2013 Dodge Dart
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2013 Dodge Dart

2012 Detroit Auto Show


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2012 Detroit Auto Show

What is it?
2013 Dodge Dart

What's special about it?
It's all well and good to build sweet-looking Chargers and Challengers, but if you want to sell cars to mainstream Americans, you need a credible entry in the compact car segment. And it looks as if Dodge may finally have one in the 2013 Dart.

Dodge's new front-wheel-drive sedan is essentially an enlarged version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta we drove last year. Its 106.4-inch wheelbase is about the same as the Hyundai Elantra's, but it's longer (183.9 inches) and wider (72 inches) than the Elantra and other likely rivals such as the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Mazda 3. Legroom in the Dart looks to be competitive but not class-leading, but it has more front shoulder room and hiproom than its rivals.

Looking at the Dodge Dart, it's obvious that style is going to be a huge part of its appeal. Company designers have applied styling elements from the rear-drive cars, including Charger-esque LED taillights, but nothing feels forced or cartoonish. Moreover, there's good reason to think the Dart will actually be pretty agreeable to drive.

Dodge is offering three engines on this car. On SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited, you'll start out with a 160-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, and either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Dodge has nicknamed this engine Tigershark for 2013, but you've seen it before in the Caliber and Jeep Compass.

In any case, we'll probably want to skip right over this engine in favor of the optional turbocharged, 1.4-liter inline-4, which features Fiat's Multiair variable intake valve system. The 1.4-liter turbo also makes 160 hp, but offers considerably more torque — 184 pound-feet at 2,550 rpm compared to 145 lb-ft at 4,800. This engine takes either the six-speed manual or a six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, and we're guessing it will be the fuel economy leader in the Dart family.

Finally, there's the Dart R/T, which has a 2.4-liter version of the Tigershark engine. Importantly, though, this engine has Multiair-style intake valves, which help it to 184 hp at 6,250 rpm, but oddly, only 145 lb-ft of torque. Equally odd is the fact that you can't have the dual-clutch box on the R/T, just the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

Never mind that for now, though, because what impressed us the most about the Giulietta was its stiff chassis and well-tuned suspension. The larger Dart weighs about 200 pounds more (and 68 percent of the metal in its unit-body is high-strength steel, says Dodge) and features the same fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink rear. The power steering is electric — we liked how it was tuned on the Alfa, so there's every reason to be optimistic here.

Much like on the Elantra and Focus, a ridiculous amount of feature content will be offered on the 2013 Dodge Dart. As you've seen in the early photos, the gauge pack in at least some models is a 7-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) display, and you'll be able to get an optional audio-navigation system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen. The list of available safety features rivals some luxury cars, as Dodge will offer driver and front-passenger knee airbags, blind-spot monitoring and a back-up camera with cross-traffic alerts. You'll be able to get HID headlights on some models, as well as a heated steering wheel and a keyless ignition.

Edmunds.com says: Dodge doesn't just need a hit, it needs to be able to go head-to-head with the Civic and Elantra in the compact-car class. The Dart looks solid on paper, and we hope the driving experience will back that up when we get behind the wheel later this spring.

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