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2013 Dodge Dart Limited 2.0 automatic - cool or weak? (car review)

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by David Zatz in February 2013 (4)

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Allpar has numerous views on the Dart, some written by our readers, and a prior review of the Dart Rallye 1.4. The most popular engine, though, is probably the base two-liter, coupled with the standard Hyundai automatic. Early critics panned it as slow and underpowered; what did we think?

Powertrain: engine and transmission

The 2013 Dodge Dart comes with a choice of three engines, starting with the 2.0, moving up to the 1.4 Turbo, and finally reaching the 2.4. The top and bottom engines are both Chrysler units, albeit based on a jointly developed (with Hyundai and Mitsubishi) block. The 2.0 uses a Mercedes-based dual variable valve timing system; the other two use Fiat's MultiAir system, which is expensive but can adjust valve lift and timing for each cylinder individually. Each engine comes with a standard six-speed manual transmission, with an automatic option (the 1.4's is a dual-clutch automatic).

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We tested the 2.0 with the automatic. In our Bear Mountain testing, we found it to be quick and responsive, even up steep grades. Shifting was rapid and smooth, and the engine ran into high revs willingly - it has poor mileage when pressed, but it's a fun car to drive. The 2.0 feels more responsive than many cars that have better sprint times, once it gets going. The tuning of the automatic helps; it downshifts readily and quickly. Indeed, it seems to react more quickly than the ZF eight-speed used in rear-wheel-drive Chrysler cars.

Under strong acceleration, the 2.0 has been tuned to sound like a high-performance engine - a welcome change from the sewing-machine impression of the original version.

If you don't put your foot down, the 2.0 will not feel as powerful. That's true of all engines, but with the 2.0, it's "more true." You can get away with a very light foot on the pedal with the Pentastar V6, but not with a typical four-cylinder car. You can rocket up hills, but you will need to push the pedal down and get a downshift. While the TigerShark 2.0 has been retuned from the original "World Gas Engine" configuration, it is still deficient at low revs.

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At a stoplight, unless you load the engine (rev it with the brake on), every start will be leisurely, with the engine rapidly building power. Overall acceleration is good but there's not a huge difference between a slow start and a quick start, from standing still. That happens despite what appears to be a moderately aggressive tip-in. Overall, it's not as though Dart owners will be holding up traffic, even in Detroit, but jackrabbit starts are pretty much out of the question, and stoplight racing will not be especially rewarding.

Ironically, the most popular Dodge Darts of the old days, the slant six-automatic transmission cars, acted in the opposite way: they were quick off the line, and sluggish afterwards, the result of more aggressive gearing and a heavy torque bias. The current Dart could do with a lower first gear, though that would hurt the already "not quite best in class" gas mileage. The gas mileage king of the Darts is clearly the 1.4, but that's over a thousand dollars more.

On the highway, where a vintage Dart would be having issues, the modern Dart is far more 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.

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In some ways, I suspect the automatic version of this car is the better deal than the manual; I found the manual transmission to be a bit finicky, and one needs to be on top of things to get good performance from the engine. The automatic is likely to faster to adapt and more likely to be in the right gear than any but the best manual-transmission drivers.

Lest the reader think I was being harshly critical of the 2-liter engine, I am not. It is enjoyable, more than strong enough for most people, and, again, responsive - in that when you hit the gas, something happens relatively quickly. I found the Chevy Cruze turbo-four intensely frustrating because it was a strong engine with a long delay factor. There were times I felt the Dart 1.4 to be similarly frustrating (stick-shift version), along with other cars; indeed, there are times I feel the 300C V6 is poorly tuned, because of the delay between "gas pedal down" and "seat hits back."

Advantage Dart: ride and handling

The Dart has a twin, called the Fiat Viaggio; the main difference between the two is the Dart's four wheel independent suspension, whose basic design was pulled from Alfa Romeo. The four wheel independent suspension 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 (original GTI, for one), it can deal with road imperfections and other surprises, reasonably well. The more you drive the Dart, the more fun it gets. The engine doesn't change that - nor does the automatic.

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The ride is hard to describe; it is generally a higher quality ride than one would expect, especially given the grip on pavement. It is a comfortable car for the most part, and while large bumps and drops and such are easily felt, there is minimal bouncing most of the time, road noise is well filtered, and there are few actual shocks. One would expect a busy ride from the cornering ability, but it's just not there. There's not a real small car feel. (It's not that small a car, of course - verging on mid-size.)

Stereo and sounds

The optional stereo on our Rallye (Premium Audio Group, $595; UConnect 8.4 with navigation, $495; satellite radio, $195) 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 it also 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 car is better off without it, unless you're really into bass.

Electronics Technology Multimedia Electronic device Gadget

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.)

One clever change on this car from past models is the relocation of all audio inputs to the center console. The CD player sits there, vertically, with a sliding cover to keep crumbs and dust from getting in; and the three backlist inputs (on cars that have them) for standard audio, SD cards, and USB input are in there as well. The best option is shoving in an SD card, since that is almost entirely swallowed up in the slot, leaving lots of room free, and is cheaper to replace than an iPod in case of a break-in. USB thumb drives are also cheap and work, but stick out into the cubby. A power supply is in there too, if you really, really want to use a battery-operated portable player.

