005 – hasn’t had the same sales success.  For the 2013 model year, Dodge is reintroducing its storied nameplate, the Dart.  Read on for pictures and details about Dodge’s hot new compact.

With the Neon’s departure and Caliber only selling around 200,000 units compared to Honda’s Civic, whose eighth generation sold over 300,000 each year during the same period, something had to be done.  Enter Fiat, which has Alfa Romeo as a subsidiary.  Dodge-specific sheet metal is draped over Alfa Romeo’s Guilietta compact sedan and its MultiAir engine, giving the Chrysler/Fiat merger its first combined product.

With Alfa Romeo DNA underneath, the new Dart should be an engaging drive whose suspension has been suitably modified for US consumption.  Speaking of that Alfa DNA, it’s modular, so look for future Chrysler/Fiat cars to ride on the same basic structure.  It’s a smart plan which will let Chrysler and Fiat build market share in the US without having to dump tons of money into new platforms.

Outside, the Dart’s sheet metal is decidedly wedge-shaped, with the familiar crossbar grille in front, and an upswept hood which features lifted shoulders and a center-mounted character scallop.  The front grille sits atop a gaping maw, which looks like it’ll provide plenty of fresh air to the engine. As with a lot of modern sedans, the headlights are swept back and vertically slim.  The Dart’s rising beltline is mimicked at the bottom of the doors, while the side sills themselves are parallel to the ground.  The beltline rises far enough that it meets the ducktail spoiler at the rear of the new Dart.

The two wheel designs seen on the show cars are both five-star designs, one being painted and the other chrome.  The latter design features a split-spoke design, which reminds me of the Dodge Viper’s wheels.  Both designs shown at Detroit look clean and fit the car’s personality.

While the Dart’s flowing lines look fresh and new, the rear end is pure Charger, with the taillamps connected across the trunk lid.  Other than those neat looking taillamps, the rear end of the Dart is rather bland, probably the only angle in which the Dart looks uninspired.  A blacked-out lower fascia houses the dual exhaust outlets and tries to hide the fact that the rear end is tall and chunky, but it’s still there.

Still, the Dart’s looks are quite attractive overall, which should help it compete in the looks department against Hyundai’s Accent and Ford’s Focus.  Honda and Toyota need to step up their design game, lest their Civic and Corolla sedans get left behind in some rather ho-hum dust.

Moving inside, the Dart looks like a scaled-down Charger, with the driver-centric dashboard housing an 8.4″ touchscreen for infotainment.  The red trim lends a bit of “boy racer” look, but breaks up an otherwise brooding interior.  For another neat trick, Dodge’s engineers have replaced the analog gauges of yore with a fully-customizeable LCD screen.  The new instrument cluster can display a myriad of information, from navigation turn-by-turn directions to analog or digital gauges, fuel economy, and others.

Other creature comforts available include automatic climate control, heated leather seats, a 506-watt sound system, backup camera, 10 standard airbags and push-button start.  A lot of these features are more premium than expected since they’re usually found in more expensive cars, not an American compact sedan.  I’m a huge fan of offering customers an extensive list of luxury-oriented options without having to actually step up to a luxury car.

Motivating the Dart will be a choice of three engines and three transmissions.  The engines include a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder codenamed Tigershark, which delivers 160 horsepower, a larger 2.4-liter Tigershark which puts out 184 horsepower, and Fiat’s 1.4-liter MultiAir engine, which also delivers 160 horsepower.  MultiAir is Fiat-speak for engine airflow technology which increase power and torque while reducing fuel usage.  I expect the 2.0-liter Tigershark to be the volume engine, with the 2.4-liter in more performance-oriented trim levels, while the MultiAir will be the choice of those who value fuel economy the most.  On the transmission front, 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions will be used, with an automated manual (Dual Dry Clutch or DDCT) 6-speed available as well.

The 2013 Dodge Dart will be offered initially in five trim levels, including SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited and R/T.  The only thing missing at launch is an SRT model, which I expect to show up by the 2014 model year.

Production is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2012, so look for Dodge’s hot new compact sedan in showrooms sometime in July or August at the latest.  With an attractive design inside and out, followed by all the trim levels and options, there should be a combination for anyone in the smaller-car market – I know I want to test drive one when it goes on sale later this year.

Videos:

Inside Look:

Running Footage:

Show Press Release

by John Suit

Source: Chrysler

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