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Looking back, in the Dart’s final week

by David Zatz on

This is the last week of production for the Dodge Dart, though dealers will, as planned, have supplies going into 2017.

Many people have already voiced their opinions on why the Dart failed to capture sales. Some said that it was too far from the image of the 1960s-1970s Darts — whether they were seen as muscle cars or reliable, unexciting workhorses. Others saw a failed attempt to redefine Dodge performance as handling, rather than brute force acceleration.

Some articles called the new Dodge too big, which hurt acceleration and mileage alike. Others pointed to the early cars’ quirky Fiat powertrain and transmissions of early cars; the GT came very late, and the SRT never did show up.

Some say the car’s should have been based on the smaller-car “S” platform, and others said the C-EVO dimensions should not have been changed for the US. Either path would have brought a lighter car.

Chrysler put a lot of money into making it handle quite well, but the market didn’t seem to value handling, at least not without better acceleration.

Most recaps agreed that the marketing was off the mark; to be fair, as neither the fastest, most economical, most comfortable, or most reliable car in its class, the Dart had no easy “hook.” But the “don’t touch my Dart” tagline didn’t seem to intrigue anyone.

The first cars were sticks, so dealers shoved them in the back, out of sight. The stick-first logic may have been to appeal to enthusiasts and import buyers, and garner the best numbers in reviews, but it seems to have backfired. Perhaps the press fleets should have been manual-only and the dealer lots filled with automatics? The quirky Fiat-powered engines and DDCTs turned off critics and potential buyers.

US compact car sales started dropping as Darts arrived. There’s little FCA could have done about that.

Many love their Darts and will mourn the passing of the nameplate and the opportunity. It may be the last US-engineered compact front-drive Dodge. The most likely replacement is the Mexican Dodge Neon, designed by Fiat, built in Turkey.

We will memorialize the Dart in our own way — with an updated long-term review, to run on Monday.

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