New Dodge Dart compact delivers Well, for the most part… for brand big

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    It’s funny when you think about it — how we’ve come to expect so much from new cars regardless of the size of the vehicle or the brand.

    A couple of decades ago, the hope that a small car would at least hold up for a few years was the benchmark for whether or not it was worth the money. Things like design or comfort level didn’t really matter much just as long as it didn’t feel like the vehicle was going to fall apart on the road.

    After all, back then the incentive for buying a smaller car was that they were cheaper, and most were willing to sacrifice a lot for the sake of not having to pay a big car note every month.

    BIG ON FEATURES

    These days, we gauge a new small car on everything from its styling to available technology features. In some cases, we even hold them to the same standards as luxury vehicles.

    The all new 2013 Dodge Dart offers a lot of what we’ve come to expect in a small car and more.

    Most impressive is how well the compact sedan rides and handles on the road, which is credited to design elements based on the award-winning Alfa Romeo Giulietta, known for its exceptional driving dynamics.

    Even on the track the Dart exceeded expectations.

    The Dodge Dart is available in three engine options — a new 160 horsepower 2.0-liter engine, a 160 horsepower 1.4-liter turbo engine, and a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.

    The 2.0-liter engine with a six-speed manual transmission has an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway. The 1.4-liter with a six-speed manual transmission gets 27 mpg city/39 mpg highway.

    Dodge will also introduce a Dodge Dart “Aero” model later this year that will get at least 41 mpg on the highway.

    LIKE NO OTHER

    Even more impressive is the Dart’s interior.

    Crafted with the kind of materials and technology typically found in more expensive vehicle segments, you quickly forget that you’re driving a compact car when you’re behind the wheel.

    The centerpiece of the Dart is the floating island bezel, which houses an available 7-inch LED customizable gauge cluster display with light pipe surround that also houses the Uconnect Touch 8.4-inch touch screen Media Center — the largest touch screen in its class.

    Customization was a major factor in all of the design elements of the new Dodge Dart, with the availability of 12 exterior colors, 14 interior color and trim combinations, six wheel options, three engine options and three transmissions.

    Mopar offers more than 150 customization options and themed packages specifically developed for the vehicle.

    Designed to appeal to the need for personal mobility, the Dart’s glove box is able to conceal a stowed iPad. The center console features auxiliary jacks to plug in electronic devices and there’s a number of compartments for storing mobile phones, receipts, or pens and paper.

    In Lighting in all the right places provides drivers and passengers a warm, comfortable cockpit. Available “racetrack” lighting surrounds the floating island bezel. Ambient lighting for the door handles, map pockets, foot wells, glove box, storage bin and illuminated cup holders is useful and provides a warm atmosphere inside the vehicle.

    Pricing starts at $16,790 for the Dart SE model, $18,790 for the Dart SXT, and $19,790 for the Dart Rallye.

    The top of the line Dart Limited costs $20,790.

    DODGE?

    It’s the Dart’s exterior design, however, that leaves me…how can I put this? …a little confused.

    The rear view which features the Charger-inspired “racetrack” full-width taillamp with 152 indirect glow LEDs (love that), and available dual exhausts mounted in the rear fascia (a class-exclusive) is definitely the car’s best profile.

    But the front view which features a fast sloping hood gives the car a somewhat odd road presence, especially when compared to the more aggressive front fascias of other vehicles in the Dodge line-up like the Charger and Durango.

    Dodge notes that the front design helps for “smooth airflow,” which makes sense when it comes to achieving benchmarks in area like fuel efficiency. But the compact’s design doesn’t quite evoke the same feelings on the road as other Dodge vehicles, even with its Charger-inspired cross hair grille.

    For another brand, the front face of the Dart probably wouldn’t bother me as much, but for a Dodge it comes across a bit soft.

    Then again, maybe it’s just a reminder that even with all the progress made, at times we’re all still subject to some compromises.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    • Base Price: $16,790

    • MPG: 27 city/39 HWY

    • 12 exterior colors

    • Customizable gauge cluster

    Marcus Amick is a national freelance automotive writer and consultant. He can be contacted at Marcus@Wheelside.com.

    Join Marcus Amick on test drives and events at Twitter (http://twitter.com/MarcusAmick).

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