Dodge Dart challenges compact competitors

Introduced for the 2013 model year, Dart is Introduced for the 2013 model year, Dart is the first Chrysler Group vehicle built on the architecture of a Fiat. Photo Credit: Scripps Howard News Service/Chrysler Group

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As a challenging rival to the Honda Civic and a host of other worthy compact sedans, the Dodge Dart is a remarkably upscale and customizable set of wheels that performs athletically and efficiently.

Introduced for the 2013 model year, Dart is the first Chrysler Group vehicle built on the architecture of a Fiat.

Dart comes in six trim levels: SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited, R/T and Aero with a starting price of $15,995. It's built in the United States at Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., plant.

Fiat's chassis design for the Dart is known as "Compact U.S. Wide," or CUS-wide and is based on that of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. As you might have heard mentioned in the presidential campaign, Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy with a new owner, "the Italians."

The face of the Dart was styled with split crosshair grille and a modern, sleek look that "floats" in the front fascia, giving the Dart a full-width mask that marks it as a Dodge. The CUS-wide platform allowed for accentuating the fender formations and pushing the wheels as far out to the corners as possible.

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The rear view of the all-new 2013 Dodge Dart features an optional Charger-inspired "racetrack" full-width tail lamp with 152 indirect glow LEDs and class-exclusive available dual exhausts mounted in the rear fascia.

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Style lines on the hood lead the eye to the grille, while chrome accent spears below the projector headlamps and inboard of projector fog lamps highlight the attention to detail.

Designers outperformed on the interior, using innovative ambient interior lighting, high-quality soft-touch materials and high-tech features. The layout is designed to put all controls within easy reach. Dart features the interior volume of a midsize sedan with best-in-class hip and shoulder room.

Dodge offers 12 exterior colors, 14 interior color and trim combinations, seven wheel options, three engine options and three transmissions. Mopar, Chrysler's after-market outlet, also will offer more than 150 customization options and themed packages.

A large, 8.4-inch touch screen offers bright, high-energy graphics and easy activation. Designers and engineers combined the best of both worlds with easy to adjust tuning knobs and terrific informational displays on the screen.

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Dart's glove box can stow an iPad, and the center console features auxiliary jacks to plug in a wide variety of electronic devices.

Optional "racetrack" lighting surrounds the floating island bezel. Ambient lighting for the door handles, map pockets, foot wells, glove box, storage bin and illuminated cup holders adds a sensual feel.

Engine choices begin with a 160-horsepower Tigershark 16-valve 2.0-liter engine. Also offered are a 160-horsepower 16-valve 1.4-liter MultiAir Intercooled Turbo engine and a new 184 horsepower Tigershark 16-valve 2.4-liter MultiAir 2 four-cylinder engine.

Transmission choices include a six-speed manual, six-speed automatic or six-speed dual dry clutch transmission.

The 2.0-liter Tigershark engine mated to the six-speed manual transmission has an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg combined. The 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine mated to the six-speed manual transmission has an EPA fuel economy rating of 27 mpg city/39 mpg highway/32 mpg combined.

MultiAir technology delivers optimum combustion at any speed under all driving conditions by allowing direct and dynamic control of air intake and combustion. The result is up to a 15 percent increase in rpm torque and a 7.5 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.

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Dart is the first Dodge vehicle to use an active grille shutter system, which automatically stops airflow through the lower intake at highway speeds when less engine cooling is required and aerodynamic drag is most significant. When closed, the shutter system improves aerodynamics p by redirecting airflow around the front of the vehicle and down the sides, rather than through it. The active grille shutter system will open or close automatically based on engine-coolant temperature and vehicle speed.

Aerodynamics also were enhanced with mold-in-color black composite underbody panels and tire spats that work as miniature air dams. Other efficiencies in wind resistance can be found in the mirror design, the notch angle at the top of the header of the backlight to the trailing edge of the deck lid and even the tail lamp applique shape and rear corners were all designed and engineered for optimal aero performance.

In its first tests, Dart earned a top five-star safety rating from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an important milestone in a new model.

"The five-star safety rating is further evidence that the all-new Dodge Dart is much more than a stylish, fun-to-drive vehicle," says Reid Bigland, Dodge president and CEO and Chrysler Group's head of U.S. sales. "The Dart represents genuine value, which we at Chrysler recognize is a precious commodity to consumers."

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2013 DODGE DART LIMITED

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TYPE: Front-drive, five-passenger compact sedan.

PRICE: $19,995 base, $24,965 as tested.

WHERE BUILT: Belvidere, Ill.

KEY RIVALS: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra.

Email Richard Williamson at motorfriend@sbcglobal.net

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