2013 Dodge Dart gets Chrysler back into the compact sedan game, and it does so with more than a little attitude and rakish design. Instantly distinctive on the road, the new Dart is one of the roomiest entries among compact four-door sedans. Dodge will offer three engines, three gearboxes, several trim levels, and a host of personalization options that all but guarantee no two Darts will be identical--which is how young buyers like it, the company says.
Styling says the Dart is a performance car, but whether the car lives up to that expectation depends on your engine choice. The standard 160-horsepower 2.0-liter four is simply underpowered in this heavy compact. A 2.0-liter Dart feels significantly slower than competitors in the most demanding duties, like merging into heavy freeway traffic on an uphill ramp while heavily loaded. Opt for the turbocharged 160-hp 1.4-liter engine, however, and you'll find more torque, better acceleration, and a sportier, more responsive drive. But you'll have to keep your foot firmly into the accelerator to make it happen.
Like many cars with six-speed transmissions, the Dart is tuned to keep the engine running below 2,000 rpm under steady load, for best fuel economy. The 1.4-liter gives you power, but not until it revs past 3,000 rpm--which may mean not one but two downshifts. We weren't able to drive the 2.4-liter R/T version of the Dart in our early road tests, so we can't comment on how that engine does in real-world use.
The EPA and Dodge haven't released full gas-mileage figures, but we know that the 1.4-liter turbo model is rated at 27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 32 mpg. The base 2.0-liter model gets a combined rating of 29 mpg, with both those figures being for the six-speed manual gearbox version. There's also a Dart Aero model coming with extra tweaks for slightly higher fuel efficiency.