Compact Dodge cars haven't had a glowing history, with names like Aries, Caliber, Neon and Shadow best consigned to the forgotten chapters of automotive history. However, the original Dodge Dart was one notable exception. Not only did it provide reasonably dependable (for the 1970s) family transportation, it also elicited quite a following among car enthusiasts.
It's this enthusiasm that Dodge is trying to recapture with its distinctive new Dart. The days of Darts with available powerhouse V8s are long gone, but with a front-wheel-drive chassis derived from the lithe Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the four-cylinder Dart promises a different sort of fun. Instead of laying down rubber, it offers sharp steering and commendable road holding whether you're taking a spirited drive on a back road or simply running errands around town.
More importantly, the new Dodge Dart offers a degree of quality, feature content and mechanical sophistication that greatly exceeds that of previous small Dodges. When compared to other compact sedans, it's not a class leader, but it's certainly competitive.
Current Dodge Dart
The Dodge Dart is a compact sedan whose basic structure, suspension and steering are derived from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a sporty hatchback sold in Europe. This isn't just an Italian dressed in an Uncle Sam hat, though. The Dart is not only much bigger than the Alfa, it's also larger than its myriad "compact" car competitors. Only VW's Jetta comes close. This results in more passenger space and also creates the feeling that you're driving something rather substantial. It certainly doesn't feel like a compact car.
There are five trim levels: SE, SXT, Aero, Limited and GT. All offer a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, with the exception of the automatic-only Limited. The base SE model has a 2.0-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Â Acceleration can be rather slow with this engine, especially with the automatic. We recommend going with the SXT, Limited or GT, as all come with a 2.4-liter 184-hp four-cylinder. The fuel-efficiency-focused Aero features a turbocharged 1.4-liter four with 160 hp that offers more punch and better gas mileage than the base SE. Note, however, that the Aero's automatic transmission is an automated manual design that is considerably less refined than the conventional automatics found in other Darts.
Although the SE comes with just a basic level of equipment, the Dodge Dart nevertheless slathers on an abundance of comfort, convenience and luxury items as you move up trim levels and start checking off options boxes. Although features like blind-sport warning systems and dual-zone climate control have become increasingly common in this class, they still give the Dart a bit of an upscale feel. Several special trim materials and a broad palette of available colors make the Dart a little more distinctive as well.
Overall, we think the Dodge Dart is a competitive small sedan that ultimately falls short of its competitors. We would steer clear of the base model and the Aero model due to their unappealing powertrains, while some drivers have found the front seats to be uncomfortable. On the other hand, the Dart deserves consideration based on its sizable cabin and trunk, user-friendly electronics, big-car driving character and ample feature content.
Used Dodge Dart Models
The Dodge Dart was reintroduced for 2013 and cars from that first model year had different engine availability. The 2.0-liter engine was standard on all trims, while the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and its wonky automated manual transmission were more widely available. Given that only the GT trim came with the 2.4-liter engine, we'd probably steer clear of a first-year Dart.