by David Zatz in May 2015 (4)
Inevitable sidebar. The 1976 Dart was 19 inches longer than the 2015 Dart, but had less legroom (albeit with greater width). The new car’s base engine is far more powerful, though torque goes to the ’76; both cars have similar weights. Still, with its top V8, the 1976 Dodge Dart Sport ran from 0 to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds (and got around 15 mpg). The ’76 Dart Sport also took 200 feet to stop from 60 mph, far worse than the ’15s. More Dart vs Dart comparisons
Even if it’s not the car for you, the Dodge Dart GT gives the model range some more credibility as a sport compact. Sure, the Dart GT has the same engine as most other Dodge Darts, with 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, but it adds a lower axle ratio and more sensitive throttle to get more out of it. It has been tuned for go-kart cornering, with low-profile tires, frequency-sensing shock absorbers, and a sport suspension.
This is a Dart for people who love the feel of the Fiat 500 but need something bigger, or want the tech goodies that Fiat just doesn’t seem capable of providing, or the power needed to deal with an automatic.
Dodge now restricts the base Dart engine to the base Dart, and leaves the Fiat 1.4 turbo to the Aero. Every other Dodge Dart comes with the 2.4 liter engine, which has a better mix of horsepower and torque for a car that’s only barely a compact — coming very close to the next larger size.
The 2.4 reacts quickly, thanks to good transmission and engine computer tuning, as well as Fiat’s MultiAir valve-control setup.
The Dart GT feels faster than it is, but it still provides all the power one needs and then some, and allows for fast launches. The quick transmission kickdowns and respectable torque provide fast launches and quick, easy passing power on the freeway.
Around town, the touchy throttle is sporty but overdone; starting up the car and leaving the driveway is an experience in sudden movement, as though the car is dropping the clutch while revving the engine. It takes around 30 seconds for the engine to warm up and settle down. On the highway, the throttle seems less touchy.
0-20 mph comes almost instantly, courtesy of the tweaked throttle mapping, along with a loud growling from the muffler if you have your windows down.
With an automatic, the Dart GT’s 27 mpg combined rating is below most direct competitors, but none of them are in the same ballpark for power. The GT has the lowest gas mileage of any trim level, no surprise given its performance axle.
The only other Dodges with manual transmissions are the Challenger and Viper. The others (Durango, Journey, Caravan, Charger), and every Chrysler, are automatics.
The Dart’s four wheel independent suspension is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and handles curves like a champ. The car can easily take corners at inadvisable speeds, and unlike some cars in our past, it can deal with road imperfections and other surprises. The more you drive the Dart, the more fun it gets, even with the automatic. Like the Fiat 500 Sport, this is a car that does well at fast, sharp turns.
The ride of other trim levels is smoother than expected, with minimal bouncing and few shocks. They don’t have much of a small-car feel.
The Dart GT cushions bumps less effectively, given its wide, low-profile 225/40R18 tires, but it does a decent job of merging sport with comfort. It has more of a go-kart feel to it than the standard Darts, and is able to take sharp turns with seemingly no body roll or slippage, though it also passes through bumps, shocks, and road imperfections more readily.
Going over more severe disruptions, such as badly done railroad crossings, it felt as though the rear of the car was hopping along behind. This was unusual after we set the tire pressures to the recommended levels, but common before, so be careful — the car uses 38 psi up front and 34 in back, an old front-wheel-drive trick to gain cornering without a punishing ride. It’s not often officially recommended as it is with the GT, but if you fill every tire to 38 psi, you will be unnecessarily sacrificing ride and durability for — nothing. It seemed to take corners as well, if not better, with the correct pressures, and it didn’t hop.
The steering was firm, precise, and well-connected. It’s is a tight little car, and responded instantly to any demand. On the highway, unlike Fiat 500s, the Dart was easy to drive, with the speed sensitive steering preventing jitters and busy-ness.
The stereo on our Dart GT was good, matching or beating that of a $55,000 SUV we recently tested in sound quality (and creaming it in ease of use). Bass was a bit boomy, though easily dialed down for voice broadcasts using the three-position equalizer.
A single USB thumb drive in the center console replaced the old SD card slot and the (now optional) CD drive. It worked well, reading our 32 GB thumb drive quickly (we prepared it by deleting Mac-specific files starting with ._ and .DSstore). We wished for bass and treble knobs, but few touch-screen stereos have them now.
Some of the physical buttons are duplicated both on the screen and the back of the steering wheel (volume, mute, source, back/next). The twin physical knobs are nice and large, with a good feel and pushbutton centers. The browsing knob has “acceleration” to move you more quickly when you spin it faster, and the screen-based up/down icons move you through an entire screen of artists or albums at once, as you'd expect.
Overall, the system is easy to get used to and generally works well. Thanks to continual improvement, we actually got the voice control system to work and find artists and albums for us.
