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2013 Dodge Dart
Dart is out to make a point

A name from the past arrives on a current Italian platform for a new car to help build Chrysler's future.

By Malcolm Gunn

The black grille surround is exclusive to the 2013 Dodge Dart R/T model. This is the elegant Limited trim with the optional 1.4-litre turbcharged engine out of the Fiat 500 Abarth.You can thank Giulietta for the soon-to-arrive 2013 Dodge Dart. No, Giulietta isn't an automotive design studio, corporate executive or even a flavour of ice cream. It's an Alfa Romeo automobile that's the basis for a brand-new four-door compact sedan that, in North America, wears the reconstituted Dodge Dart badge.

The fact that both Chrysler/Dodge and Alfa Romeo are controlled by the vast Italy-based Fiat automotive group has everything to do with the new Dart's creation. Although the Dart and Giulietta share the same basic platform, the Dodge version is enlarged, gets its own sheetmetal (Giulietta is hatchback, after all) and interior. The engine selection is straight from Fiat. The Dart is also being built at a Chrysler assembly plant in Illinois with mid-2012 slated for the official coming-out party (although it's making the auto show circuit and was introduced to the media at the Canadian International Auto Show -- CIAS -- in Toronto in February 2012).

Despite its Italian origins, the Dart looks like a full-fledged member of the Dodge family. The signature crosshair grille is surrounded by a mouth-agape frame, while the 'racetrack' taillight design circles the back, just like it does with Dodge's full-size Charger.

The side profile doesn't have the sculpture of a car like the Hyundai Elantra, which might endear the 2013 Dodge Dart to no-frills buyers. However, the Dart can be decked out with leather, dual-zone climate control and navigation. The R/T gets its own five-spoke wheels.The Dart's bold statement will be important, since Chrysler hasn't had a compact sedan in play since the Neon back in 2005. Meanwhile, virtually every mainstream automaker has continued to offer trunk-lidded compacts, earning plenty of currency -- both in dollars and brand awareness -- in the process.

That might explain why the Dart moniker has been returned from the 1960s and 1970s, when it was applied to a series of two- and four-door compact models. The Dart name will probably resonate with older customers -- who will either love or hate the idea of bringing it back -- although many younger car buyers will likely miss the connection completely.

Turning a Giulietta into a Dart involved increasing the platform length by 30 centimetres and the width by five. The result, claims Dodge, is a car with segment-leading scale. Its direct competitors include such small-car luminaries as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze.

A car this large usually has plenty of interior and trunk space. The Dart gets the job done in this category but doesn't take the outright lead despite the generous distance between the front and rear wheels. The cabin design, though, is a standout, with futuristic-looking gauges, equally non-traditional control-panel displays and unique storage area beneath the front passenger seat-cushion.

The 2013 Dodge Dart looks nothing like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta on which it is based.Of note is the customizable screen that sits between the tachometer and fuel gauge. It can be set up as a typical sweep-dial speedometer or digital gauge with room for all sorts of fuel-economy/range info.

The Dart takes a something-for-everyone approach when it comes to powertrain selection. The base engine is a 160-horsepower, 2.0-litre four-cylinder that's standard in the SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited. All four trims can be upgraded to the 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that's rated at the same 160 horses. However the turbo 1.4 that originates from the Fiat 500 Abarth holds a 39 pound-feet torque edge (184 versus 145).

Exclusive to the sporty R/T trim is a non-turbo 184-horsepower 2.4-litre four-cylinder. All three frothy fours represent pretty powerful stuff for this class, which will be important as even the lightest Dart out-hefts most of its peers by a good 135-180 kilograms.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard with all engines, while a six-speed automatic is optional with all but the R/T's 2.4. In this case, you can order a six-speed paddle-shifted automated manual gearbox.

Base equipment is at or above the norm, including a Chevy Cruze-matching 10 standard airbags. The options list runs to new lengths and incorporates dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, driver-selectable information screen, push-button start, soft 'Nappa' leather seat trim, backup camera and trailer sway control.

Including destination charges, the Dart should intro at about $17,500 in Canada, which is certainly competitive and will no-doubt entice a whole new group of buyers to Dodge stores.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: 2013 Dodge Dart

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan.

Engines (hp): 2.0-litre DOHC I4 (160); 1.4-litre SOHC I4, turbocharged (160); 2.4-litre DOHC I4 (184).

Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic; six-speed automated manual.

Market position: Chrysler finally gets back into the compact-sedan race, a category that will become increasingly important as corporate fuel economy standards are pushed and the price of gasoline rises.

Points: Good-looking, clean-sheet design; One of the roomiest cars in its class; Powerful trio of engines with base engine aiming for the sub-5.0-L/100 km-highway mark; Optional feature availability allows buyers to turn their Dart into all-out luxury compact; Likely to be the first of many cross-pollinated models stemming from Fiat-Chrysler arrangement.

Safety: Front airbags; front-/rear-seat side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front knee airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

L/100 km (city/hwy): 6.4/4.9 (2.0, est.).

Base price (incl. destination): $17,500 (est.)

BY COMPARISON:

Chevrolet Cruze
Base price: $17,000
Handsome sedan the proven equal to many import-based compacts.

Hyundai Elantra
Base price: $17,500
Class-leading styling and a fuel-sipping engine make it a contender.

Toyota Corolla
Base price: $17,000
Conservative looks, but comes with a solid reputation for quality.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted March 15, 2012. © CarTest.ca TM




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