2013 Dodge Dart SXT Sedan (w/opt 1.4L 4-cyl. Turbo and 6-speed Automated Manual)
We like the Dart. It's a roomy compact car with responsive handling. We even like the optional 1.4-liter turbo engine. But the optional 6-speed automated manual "Autostick" transmission (not a true automatic) makes for lurchy driving, especially at low speeds. This car is a solid "B" with a stickshift, though. Note: The base 2.0-liter engine is available with a true automatic, but we have not yet sampled one.
PerformanceVery solid handling. But this car raises hackles because of the irritating drivability of the optional "automatic" which is really a fancy automated manual. Sounds great on paper, but isn't. Add a full point and an overall "B" rating with the 6-speed shift-it-yourself manual.
The automated manual sucks some of the life out of the 1.4T engine. Not as smooth, satisfying or quick. And part-throttle acceleration in the mountains can be maddening.
Short stopping distances for its class. Brakes feel natural and progressive. A good result when you consider it has all-season tires and not stickier summer tires.
Quick and well weighted, especially natural-feeling for electric power steering. The Dart is actually fun in corners. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta roots of this car help here.
Routine handling is enjoyable and responsive. Not a sport sedan but might make the basis for a good one. Add some stickier 3-season tires and you might get halfway there.
Sluggish at times, lurchy at low speeds, indecisive on hills, the dual dry clutch automated manual, the "automatic" they offer with the 1.4T engine, delivers none of the smooth convenience that automatic buyers want and expect.
ComfortThe Dart is compact, but offers the comfort of a larger car. Its width has a lot to do with this impression. The ride quality is well-snubbed rather than floaty and the seats also feel as though lifted from a larger car.
Seats are plush and comfortable in a traditional American way. Their bolsters appear aggressive but it's mostly a visual trick.
Picks up its feet well over bumps. The independent rear suspension shows its value here. Well damped; crisp, not squishy.
This is a refined car when it comes to wind and road noise. But engine noise with the 6-speed AMT seems notably more gravelly in town than with the regular manual we drove. OK on the highway when cruising.
InteriorGood ergonomics, seats, space and functionality. Extra width relative to competitors is noticeable. But rear-seat headroom is a tad tight for tall people.
Big central multimedia screen has large icons and an easy-to-navigate interface. Small, cramped numerals on gauges are victims to style. Simple HVAC interface a plus.
Doors open widely, and this works with modest seat bolsters to facilitate ease of ingress and egress.
Feels spacious and wide for a compact car. Backseat headroom is snug for 6-footers, though legroom is ample.
Large C-pillars and a tall deck mean rearward visibility could be better. Good view forward through windshield. Speaker grilles on dash reflect into windshield on direct sunlight.
Good-size cargo hold with wide aperture. Gooseneck trunk hinges may intrude on objects.
ValueOur mid-line SXT has the Rallye package and several tech options. Transmission aside, it's a good value and the Rallye blackout package makes it the sportiest-looking Dart you can get.
Build Quality (vs. $)
Some cheap-looking plastics in the cabin--a bit too much gloss to pull off the "I'm really a soft surface" illusion. Beyond that, overall build quality is in line with this class.
Not as feature-laden as some of its Korean competitors, but the Dart still offers a range of options. The optional 8.4-inch UConnect infotainment system works well.
Pricing is competitive, especially here at the SXT level. Add the Rallye package for a tougher look you can't get on the pricier Limited.
The 1.4T and 6-speed AMT transmission is rated at 27 city/37 highway and 31 mpg combined. Get the stickshift and get 2 more highway mpg, 1 more combined mpg, and save $1,100 on the purchase price.
The Dart's drivetrain warranty is strong to the tune of 5 yrs or 100,000 miles, but the 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty that cover the rest of the car is just average.
Roadside assistance is provided for 3 yrs/36,000 miles. Other ownership costs and general reliability are hard to predict because the Dart is a new model and because it's the first result of the Fiat/Chrysler pairing.
Fun To DriveIn the end the Dart SXT is fun to look at and mostly fun to drive, but only with the manual gearbox.
The Dart handles quite well, but the "Autostick" transmission that's optional with the 1.4-liter tubo engine saps some of the fun.
Our Dart SXT is red, and the blackout Rallye trim and optional "racetrack" taillight treatment gives it a fairly racy look. It definitely has more presence than most other cars it competes with.
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