2013 Dodge Dart SXT first drive review: Point man

2013 Dodge Dart SXT

2013 Dodge Dart SXT

When Dodge discontinued the Neon and filled its place on the showroom floor with the Dodge Caliber—an odd sort of crossover vehicle—it effectively abandoned the compact car market. So when the decision was made to drop the unhappy Caliber and bring back a compact car, the new car—which would become the Dodge Dart—had a blank slate to work on.

Not completely blank, actually. The Dodge Dart would share the platform developed for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a sporty small sedan built by the division of Fiat responsible for popularly priced sports sedans and sports cars in Europe. The Dart would be the first vehicle manufactured as a result of the partnership between Chrysler Group and Fiat.

Dodge, however, was give free reign to change almost everything and they started with the platform itself, stretching by a foot and widening it by two inches, earning the designation “Compact U.S. Wide (CUS-W) architecture”.  Bigger and with extra room inside, the chassis has essentially been repurposed, made possible by the modularity of the platform, allowing many different models to be built using the same basic elements.

2013 Dodge Dart SXT

2013 Dodge Dart SXT (click image to enlarge0

The result is a Dodge Dart that doesn’t look anything like an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. What it looks like is a Dodge, and deliberately so. The front end bears similarities to the Dodge Charger’s, particularly the “split crosshair” grille. However the headlights are the biggest in the Dodge lineup, and will have “Hyper Black” finish standard on Rallye and R/T models, with SE, SXT and Limited models having chrome.

At the other end of the Dart is the Dodge trademark “racetrack” taillight configuration. With the right trim level/option package, it lights up like the Charger’s with 152 “indirectly glowing LED’s through an internal lens that creates a ‘fractal glass’ appearance when illuminated.” In other words, you’ll know it’s a Dodge ahead of you, just not particularly which one.

Although there’s a crisp edge between the vertical and horizontal surfaces of the front end, from overhead it’s rounded, and even the hood is distinctive, with a round leading edge that’s particularly noticeable when raised. Available on some model is Dodge’s first application of an active grille shutter system. At higher speeds—above 40 to 45 mph—the shutters close to reduce airflow through the engine radiator and engine compartment and thereby decrease aerodynamic drag.  Dodge engineers and designers spent more than 600 hours in the windtunnel with 3/8 scale and full size models, and it paid off with a .285 coefficient of drag for the aero trim model and .29 for other Darts.

The Dodge Dart will be available with three engines. Standard in the SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited will be the new 160 horsepower Tigershark 16-valve 2.0-liter engine, with a 160 horsepower 16-valve 1.4-liter MultiAir Intercooled Turbo engine optional.  A new 184 horsepower Tigershark 16-valve 2.4-liter MultiAir 2 four-cylinder engine will be standard on the Dodge Dart R/T, available 3rd quarter 2012.

2013 Dodge Dart SXT 2.0-liter Tigershark engine

2013 Dodge Dart SXT 2.0-liter Tigershark engine (click image to enlarge)

Although the 2.0-liter Tigershark and 1.4-liter turbo MultiAir engines have the same horsepower rating, the larger naturally-aspirated engine has a torque peak of 147 lb.-ft at 4,600 rpm. The smaller turbo, on the other hand, generates a substantially greater 184 lb.-ft over a 2,500-4,000 rpm range. Credit the MultiAir variable valve timing and lift system for the greater low-end torque.

Chrysler touts the 2.0-liter Tigershark engine as “all new”, with “more than 88 percent” of the parts new, even if does have roots in the old GEMA World Engine.” But with a new block, the exhaust moved to the forward side of the transversely-mounted engine, a wider bore than the old 2.0-liter GEMA engine, and a multitude of other changes, the engine certainly qualifies as “new”.

The 2.4-liter engine arriving this fall is another member of the Tigershark family, though with a longer stroke for the added displacement, and with the MultiAir valve timing technology will produce 184 hp at 6250 rpm and 171 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm.

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