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by David Zatz in August 2014 (4)
In 2013, we tested the Dodge Dart 1.4 and Dodge 2.0, but in 2014, every car but the base SE and the Aero got the 2.4 liter engine. That immediately made us out of date (though the 1.4 and 2.0 continue).
The gadgetry, fine cornering, and comfortable seats continue; but the engine now has enough power to satisfy those who disliked the 1.4’s turbo lag and the 2.0’s limited power. Each engine comes with a standard six-speed manual transmission, and an optional automatic.
The 2.4 comes in two flavors, standard and GT; the Dart GT essentially uses the same engine with perhaps different tuning, and certainly with different gearing which sacrifices economy for acceleration. We tested the standard version, which is plenty fast and, as important, responds quickly to inputs.
Fuel economy with the 2.4 automatic is not generous for a compact, though it is in-line with small mid-size cars (and Dart is close to being midsize). As an example, Corolla gets 27/36 mpg with its four-speed (it does better with the six-speed); Cruze is around 22/35 with its 1.8. But if you go to slightly larger cars, and Darts is nearly that size, the Fusion is rated at 22/34, Sonata at 24/35. Dart SXT Rallye is at 23/35. Gas mileage is not a strength for this model, though the Aero does well. The Hurricane 2.0 turbo engine is still at least two years off.
The six-speed automatic keeps the engine running at 2,400 rpm at 70 mph, running the engine faster than the V6 in the eight-speed 300C or Charger at the same speed. City mileage suffers from measures taken to assure responsiveness: a high idle speed, gearing, quick downshifts, and such. In short, the system is balanced more towards instant response than economy.
On the highway, at any reasonable speed, the engine responded surely and smoothly to slight demands from the throttle; heavier pushes resulted in near-instant one and two gear downshifts, providing hefty acceleration on demand. The transmission seems to respond faster than the eight-speed in the Charger, which is entirely due to Dodge’s tuning of the two systems. In any case, passing was absolutely no problem at all, with the air conditioning on, uphill, at moderate speeds (55 mph) or higher speeds.
The 2.4 tuning revs rather high when the car is started, and takes some time to fall down to its normal idle speed. If you get into gear too early, the car will lurch forward, just like taking a 1970 Duster out on a cold morning while it’s still on fast idle. Generally, the engine revs higher than one would expect, especially given the MultiAir system. This might be a way to increase its responsiveness and ability to speed away from idle, as well as a reason for its mediocre city mileage. It certainly does help with stoplight response, and makes the Dart feel more like the old torque-heavy 1970s versions.
Meanwhile, the 2.0 was fairly quick and responsive, even up steep grades, with rapid and smooth shifting; it feels more responsive than many cars that have much better sprint times. The automatic downshifts readily and quickly. The 2.0 is a bit deficient at low revs, doesn't have much reserve for taking heavy loads up steep grades with the air conditioning on, and acceleration with part throttle is pretty hard to tell from acceleration at full throttle. Most people will never notice the need for more, but those who will, like any car reviewer, will demand more. That’s where the 2.4 comes in.
On the highway, where a vintage Dart would be having issues, the modern Dart is quite comfortable, and gas mileage is far better. An aggressive pedal foot yields rapid kickdowns and satisfactory acceleration, not exactly SRT material, but enough for easy passing and no “dang, I thought I had some power in this thing” moments. Acceleration is predictable and rapid; the Dart is, in short, responsive (and far quicker than the old slant-six variety).
The Dart handled curves like a champ, even when there were bumps or dirt on the road; the car can easily take corners at inadvisable (because you can outrace your vision) speeds. It is a real confidence builder, especially because, unlike some cars in our past (the Volkswagen Rabbit, for one), it can deal with road imperfections and other surprises reasonably well. The more you drive the Dart, the more fun it gets, from 25 mph on up to highway speeds.
The ride is higher quality than one would expect, especially given the grip on pavement. It is comfortable for the most part, and while large bumps and drops and such are easily felt, there is minimal bouncing and such most of the time.
One would expect a busy ride from the cornering ability, but it’s not really there on most models; the large size (bordering on mid-size) takes away the small car feel, for better or for worse, but it still corners well. Bigger shocks definitely make it through — this is not a Charger SXT or a Chryser 200 — but the smaller stuff is taken care of. The Rallye, with its firmer suspension, is less well-cushioned than the base model, letting more bumps and shocks through, and unless you really prefer that feel, I’d go with the standard suspension, which handles more than well enough. (The GT is another step in the “stiff and shaky” direction, as you’d expect.)
The turning radius is nothing to write home about, but steering effort is a good compromise of assist and firm feel.
