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The 2013 Dodge Dart offers a lot of space, features and style for the money, but underwhelming performance and some refinement issues dull the overall experience.
Spacious cabin; excellent optional electronics interface; quick acceleration from turbo engine; excellent safety scores; short braking distances.
Pokey acceleration with base engine; unrefined performance of turbo's automated transmission; some may find the front seats lumpy and mounted too high.
Available Dart Models
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The 2013 Dodge Dart is an all-new small sedan.
It seems fitting that we first drove the 2013 Dodge Dart in Austin, Texas. You see, this up-and-coming city represents a different sort of Lone Star State that's more tie dye than 10-gallon hat, more downtown condo than Southfork Ranch. And yet there's still plenty of barbecue-tinged Texas flavor to go around.
Similarly, the Dart is a different sort of Dodge. It's a front-wheel-drive small sedan based on an Italian hatchback that's a pretty sharp contrast to the brawny V8-powered Chargers and Challengers the brand is most famous for. And yet there's still plenty of true-to-form Dodge flavor sprinkled throughout to make the Dart fit in with its siblings and stand out in a very competitive field.
It starts with its basic structure, suspension and steering borrowed from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta sold in Europe. This produces a car that can be legitimately fun to drive, albeit in an agile, corner-taking sort of way rather than the tire-shredding "yee-hah" style of a Dodge Challenger. The optional turbocharged, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine is also shared with the Alfa Romeo, and it balances its 160 horsepower with 184 pound-feet of torque, which makes this rather heavy car deliver one of the quickest 0-60 times in the class.
Yet the 2013 Dodge Dart isn't just a Giulietta with a trunk and a Dodge crosshair grille. It's bigger than the Alfa in almost every dimension, especially its extra foot of length. More importantly, it should make Texas proud by being one of the biggest small sedans on the market, with dimensions that exceed those of the Volkswagen Jetta. The Dart is especially wide, which not only imparts more passenger space but also creates the feeling that you're driving something rather substantial. It really doesn't feel like a compact car.
That's an important point, because it makes the Dart's reasonable price seem like a bargain in light of its ample list of comfort, convenience and technology features. Plus, Dodge has gone out of its way to offer the Dart in a refreshing selection of bright colors and different trim materials as a way to bring some of the Alfa Romeo's flair to the compact segment. Going from a Honda Civic with its three choices of gray paint to the Dodge Dart and its multi-hued palette is like falling asleep in Kansas and waking up in Oz.
However, that doesn't mean the 2013 Dart hits the segment bull's-eye. The 2013 Ford Focus feels more agile, yet also offers a quieter, more comfortable ride and plenty of interior space. The 2013 Mazda 3 is more fun still, and its new Skyactiv engine is a fuel economy champ. Meanwhile, the stylish 2013 Hyundai Elantra offers plenty of value, while the Chevy Cruze's turbocharged engine is standard on all but its base model.
Yet the fact that the Dart is deep in the heart of the compact segment at all is a coup for a brand that hasn't competed in this corner of the market since the Dodge Neon. The 2013 Dart may be a different sort of Dodge, but as with Austin, different can be a cool thing.
The 2013 Dodge Dart is available in four trim levels: SE, SXT, Limited and GT. The GT, which Dodge originally said would be called R/T, is a midyear addition.
The base SE comes sparsely equipped with 16-inch steel wheels, power windows, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, a folding rear seat and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Value Group adds power mirrors, power locks, keyless entry and air-conditioning. The Aero package includes those features, plus low-rolling-resistance tires and the contents of the Popular Equipment Group (detailed below).
The SXT is like the SE with the Value Group, but also has 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a sliding front armrest, an upgraded instrument panel and a six-speaker sound system. The Rallye package adds to the SXT foglamps, unique exterior and interior trim and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
The SXT is also eligible for several options packages. The Uconnect Voice Command package adds Bluetooth, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a USB port. The Popular Equipment Group includes cruise control, active grille shutters, underbody aerodynamic enhancements, remote ignition (automatic transmission only) and an enhanced trip computer with an upgraded display and tire-pressure monitoring information. The Uconnect Touchscreen Group adds an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, a rearview camera, USB, an SD card slot and upgraded interior trim.
