The Dodge Dart couldn’t be more American, in that it is an immigrant.
In fact, the little Dodge is based off an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and its engines come from Fiat. But don’t let that put you off. Thanks to its feisty Italian origins and the $1-billion-plus that Chrysler spent adapting to the U.S. market, the Dart is a melting pot, and a rather fun one at that.
This charismatic little car may be lacking refinement, but it makes up for it in sheer fun.
Soul, passion, and shouting
The Dart Rallye delivered to me announced its bad intentions so loudly, they could be seen from space, thanks to the cornea achingly bright “Header Orange” paint job.
Fortunately, the Dart wasn’t all bark and no bite. The Rallye I tested featured the 2.4-liter, 184-horsepower Tigershark engine. This is good enough for a peppy 0 to 60 time of around eight seconds. But the joy of driving the Dart is not in raw acceleration, but in the way it handles and feels.
Thanks to the Alfa connection, the Dart is one of the liveliest small cars in the U.S. market. The steering is both fast and direct, and the car changes direction like a flea. Unfortunately, the suspension has been slightly detuned for the States. The result is body roll and understeer when you hammer it through a corner.
These things are technically flaws, but, to me, they actually add to the driving experience. The car requires input and effort to drive, but it rewards you with some hair-on-fire fun. There are very few electronic nannies getting between you and the road, which makes the Dart the happy exception to the blandification (my word) of most cheap cars.
The Dart Rallye requires input and effort to drive, but it rewards you with some hair-on-fire fun.
To really get the most out of this car, I wouldn’t choose the 2.4-liter. It’s a decent enough engine, but at 27 combined mpg, the mileage is merely average and the performance doesn’t quite make up for it.
Instead I would go for the 1.4-liter FIRE MultiAir Turbo with a manual transmission. This engine delivers an EPA rated 32 mpg (though actual use suggests a figure of more like 35). Better yet, this is the perfect engine to appreciate the car’s Alfa roots. E.g. rev the valves off, and wave your arms around. Trust me, it is the way to enjoy this car.
A box of toys?
Thankfully, Dodge hasn’t skimped out on the toys. My $22,250 Dart came with an 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen, a reverse camera, navigation, satellite radio, split folding rear seats and a very nice six speaker stereo system.
As Digital Trends has said before, Uconnect is one of our favorite infotainment systems. In fact, the system on the Dart is downright better than the ones on plenty of $200,000 hyper-luxury cars. Most of these features are wrapped up in a very well designed dash and infotainment cluster.
In the Rallye, this unit is surrounded by hand-stitched leather. The effect looks good, and provides a sense of class and quality. There is also quantity; the interior of the Dart is shockingly large compared to the overall size of the car.
That being said, the interior is not all good. Despite the price, the Dart lacks true climate control. Not only that, but some of the interior materials are decidedly down-market. The door panels and center console are both made of scratchy black plastic, and the cloth upholstery hangs on to dog hair and dirt like nothing else I have ever seen. I never even had a dog in the car! These are hardly unforgivable sins. But at a list price of more than $22,000, they let the Dart down in the face of the opposition.
Despite the occasionally cheap feel, Dodge has not cut corners on safety. The Dart rates a five star overall score from the NHTSA.
Despite the rough edges, the Dart is still an appealing car. It has a ton of charisma, with the Rallye – and even without the orange paint – the Dart stands out in a crowd. It has just the right amount of styling to make it fun, without being ridiculous.
Likewise, you are never going to confuse the Dart for anything else when it comes time to drive it. The excellent chassis and suspension give the Dart a real edge on the bland competition. And, with the right attitude, it can be far more fun than even much more expensive options.
The real challenge for the Dart is overcoming the quality and reputation of the opposition – for instance a base model VW Golf is available for the same price. In that sense, Dodge has its work cut out for it. The Dart, though, is making real inroads and a midlife refresh might be enough to really bring this car together.
- Nimble and exuberant chassis that loves going fast
- Excellent Uconnect infotainment system
- Very good safety rating
- Handsome styling
- Mediocre fuel economy from the 2.4-liter engine
- Cheap feeling interior materials