2013 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye Suspension Walkaround

Not Your Uncle's Dart

  • 2013 Dodge Dart Picture

    2013 Dodge Dart Picture

    Perched high on our Rotary lift, you'd never tell this smooth-bellied machine is the 2013 Dodge Dart. Also, click "View Fullscreen" after you read the article. | March 13, 2013

My uncle Wayne drove a used 1963 Dodge Dart some years ago. Awful thing. Slant-6 with three on the tree, I think. Bug-eyed and unattractive, for sure. I was way too young to drive at the time and for that I am eternally grateful.

But the 2013 Dodge Dart is not that. Not even a little bit. Nor is it a warmed-over and resurrected Neon. No, the new Dodge Dart is instead an Americanized version of an acclaimed sport compact from Europe, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Both cars are built on Fiat's C-segment platform, though the Dart uses a slightly modified version known as CUSW, which stands for C-segment/Compact (take your pick), United States, Wide. In reality it's more about length, because the Dart's front and rear axles have been spaced 2.7 inches farther apart to gain sufficient backseat legroom. But the footprint is wider, too, if only by a half inch or so. The Alfa already had wide track widths.

You won't be able to make out those differences here, and the four suspension corners are said to be physically the same, with many interchangeable parts. Well, that's true of the visible hardware, anyway. The suspension tuning, the "software" aspect consisting of largely invisible variables like spring rate choices, damper settings and internal tire construction, has been tweaked to suit North American roads, customer tastes and our penchant for all-season tires.

So the things you're about to eyeball once we hike our 2013 Dodge Dart up on our Rotary two-post lift are pretty much the same as what you'd see if we were in Italy and this were an Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

2013 Dodge Dart

Up front the 2013 Dodge Dart rides on MacPherson struts, far and away the most common suspension found on front-drive compacts.

2013 Dodge Dart

The coil-over strut assembly attaches to a beefy aluminum front knuckle by way of a pinch-clamp joint, which means there's no wiggle room or "crash bolt" method for autocrossers to exploit to gain a little negative camber.

2013 Dodge Dart

Down below, the lower control arm (green) is made of steel. Farther up, the stabilizer bar's drop link (yellow) is direct-acting, which means it connects directly to the strut body to get the best possible motion ratio and fully exploit what the stabilizer bar has to offer.

2013 Dodge Dart

The L-shaped lower control arm bolts onto an intricate aluminum subframe that spans to the other side of the car.

2013 Dodge Dart

Here we can see one of several places the subframe (white) bolts directly to the body of the car. The steering rack and stabilizer bar (yellow) live behind the axle centerline, and both are cradled by the subframe.

2013 Dodge Dart

The Dart's aluminum knuckle carries a single-piston sliding brake caliper. And it looks like Torx-head bolts are popular at Alfa. No big deal. You'll just need to spend a few bucks to add a couple of Torx sockets to your toolbox if you ever plan to replace struts, wheel bearings or brake rotors.

2013 Dodge Dart

Those ventilated front rotors, by the way, are 12 inches in diameter and 1.1 inch thick.

2013 Dodge Dart

Moving to the rear, it's hard to tell what we've got without getting closer. So far, all we can see is a big aluminum trailing arm.

2013 Dodge Dart

Better, but it's still hard to tell what we've got. It's clearly a multilink of some sort, but all we can make out are these two transverse links.

2013 Dodge Dart

Now we're getting somewhere. Here we can see two long transverse links, one upper and one lower. Together they orient the wheel's camber angle and brace the trailing arm laterally to manage toe-in. There are no other links. The big trailing arm assembly, which houses the wheel bearing and hub, takes care of fore-aft wheel location and brake torque.

Meanwhile, the shock absorber (yellow) connects to the lower link. And those big holes tell us the trailing arm is hollow.

2013 Dodge Dart

Both links angle forward a good deal and tie into another aluminum subframe. This rear layout is most similar to that of the current crop of Mini Cooper products, and the angled orientation probably has to do with the packaging of the muffler on the Giulietta which, like the Mini, is a hatchback with a short rear overhang.

But the spring location is quite different here. Mini uses a coil-over and it's mounted ahead of the rear axle. Both factors are potentially unfriendly to interior space in small cars. The Dart's rear spring is separate from the slender shock absorber and acts directly on the trailing arm. And it does so behind the axle centerline, where it's well away from the passenger compartment (and under the trunk). A spring motion ratio that's oddly greater than 1-to-1 is a by-product of all this.

2013 Dodge Dart

The rear stabilizer bar link attaches to the edge of the trailing arm's spring pad, so it moves in 1-to-1 (or better) fashion with the wheel and tire, too.

2013 Dodge Dart

The aforementioned "slender shock absorber" has a urethane bump stop built into its upper mounting point.

2013 Dodge Dart

You want a rear camber adjustment? Unlike our Scion FR-S and most Subarus, the Dart's got one in the form of this eccentric on the outboard end of the lower lateral link. Easy access, too.