The interior has low wind noise most of the time, though it’s no match for a 300C.
The GT uses a well-integrated digital dashboard. The digital portion is the speedometer and information center, while on most vehicles it’s just a supplemental display.
The top two corners can be blank, or can have trip information; the bottom two can have the compass, temperature, and such. The print is a little too small for some drivers to read easily, especially if wearing sunglasses for the road. (An example is below).
You can choose between two analog and two digital speedometers, but you can’t change the typeface or color or range, though it would seem to be fairly easy to set that up. (A more “normal” typeface would be nice but it wouldn’t match the other gauges. Nor would switching from red to amber, come to think of it.)
Configuring the cluster is easy from the standard steering wheel, which has four buttons, neatly arranged, for up, down, right, and left. By pressing up/down, one can switch from the speedometer with a phantom needle center to one that provides information instead of a faux needle base. That area is also used for the parking alert system and to show if you have any open doors on a virtual, silver-white Dart.
The digital display makes switching to metric speeds easy, though the range doubles from 120 mph to 240 km/h instead of moving to the metric equivalent of 120 mph (190 or 200 km/h). The ranges are matches to the car, while normally automakers waste space by going well over the tachometer redline and into unattainable speeds.
You can get oil and coolant temperature, transmission temperature, and other measures, though you can’t get them all at once. The center console also shows the inside temperature setting, time, and outside temperature, so there’s no need to have them in the gauges.
As for preferences, we could choose whether to use the daytime running lights, or put on the headlights when the wipers are on, or how long the headlights stay on after locking the car... to cut a long, long story short, you can set many preferences via the 8.4” screen.
The Dart has an oil life indicator to help you with planning changes and prevent owners from wasting money on dealer-and-neighbor-recommended 3,000 mile oil changes. Modern oils are very different from those of the past, and engines are far better sealed; there’s no need to constantly replace good oil.
When buyers get the 8.4 inch center stereo, they also get a large red glowing strip around the gauge cluster and screen, controlled by a separate physical dial; there are also red glowing circles around the volume and tuning knob at night.
Climate controls have some physical buttons, and some features that can only be accessed from the touch-screen. The sole part of the system to get a real knob is the fan, while the temperature controls have annoying (if you don't have the automatic climate control) up/down buttons.
If you have automatic temperature control, as our GT did, the temperature setting is shown at the top of the touch-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 the driver put it, which should seem obvious, but some automakers can’t seem to grasp the idea. It is designed so that you can’t turn on the fog lights unless you have the parking lights or headlamps on, a sensible precaution. The DRLs are bright yellow, showing your presence without blinding oncoming traffic.
Car seats can make or break a car. Our test Rallye and GT both had moderately hard seats with an aggressively placed headrest that is fine for driving but not for relaxing with the car stopped. There were numerous adjustments for the driver, all power, and for the passenger, all manual. The seats were designed to provide decent bolster while still accommodating larger people.
Our GT did not have the cubby under the passenger seat pad, but an SLR camera fit into the center cubby, and a full-sized iPad (not our 15-inch laptop!) easily slides into the deep glove compartment, which has clips for a pencil or tire gauges and one for holding paper clips.
Underneath the center stack is an unobtrusively lit, padded cubby. The cupholders had bubbles to hold things in place, a surround light, and the usual gap for mug handles or for use as a sunglass holder (there is also one overhead). All four doors have (hard) map pockets and bottle holders.
The front and rear dome lights are, in Chrysler tradition, are “push-to-activate,” rather than “hunt for the freakin’ switch.” The GT comes with a garage door opener that is both up to date (we tested it on our brand new, rolling-code garage door opener) and easy to program.
The armrest slides forward; those in the rear get a tiny open rubber-lined cubby, hard map pockets on the doors, and a small, shallow covered storage console with cupholders between the seats.
The interior verges on being mid-sized, so it’s unusually roomy for the class. Even with the front seat all the way back, there was space for the legs and feet of back-seat passengers. The rear seats were comfortable and moderately bolstered.
The trunk is nicely sized and shaped, especially without the subwoofer; and has a small pass-through for skis and poles and such, along with split folding rear seats if you don’t have four passengers and skis.
Every GT has the shiny black front bumper and “racetrack” lights in back. Inside, our Dart came with a telescoping steering column and a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Under the hood, maintenance areas are clearly identified and the packaging is clean and neat, with the oil grade specified on the cap (unlike a certain expensive competitor which just had an ad for an oil company there). The once flimsy engine cover is now screwed down.
With keyless start, one never has to take the keys out of their pocket (especially if one has a similar lock for their house). The doors open when you touch the inside of the handle, even with gloves, and lock with a button on either front door; and a pushbutton turns the engine over until it catches, or until around ten seconds have passed. To shut off the engine in an emergency, hold down the button. There’s no good place for your keys other than those two padded consoles. In case you forget that you can shut off the car in an emergency by holding down your finger on the button, all Dodges cut the throttle when you hit the brake at speed.