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The surprisingly 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 absolutely bewilder a 1970s Dodge Dart owner.

Dodge Dart electronics, gadgets, and gizmos

A few years ago, Chrysler launched their 200C concept car, which included a fully digital dashboard. While this is still too expensive for ordinary production cars, one result of the 200C research was the seven-inch high-resolution display now available in Dart, Ram, and Grand Cherokee, and soon to appear in Durango; we expect every new Chrysler vehicle to include the feature as they are redesigned.

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Configuring the cluster is easy from the standard steering wheel up/down/right/left buttons, though to make it even easier, new cars are getting new steering wheels with larger arrow pads. One simply navigates (up/down arrow) to the configuration screen, moves to the right to select which quadrant they want to change (the corners or the center, or the gear display), then picks whatever they want to be in there; blanks are OK if you don't like a busy dashboard.

Speedometer Vehicle Car Gauge Measuring instrument

There are four speedometer choices, two digital and two analog, and if you don't choose anything to go in the center, the system gives you a full phantom needle, clever designed to look completely analog, right down to the circular cap on the needle base and "black paint" on the start of the speedometer needle.

Speedometer Auto part Gauge Measuring instrument Tachometer

The digital display makes it easier to show the rear proximity detectors in real terms (distance and which detectors are showing obstacles), and, in a plus for both Chrysler and drivers who frequently cross the border, makes switching to metric distances easy. What's more, it does so in a way that preserves the same speed range, so the speedometer needle doesn't end up traversing a tiny physical space when switched to km/h.

By the way, the average gas mileage shown here was pure-city, with cold starts on cold mornings and brief trips. We'd meant to rack up some highway miles to provide more photogenic gas mileage figures, but an unexpected storm wiped out that idea. We did get highway driving in, but it was after the photo session.

Speedometer Auto part Gauge Tachometer Measuring instrument

If you're a gauge freak, you can get oil and coolant temperature, transmission temperature, and other measures, though you can't get them all at once, which is unfortunate. On the lighter side, you don't have to sacrifice temperature, compass heading, and gas mileage to get oil temperature, as you do on, say, a 2013 300C. And it gives you cool graphics when you start up or leave a door open.

Speedometer Tachometer Gauge Auto part Measuring instrument

Aside from the configurable gauges (which are not on all trims), Dodge Dart Limited has an insane number of options and features that we just did not expect. Chrysler used to forgo remote fuel doors on even its top of the line cars; Dart has one, and it lights up at night, along with the trunk release. We used to have daytime running lights, or not, depending on the automaker's whim; the Dart lets you decide whether to use them, and also whether to use headlights when the wipers are on (some states require this). It also lets you 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. In short, the preferences setup (at least with the optional 8.4" screen) is quite extensive. It even lets you pick the screen brightness on a 1 to ten scale, make the voice responses shorter, and eliminate the touchscreen beep.

The EVIC - trip computer for those not bred to modern Mopars - used a simple black and white control on Dart which aren't equipped with the optional configurable dashboard. It provides warnings (doors open, tire pressure low, etc), shows the odometer, and displays whatever information you tell it to, one thing at a time - gas mileage, distance to empty, current miles per gallon, tire pressure (each tire individually), etc.

With the big touch-screen option, you also get a red glowing thing around the gauge cluster and screen; a separate knob controls its brightness. It's overly bright in the publicity photos for the car.

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Gauge backlighting is both black and red - the red is used only for trim, with all numbers in the easier to read white. (Amber seems to have disappeared despite its advantages for night vision). The car has real gauges for temperature and fuel level, as well as car and engine speed. Red warning lights clearly stand out, which they did not in Pontiac's old "all red" setup.

Climate controls are partly integrated into 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.

On the lighter side, the current temperature setting is shown at the top of the touch-screen; and there are separate 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. The physical buttons are also reproduced on this screen.

Technology Electronic device

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.

The 2013 Dodge Dart has numerous other optional tech features one could mention in a car review, but most buyers will likely stick to the ones in our test car.

Storage, space, and seats in the 2013 Dodge Dart

Car seats can make or break a car; my favorable first impression of the upscale Chrysler Aspen was demolished when I sat down onto what appeared to be a cement park bench covered in hard leather. In contrast, any sins of our Chrysler 300M (fortunately, it had precious few of them) were forgiven every time I sank into those soft leather cushions. If it were only possible to move those into a 300C!

One of the Dart's designers told me that the car has only one type of seat, with different coverings. That may be true, but our test Rallye seemed to have hard seats that were shaped in a way that made sure the aggressive headrest was in just the wrong place. Our test Limited, on the other hand, seemed to be perfectly set up; the leather was soft and giving, and I felt almost as though I was back in the 300M when I sank down into them. The still-poorly-angled headrests were only an issue if I lay back in the seat, which I didn't do while driving. There were numerous adjustments, as well. As always, your mileage may vary.