2013 Dodge Dart

The Dart's rear brakes consist of a single-piston sliding caliper and 10.4-inch solid rotors that are 0.4-inch thick.

2013 Dodge Dart

Now we're starting to get to one of the major differences between the Dodge Dart and the Alfa on which it's based. The difference, however, is not the 45.6-pound combined weight or the size of the 225/45R17 tires and 17-by-7.5-inch aluminum alloy rims.

The key difference is this: The Dart's rubber is of the all-season variety. Summer tires, a.k.a. three-season tires, are standard-issue in most of Europe, where drivers are more inclined to want the best tires they can get in summer and winter. This means, of course, there's a set of snow tires kicking around somewhere.

Thing is, they're right. I painstakingly quantified the benefits of each tire type about three years ago, and I'm personally over and done with all-season tires. A decent set of summer tires, even in the stock size on these very wheels, could really wake up this car.

2013 Dodge Dart

Finally, this is what they call a "tell," and I almost glossed over it until photographer Scott Jacobs and I started to remount the tires. Lug bolts are common on European brands but are unheard of on American nameplates. Each has advantages and I go back and forth on whether I love lug bolts or loathe them (loathe is currently winning), but their presence here is but one subtle sign of just how much Alfa Romeo Giulietta lurks under the skin of the 2013 Dodge Dart.


  • I love these articles! I'm curious about the lug bolt-vs.-lug nut advantages...I had never seen the lug bolts until I serviced my girlfriend's MINI, and while it's more annoying to line the wheel up and hold it there while you install a bolt, I guess the threads aren't damaged by removing the wheel? Surely there's more to it than that. Keep up the great articles, I've read them all and want to see more classics (it really is all Macpherson struts these days, isn't it?). The solutions engineers come up with for these suspension problems is always interesting and if I can generate similar high-quality photos of a project car someday I'd love to send it in!

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Lug bolts are easy once you get used to them - after getting the car jacked up and all bolts removed except the one at the top (so the wheel/tire is hanging from the bolt), you crouch down and get your knee onto the center cap of the wheel, and lean into it. Remove the last bolt. Grab the wheel/tire and release your knee pressure and pull away from the car. To install, position the wheel/tire on the face of the rotor, position your knee and lean, install top bolt - then you can either install the rest of them while in that position or release knee pressure first.

  • throwback throwback Posts:

    I agree completely about Summer tires. I have them on my cars and put snows on for the winter. It's amazing how far passenger suspension has advanced over the years. At least it's amazing to a guy who grew pu with solid axles, leaf springs and drum brakes. All in cast iron thank you very much.

  • lhs lhs Posts:

    The 63 Dart was a great car in its day. They were by far the best driving compact and they were very reliable. I still own a 1963 Dart GT with the slant six and auto and drive it daily in the summer. It has 92K miles and is all original. The engine runs great and the transmission is still smooth shifting. I just took it on a 250 mile trip and drove 70 to 75. It is comfortable and easy to drive. Technology has obviously moved on but in its day it was an outstanding car. Many went over 200k with out engine or transmission repair. We used them as Co. cars and never even considered replacement until 150k. There have been very few cars that would take the abuse a Dart would and still keep on running reliably. Over the years I have owned Seven Darts and Valiants and they were all great cars.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    I was mildly surprised when I saw the front doesn't use the double bolt method for damper to knuckle attachment. Then again, apparently some Europeans aren't fond of the whole alignment thing ("If the car needs alignment then something is out of spec!"). The plus side is that the suspension layout is pretty easy to adjust (in the back) and pretty easy to service/repair too. I have to wonder how much the hubs and rear trailing arm weigh though... hollow aluminum or not they look pretty hefty. Looks like a great setup overall.

  • Pretty impressive for a non-premium compact car! I think this platform has a lot of potential.

  • huisj huisj Posts:

    Now if they'd just sell a hatchback version of this car like the platform was intended for...

  • actualsize actualsize Posts:

    On the subject of lug bolts vs studs: Endurance showroom stock race teams I have observed on the grid and in the pits always ditch their lug bolts and replace them with studs and nuts. It is simply faster, and bad threads are easier to repair. And when I'm going slow at home I like having the ability to hang the wheel on the studs when the last nut comes off. The main advantage of a lug bolt is the ability to hang the wheel without needing to line up studs first. But you still have to do that by holding it seated against the flange with your knee (awkward at first, but you get used to it.) Then, while holding pressure, you clock it until the wheel lines up with the threaded holes in the hub. Stab the first lug bolt home and screw it nearly all the way home before you release pressure and do the others.

  • mrw356 mrw356 Posts:

    If everything else about the Dart is as well engineered as this chassis, I think they would have a winner. I am impressed by the massive aluminum sub-frames both front and rear and that they are sourced from Alfa Romeo. This is hidden engineering that I'll bet most buyers of this car will never know about.

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