Dodge would prefer you forget its previous small cars—the Neon and the Caliber. So instead of upgrading one of the recent, decidedly mediocre compacts, the manufacturer is reviving a classic from the ’60s and ’70s. But the backstory isn’t what makes the Dart significant. What makes the Dart important is that it’s the first collaboration between Dodge and its Italian parent company, Fiat.
Built on Italian underpinnings, the Dart immediately impresses with a liveliness and refined character that escaped its predecessors. Solid and quiet at speed, the Dart also boasts a supple ride, accurate steering, and connected handling that belie the car’s $15,995 base price.
But that stout foundation comes at a different cost, as the Dart weighs as much as a few larger, midsize sedans. Battling against the bulge are new four-cylinder engines; the 2.0- and 1.4-liter turbo engines make the same 160 horsepower, which may seem odd, but there are a few significant differences. The smaller turbo engine has more torque, returns superior fuel economy, and commands a $1,300 premium. How good is the fuel economy? Opt for the wind-cheating Dart aero with the 1.4-liter engine and highway fuel economy topping 40 mpg. Later in 2013, Dodge promises to offer a larger 2.5-liter four cylinder with 184 horsepower for those who crave more speed.
After a bit of hesitation from a start, the 1.4-liter turbo wakes up and pulls hard enough to convince you that a larger engine is under the hood. The 2.0-liter builds power more progressively but doesn’t have the same punch as the smaller engine.
No matter which engine is chosen, the Dart’s styling has undeniable impact. Tapered, tight, and aggressive, the design is free of the embarrassing dorkiness that plagues so many small cars. The good news continues inside: the interior is spacious and can be dressed up with luxury-car features like a giant 8.4-inch touchscreen, navigation, and a rear camera. Despite a few plastic pieces that invoke the Dart’s compact class, the Dart reaches instead of settling. No wonder they didn’t call it the Caliber or Neon.