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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; an SLR camera fits into the center cubby; 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.

Underneath the center stack is a deep cubby that's unobtrusively lit at night. The twin cupholders (with bubbles to hold things in place) had a surround light, and a gap between them accommodated mug handles or let the driver put sunglasses into the space. All four doors have map pockets, and there is 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 sized with the class. A moderately sized pass-through is there for skis and poles and such, but both rear seats also fold down for larger objects. It remains unusual, but helpful, for cars to have both features. On the down-side, 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.

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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.

Dart styling, visibility, and such

Our Dart came with a full telescoping steering column, and a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. The steering was firm, precise, and well-connected. It isn't an Abarth 500, but it isn't a standard Caliber either.

The Dart has neat proportions in person; people seemed to like it, though it did not attract the stares some more unusual cars have. The dual exhaust tips are large and well integrated into the rear fascia.

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.

The Technology Group with Keyless Start is actually far more convenient than it sounds; one never has to take the keys out of their pocket (especially if one thought ahead and got a similar lock for their front door). Just leave the keys in your pocket, and the doors open when you touch the inside of the handle, even with gloves; then there's a pushbutton starter which electronically turns the engine over until it catches, or until around ten seconds have passed, if it doesn't start. (It can be fooled by a start-but-no-catch.) The car can be locked by pressing a button on the front door - either front door. The trunk has two releases, one button on the trunk lid itself, which does not require you to unlock the car first, and one inside, on the dashboard. The gas cap also has a remote button, on the door - a feature once reserved for, um, no Chryslers.

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Visibility is generally good, with strong headlights and inexpensive 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 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.

Dodge Dart prices, features, options, and such

The Dodge Dart Limited is the top of the range, pending the arrival of the Dart GT, and comes very well equipped. For safety, there are the usual panoply of airbags (front, front-and-rear-side seats, curtain-side for front and rear, driver and passenger knees), four wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, roll mitigation, stability control, alarm, speed-sensitive locks, audio controls on the steering wheel, and front-seat reactive headrests.

For comfort and convenience, there are express power windows, cruise, power six-way driver's seat with four-way lumbar adjustment, 8.4-inch touch screen six-speaker stereo with remote CD player, 12V power outlets, iPod controls, auto-dimming rear view mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and ambient LED interior lights.

The Dart Limited also gets standard active grille shutters and the seven-inch configurable dashboard display. All that comes for a base price of $19,995, with the two-liter engine and manual transmission.

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Our test car weighed in at $24,965, which, incidentally, is well under what we would have paid when the Dart first launched, making the car much more competitive.

The Technology Group added $995, and is well worth it: it provides the keyless start, rear park assist, blind spot and rear cross path detection, automatic high beams, and rain-sensitive wipers. This bundle costs much less than it would on, say, a 300C.

The Premium Group adds heated leather front seats, a heated steering wheel, remote start (automatics only), dual-zone thermostatic climate control, leather-wrapped shifter, and garage door opener, for $995 - also a nice deal.

The automatic transmission carries a cost of $1,100. We suspect this is how they can provide such a good deal on the other bundles.

Finally, we have $495 for the UConnect navigation/phone/stereo system with SD and USB card support; $195 for the satellite radio; and $395 for 17 x 7.5 polished aluminum wheels. We would personally put that $395 towards the HID headlights, which are relatively inexpensive on the Dart. Oh, and there's a $795 destination charge to get us to that $24,965. Your taxes may vary.

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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, using 52-57% US/Canadian parts (including the engine), 19-21% Mexican parts, and an Italian (manual/DDCT) or 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 2.0 does take an oddball weight, 0W20. The 1.4 takes 5W40 - synthetic. Good stuff but it'll cost you at least double what dyno juice* costs. The 0W20 has one advantage: it will probably deter owners from taking their car to quick-change oil places.

* To our more scientifically inclined and/or well-informed readers, yes, we do know that oil is derived mainly from plants, not dinosaurs.


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 far easier to shift and had a lighter feel overall, with greater responsiveness - but in most ways it's far superior, including the almost total eradication of wind noise (event at 75 mph), a superb stereo, and enough gadgetry to open a Sharper Image branch.

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Overall, it was hard for us to argue with the Dart Limited; unlike the last Dart we drove, the headrests didn't seem to be trying to force us to look at the pedals, and the seats seemed more giving and comfortable. The configurable dashboard is a great toy, and finally let us look at the temperature, average and current gas mileage, compass heading, and another information screen, all at once.

The technological gizmos are worked into the car very 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.

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The Dart 2.0 has a sporty suspension, a smooth ride, comfortable and quiet interior, - all at the top of its class - and is lacking solely in powertrain. The 2.0 is a bit less efficient than we'd like, but it's adequate in both acceleration and gas mileage for the typical driver. It won't win you any street-races, and it won't spin the wheels, but it also won't leave you in the dust in normal driving, or make it impossible to merge or pass.

The Dart Limited with the 2-liter automatic is 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, or 200/Avenger four-cylinder.

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