A car with a new way of thinking.
As soon as I heard that Dodge would be building a new vehicle on the same platform as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, I was excited to see what they would come up with. If you’ve never seen or heard of the Giulietta, you have my permission to open up a new tab and google it now. If you have seen and heard of it, you’ll understand my excitement. To me though, the first big letdown was that the U.S. market wouldn’t see a hatchback version of the Dart. That’s not to knock the styling, I just say the more the merrier when it comes to sexy hachbacks.
Speaking of looks, the first impression of the Dart is very pleasing. It looks aggressive and even muscular. The front end looks great, especially when the bumper cover that crosses the big hexagon-shaped grille is black and not the same color as the body of the car. In the rear, the Dart is Dodge’s first vehicle besides the Charger and Challenger to incorporate the LED racetrack taillamps which include 152 individual LEDs that form a seamless rope-like lamp. It’s visually stunning at night and an instantly recognizable characteristic of the new Dodge. Another feature of the backside of this car is a dual-exhaust setup which makes a great track considering what’s feeding it.
So what’s under the hood of this new, sporty, compact car? What sporty engine gives us an exhaust note worth writing home about? You can pick out of three options including a Tigershark 2.0-liter 16-valve 4-cylinder engine pushing 160-horsepower and 148-lb-ft of torque. You can also have a 2.4-liter Tigershark engine, which will net you 184-hp and 171-lb-ft of torque. The engine that we tested in our Rallye Edition was the one to get though; it’s the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine. Why the smaller engine? This engine punches out 160-hp and 184-lb-ft of torque and gives you that crazy cool exhaust note we were talking about earlier. And yes, this is the same 1.4-liter engine you find in the Fiat 500 Abarth; which is a good thing.
Unfortunately, our powertrain joys were let down by the transmission fitted to our tester. Matched up to our little 1.4 was a new six-speed dual dry clutch transmission (DDCT). This isn’t the combination you want as the transmission kills most of the fun to be had. I almost let this fact ruin the entire review as it really made what I wanted to be a fun and sporty car turn into a slow, boring, and clunky ride. Luckily for the enthusiast out there, you can have a six-speed manual which solves all the world’s problems.
Another win for the Dart is in its suspension and steering setup. It uses a similar setup as its Alfa Romeo cousin with independent MacPherson struts, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, and stabilizer bar in the front. In the rear, you have an independent multi-link suspension setup. This provided a soft, but sporty ride throughout our daily commute. When the road got twisty, despite the transmission trying to keep us from having fun, the car communicated quite well from the road all the way up to the steering wheel.
This is a youthful car and one of the key areas in any compact car today is the interior. It wasn’t too long ago that a compact car meant cheap and cheap meant horrible interiors with no real features to note. We’ve moved way beyond that point with the great things that Ford, Hyundai, and Kia have been putting into the interior of their compact cars and Dodge wasn’t one to miss out. The Dart comes standard with a 7-inch color display placed between traditional gauges within the instrument cluster. This is a great feature that lets you customize the car to your driving needs. This 7-inch display is a great counterpart to the optional 8.4-inch touchscreen display giving you all the Uconnect features you want out of a modern Dodge product. These are all strung together by a warm glow of ambient light giving the whole cluster and infotainment system a floating-island bezel that’s driver focused. The technology is there, but so is the quality of materials. The seats, armrests, and steering wheel all feel great and are better quality than a Chrysler 300 of just a few years back. They have also taken steps toward making better storage and ergonomic decisions. One such example is the cubby underneath the passenger seat which is great to store small items you don’t want left laying visible inside the cabin.
So this new compact car from Dodge has really hit it on the mark for me based on what this car should be. The base price starts at just $15,995 and even a base Dart is good value at that price. The Rallye Edition that we tested starts out at $18,995 but ours was bumped up to $24,390 with options like the transmission I disliked, the 8.4-inch infotainment package, and $1,300 to get the correct engine. That’s still not a bad price considering what we got out of the deal and the fact we had a $1,100 transmission we could have done without, but the competition is now extremely fierce in this segment.
We’ve recently reviewed the Hyundai Veloster Turbo which had an MSRP that topped out at just $26,520 and gave us as much if not more than the Dart. We’ve also reviewed the new Chevrolet Sonic RS turbo which was even more reasonably priced at just over $21k. And then the elephant in the room is the new Ford Focus ST which has much more power and is a ton more fun with an MSRP of under $28k. It’s simply crazy on how good the new Focus ST really is and if you’re looking for a sporty compact car, it should win hands down. It seems to me, though, that the compact market is becoming more and more like the muscle car market. Customers are now getting real compelling options from their favorite brands and it’s a great reason to stay brand loyal. The Dart is one of the best things to come out of the Dodge brand lately and it gives Dodge fans who’ve been longing for a great compact car a true option once again.