The trunk has a button on the lid, the fob, and a button under the dashboard. The gas cap used to have a remote unlock on the door, but now it has a push-to-open gas cap door, just like a certain $55,000 SUV from a competitor. It still looks like it has a locking door.
Visibility is good, with strong headlights and reasonably priced HIDs (as part of a package), and nicely sized sun visors that slide on their mounts. The automated day/night mirror, which provide only limited headlight blocking (on any car we’ve driven), is unavoidable.
The Dodge Dart GT is the top of the range, at $22,190 (incuding destination), and comes well equipped.
For safety, there are many airbags (front, side and side curtain for both rows, driver and passenger knees), four wheel antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control with rollover prevention, alarm, speed-sensitive locks, audio controls on the steering wheel, fog lamps, daytime running lights, all-four-tire pressure display, and reactive headrests for the front seats.
For comfort and convenience, there are Nappa leather seats, express power windows, cruise, power six-way driver’s seat with four-way lumbar adjustment, six-speaker stereo with 8.4-inch screen and USB port (no CD), iPod controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and voice control, along with a seven-inch driver-information display/configurable gauge cluster.
Finally, the Dart GT has LED “racetrack” rear tail-lamps, turn signals in the heated mirrors, a dual rear exhaust with bright tips, and a special front fascia. Missing in action are a spare tire ($350) and active grille shutters.
Options on our test car included the unfortunately coded 2BS package (front and rear floor mats, remote start, and six-speed automatic) at $1,250, which is worth not having for the fun of the stick-shift.
The navigation setup added $495, including five years of traffic and TravelLink, which is a pretty good deal since the traffic service alone costs $70/year, and while you can buy a portable nav system for a hundred bucks, it won’t give you an 8.4 inch map plus turn-by-turn instructions in the gauge cluster.
A compact spare added $350, and “hyper black” wheels added $395, so that the total price of our car was $24,680. If we hadn’t stepped out of a $55,000 Volkswagen with similar features (okay, it also had rear cross path and adaptive cruise), we’d have thought that a bit high for the class.
The powertrain warranty is five years or 100,000 miles, with roadside assistance for the entire period; the basic warranty is three years or 36,000 miles. Our Dart was build in Illinois, using 60% US/Canadian parts (up from 52-57% in the past), and 18% Mexican parts, with a Korean automatic (manuals hail from Italy) and American engine. 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.
With its 23/35 mpg mileage ratings (below normal Darts), the Dart GT still gets a 7 out of 10 for “fuel economy and greenhouse gases” from the DOT, and a smog rating of 9 out of 10 — in both cases, 10 is best.
TrueDelta found that the 1.4 liter Fiat engine made a huge difference in reliability. Repair frequency was average for 2013s with the Chrysler engine, and appear (with a small sample) to be better than average for all Darts in the 2014 model year. The 2015s should be better than the 2014s.
The Dodge Dart is little like the original, and we generally mean that in a good way. The 2.4 certainly beats the slant six (and 318) in acceleration, while the interior has more space and less noise; the trunk is allegedly smaller but we suspect they just improved measurement techniques, because it seems much more useful, and yes, we do have a Dart for comparison.
The car emphasizes cornering, and does it well, feeling stable and solid as you whip it around increasingly-sharp turns. The configurable dashboard is a great toy and quite informative, and all controls were relatively easy to use and intuitive, compared with other automakers’ cars. Dodge has integrated technology well, not treating it as “things to put onto the feature list.”
The Dart GT was tuned to increase its fun factor, and provides a nice alternative to cars that have a punishing or overly busy ride, or don’t allow you to swing the wheel wildly and get away with it. The over-sensitive (at low speeds) throttle in the automatic is a drawback, but the performance axle does make for fast launches, and highway responsiveness is fine.
If you’re looking for straight-line acceleration “by the numbers” with an automatic, the Chrysler 200 may be sensible; the two cars are fairly similar in size. The 200 four, with a nine-speed automatic, isn’t far off in price, though to get the V6, you’ll have to go up to the $25,000 Limited (when we wrote this, incentives on the 200 Limited brought the price with V6 to $24,000, less than the list on our car without incentives — though we didn’t match feature for feature, and really, you’d compare the 200S to the GT, not the 200 Limited).
The Dodge Dart is seemingly Chrysler’s secret, based on sales, but it’s a good, solid car, easy to like. The Dodge Dart GT emphasizes cornering and makes it easier to rocket from a stop-light, at a price in ride quality and that itchy throttle. There are faster compacts, but everything is a balance between performance, comfort, utility, and money, and Dart GT will find people who like its balance.
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