The optional stereo on our Rallye was excellent — clarity was more than good enough to reproduce our very different test tracks, bass was strong and clear and easily dialed down for voice broadcasts, and there were, á la GM, three levels of speed-based volume compensation. Stereo separation was superb.
This car did not have the optional subwoofer, and did not need it. The stereo was excellent and well balanced. The bass adds a lot of thump, and can’t be independently controlled.
The setup included a three-way tone control (bass, midrange, treble) — many buyers will, sadly, set all three ranges to maximum. If we have gripes, it’s that the system can be picky about SD cards (running them through a USB card reader works), doesn't know to ignore Mac resource forks (files starting with ._), and doesn't have knobs for bass and treble. It’s mainly touch-screen driven, but there are steering-wheel audio controls, and the two real knobs can be used for volume and for browsing tracks, even on SD or USB cards (turn to move between songs, press to select one; and it’s smart enough to know that when you turn it fast, you want to accelerate.)
In theory, you can ask the system to play a particular song or artist. We were able to give vocal directions to the nav system, but so far have been stymied by song selection.
Audio inputs and the CD player are now in the center console. The best option is shoving in an SD card or stubby USB drive; USB thumb drives work better, but stick out into the cubby. A power supply is in there too, if you really, really want to use a portable player (or charge your phone).
The quiet interior, which we were told is “class-leading,” has no obvious flaws in terms of wind noise, and helps to bring out the best in the stereo. This is an unusually quiet car for the class, and like most aspects of the Dart, would bewilder a classic Dodge Dart owner brought in from the past.
Chrysler’s 200C concept car had a fully digital dashboard; from this came the Dodge Dart’s customizable gauge cluster (the two outer gauges are both “physical”). Our test car did not have that, but you can read about it our 2013 review.
The Dodge Dart has an insane number of options and features. Chrysler used to forgo remote fuel doors on even its top of the line cars; Dart has one, and its button lights up at night, along with the trunk release. The Dart lets you use or ignore daytime running lights, use headlights when the wipers are on, and set the time the headlights stay on after you lock the car, how long the power stays on, and just about everything else you can set on any car. It even lets you make the voice responses shorter, and eliminate the touchscreen beep.
With the big touch-screen option, you also get a red glowing thing around the gauge cluster and screen; a separate knob next to the main rheostat controls its brightness.
The EVIC (trip computer) has a black and white display on Darts without the fancy gauges It provides warnings (doors open, tire pressure low, etc), shows the odometer, and displays whatever you tell it to, one thing at a time — gas mileage, distance to empty, current miles per gallon, tire pressure, etc. There’s really no reason for it not to show gas mileage as average, current, and distance to empty on a single screen; it’s a drawback for those who care about such things.
Gauge backlighting is both white and red — the red is used for trim, with numbers in white. Real gauges show temperature and fuel level, and car and engine speed. (Dodge uses red and Chrysler uses blue — amber, the scientifically superior color for auto backlighting, has all but disappeared, while the traditional American green has come back.)
The 2013s only listed every 20 mph on the speedometer; 2014s have a busier speedometer, with every 10 mph shown. Better have good vision to read the km/h. The tachometer is, in a rare move, correctly calibrated. The car has a redline around 6,500 rpm, and the tachometer goes up to the next round number, 7,000 rpm. We've gotten used to automakers figuring “if the redline is 6,500, let’s have the tach go to 8,000.”
Climate controls are partly kept in the touch-screen, and are perhaps not the best thought out part of the car. The sole part of the system to get a knob is the fan, which has seven settings, while the temperature controls have up/down buttons with more settings. This is not a problem if you get the thermostatic temperature control, but it's bound to be an annoyance with the base setup.
There are physical buttons for a/c, recirculation, and front and rear defrosters. To select outlets, you have to go to the touch-screen, which is an annoyance and potential safety problem; from there, though, a single touch can move the heat or fan speed from one end to the other, or into the middle, and all climate controls are on a single screen.
Our car had automatic headlights, but you could manually move a knob to parking lights or headlights or all lights off; and the knob stayed where it was left, unless you hit it with your knee. Which I did quite often, as I do on my 300.
Car seats can make or break a car. The 2014 Rallye was a real improvement on the 2013, with moderately firm but form-fitting seats that posed to problems to my back or my sensitive bruised tailbone. The headrests have apparently been adjusted, or were different on our 2014 trim level than our 2013. There were numerous seat adjustments to help out. As always, your mileage may vary, but I found these seats to be better than those on the 300C.
This car has numerous storage spaces asides from the usual glove box and center console. The cubby under the swing away passenger seat pad (see photo in our Rallye review) has space for a small laptop or lunch bag; a DSLR camera with a moderate zoom lens fits into the center cubby even if you have the optional CD player; and an iPad easily slides into the absurdly deep glove compartment, which has a separate area for holding tire gauges and such, and a clip for holding a pen or pencil.