The Dart Limited includes all of the above, plus a six-way power driver seat with four-way power lumbar adjustment and chrome exterior trim. The Dart GT (late availability) is also well equipped like the Limited, but gets a more powerful engine, 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, and different exterior and interior trim.
Both the Limited and GT can be equipped with the Technology Group, which adds keyless ignition/entry, automatic wipers and high beams, rear parking sensors, a blind-spot warning system and a rear cross-path warning system. Also available on both trims is the Premium Group, which adds leather upholstery (Limited), heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and dual-zone automatic climate control.
A navigation system can be added to models with the 8.4-inch touchscreen option. A sunroof, LED taillights, satellite radio and a nine-speaker Alpine sound system are stand-alone options that can be added to every Dart except the SE. The Limited can also be optioned with xenon headlights.
Every 2013 Dodge Dart except the GT comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 160 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic transmission is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, the 2.0 engine with a manual brought the Dart from zero to 60 mph in 9.9 seconds, which makes it one of the slowest vehicles in the class. Estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 24/34/27 with the automatic.
Optional on all trims but the GT is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automated manual transmission (Dodge calls it the "DCCT") is optional. In Edmunds testing, we found that the turbo and manual transmission combo was good for a 0-60-mph time of 8.3 seconds, which makes it one of the quickest cars in the class. The DCCT adds only 0.3 second to that time.
Given its swiftness, the turbocharged engine's estimated fuel economy is impressive at 27/39/32 with the manual and 27/37/31 with the DCCT. The Dart SE with the Aero package is slightly better at 28/41/32 with the manual and 28/40/32 with DCCT.
Finally, the Dart GT (late availability) gets a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque. It gets the same transmission choices as the 2.0-liter.
Every 2013 Dodge Dart comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. A rearview camera is available, as are blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert.
In government crash testing, the Dart earned a top five-star overall rating, with five stars for total frontal impact protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety similarly awarded the Dart a top score of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In Edmunds brake testing, the Dart came to a stop from 60 mph in 118 feet, putting it among the best in the segment.
The Dodge Dart features one of the nicest cabins in its class, and it only gets nicer as you move up the trim level ladder. Whereas competitors just add leather upholstery or some fake metal trim to improve the ambience, the Dart actually slathers on extra padded surfaces, dash stitching and flares of colorful trim.
The Dart's dimensions also reinforce an experience that's more than you expect from a small sedan. It's noticeably wide, with a generous amount of rear legroom, so we expect the Dart will have one of the most welcoming backseats in the class. Space up front is what you'd expect, but the driver seat feels as if it's mounted too high and can't be lowered enough for those of longer leg. Some may also find the seat cushioning to be a bit lumpy, hurting comfort over long distances. Trunk space stands at 13.1 cubic feet, an average capacity in this class.
We highly recommend springing for the available 8.4-inch touchscreen interface for the entertainment and navigation systems. Also found on some other Dodge models, it features easy-to-navigate menus, big touch buttons and an accompanying knob that makes whipping through iPod menus a breeze. On models without it, the standard stereo head unit clumsily plugs into the spot where that big screen should be, reinforcing the notion that you missed out on something better.
With underpinnings sourced from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the 2013 Dodge Dart boasts the sort of lively, responsive handling you'd expect from something with Italian DNA. The steering is well weighted, and the car does a nice job of driving around turns confidently while also offering the sort of comfortable ride that you might expect from a larger car. The Ford Focus and Mazda 3 are more nimble, but the Dart's bigger dimensions make it seem more substantial when cruising down the open road.
The base 2.0-liter doesn't really have enough guts for a car this size. It can feel passably robust with the standard manual transmission, but opting for the six-speed automatic sucks even more life out of this engine, and we found that it can be slow to downshift. We recommend paying extra for the turbocharged 1.4-liter, which achieves better fuel economy, a punchier power delivery and quick acceleration.
Unfortunately, this 1.4-liter engine can sound noisy at times and its optional automated manual transmission is not a good example of this increasingly common technology. It is slow to respond to throttle inputs and prone to picking the wrong gear. We'd suggest sticking with the standard manual transmission, but obviously the number of drivers interested in that is few and far between.
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