A deep cubby, dimly lit at night, sat under the center stack. The twin cupholders (with bubbles to hold things in place) had a surround light. All four doors had map pockets, and there was a padded drop-down sunglass holder on the roof, by the lights (which, in Chrysler tradition, are “push-to-activate,” rather than “hunt for the freakin’ switch.”)
The top of the center console slides forward, for those who want an armrest further up front. Rear seat denizens get a tiny open rubber-lined cubby, the map pockets on the doors, a small, shallow covered storage console between the seats, and cupholders on the same console.
The trunk is nicely sized, with a pass-through for skis and poles and such; but both rear seats fold down (separately) for larger objects. The Dart uses old-fashioned hinges, similar to those on older Darts, that intrude into the trunk when you close it. Cars with a subwoofer lose a bit of trunk space.
The interior is roomy for a compact, and verges on mid-sized. Even with the front seat all the way back, there is space for the legs and feet of back-seat passengers. The rear seats are comfortable as well, and moderately bolstered for comfort when the driver takes advantage of the cornering.
Our Dart came with a full tilt-telescoping steering column, and a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. The steering was firm, precise, and well-connected.
Under the hood, maintenance areas are clearly identified and the packaging is clean and neat. Most everything is covered over to cut noise and improve aerodynamics.
Visibility is generally good, with the optional HIDs, wide mirrors, and generously sized sun visors that slide on poles to block the sun when it’s in odd spots. Buyers with sensitive eyes should, as usual, avoid the automatic day/night mirror, which comes with the voice recognition and probably with other packages. The standard headlights in our Rallye seemed to suffer from the gray lenses, and didn't put out quite as much light as they could have.
The body seems well assembled and solid; there have been some complaints about particular cars with imperfectly aligned body panels, but that is likely to get ironed out quickly. Our car we saw at our dealership was perfectly assembled.
A.J. Schreiber wrote, “One thing that I really liked is the feel of the various knobs and buttons for both climate control and the radio, they felt solid and precise with no cheap plastic clatter at all.” We concur.
It’s hard to argue with the pricing of the Dart SXT, which comes in at $19,590 including destination, given what it comes with. There’s the “Tiger Shark” 2.4 four-cylinder, airbags (front and rear side-curtain, front and rear side, driver and passenger knee-bolster, and dual fronts), four-wheel ABS, stability and traction control with roll prevention, alarm, hill-start assist, reactive front headrests, CD/MP3/aux radio, steering wheel mounted audio controls, cruise, air conditioner, folding rear seat with trunk pass-through, floor mats, height-adjustable front seats, tilt/telescope steering wheel, and lighting package.
Our test car came out at $22,520 all told. The options included:
The powertrain is covered for five years or 100,000 miles; the basic warranty is three years or 36,000 miles, with 24-hour towing assistance. The Dart is assembled in Illinois; ours was built using 62% US/Canadian parts — an increase over 2013 — with 15% Mexican parts, and a Korean automatic transmission. It is safety-rated at five stars overall, with four stars for passengers in a frontal crash and rollover, and five stars for every other measure.
While oil changes are relatively infrequent, with Chrysler joining GM in recognition of the quality of modern oils, the Dart 2.4 does take an oddball weight, 0W20. The 1.4 takes 5W40 — synthetic. The 0W20, at least, may deter owners from taking their car to quick-change oil places.
The Dodge Dart is nothing like the original, except perhaps in the market segment it fills. The car emphasizes cornering, and does that extremely well; it feels stable and solid. Some aspects of it don’t quite match the first-generation Neon — which was easier to shift and had a lighter feel overall — but in most ways it’s far superior, including the eradication of wind noise, a superb stereo, and enough gadgetry to open a Sharper Image branch.
It was hard for us to argue with the Dart Rallye, especially with the nice seats. We would probably pay extra for the configurable dashboard, to let us look at the temperature, average and current gas mileage, compass heading, and another information screen, all at once, and to play with different speedometers now and then.
The technological gizmos are worked into the car well — while in some other cars, technology seems like one of those checklists we used to see on massive software packages (“virus protection — check; macros — check; toy fonts — check”), an add-on to be used in product literature but not to be used in the car itself, Chrysler has worked far more on integration, reliability, and usefulness. That might be why they were not first with most of the additions (the configurable dashboard excluded), but have been coming out on top in customer satisfaction for electronics.
The Dart 2.4 has a sporty suspension, a smooth ride, comfortable and quiet interior. It’s both a good buy and a highly enjoyable car, which has gotten a bad rap from many reviewers who are more used to Hemi-type engines. It’s a good pick, though, for drivers who might otherwise look at a Corolla, Camry four-cylinder, Civic, or Accord four.
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