Dodge Dart is back after 36 years

May 9, 2012, 6:20 PM

For The Associated Press

(AP) – After 36 years, the Dodge Dart is back, and it’s no retro model.

The 2013 Dart five-seat sedan is modern and stylish, with European handling and heritage, fun features, 10 air bags and fuel-thrifty engines, including two turbos. And smart design and attention to detail inside the Dart successfully groups the information from the gauges with the controls in the center of the dashboard better than any car _ Dodge or otherwise.

The slew of features, standard on some models and optional on others, include denim material seat inserts, heated steering wheel and a 8.4-inch touch screen with touch screen buttons bigger than most finger tips.

All Darts also come with a uniquely spacious single glovebox with deep-into-the-dashboard depth. There’s also a standard hiding place for small items under the front-passenger seat cushion. The cushion pulls up to reveal the hidden storage area.

And in its later-arriving Aero model, the new Dart is expected to garner a highway rating of at least 41 miles per gallon in federal government fuel economy tests.

Best of all, the Dart has a competitive starting retail price of $16,790 for a base SE with 160-horsepower, 2-liter, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder engine. This model, with six-speed manual transmission, is rated at 25/36 mpg, and doesn’t have air conditioning.

A Dart with turbocharged, 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine and air conditioning has a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $19,295. By comparison, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra sedan starts at $16,120 with 148-horsepower, naturally aspirated four cylinder and manual transmission, while the base, 2012 Honda Civic sedan with 140-horsepower four cylinder and manual tranny starts at $16,785.

Neither the Elantra nor Civic sedans come with turbos for 2012.

More than 3.6 million Dodge Darts were sold between 1960 and 1976. Back then, the Dart was a pure American car with naturally aspirated six-cylinder engines and racing stripes. The mid-size car became popular with young people and found its way to drag strips.

Today’s Dart comes from a Chrysler company that has Fiat ownership, and the new Dart rides on the modified architecture of a front-wheel drive Fiat.

The new Dart includes models that showcase performance, albeit via four-cylinder powerplants to satisfy consumers’ need for high fuel mileage.

A top 2013 Dart R/T, for example, will debut in the third quarter of this year with 184-horsepower engine. But it will be a turbocharged four cylinder and the car still will include sleek, exterior styling designed to improve fuel efficiency.

The test Dart Limited with optional 160-horsepower, turbocharged four- and six-speed manual moved with spunk on both flat and uphill roads. Working the gears, I could get good pickup, and the car readily responded to gear changes and accelerator pedal pressure. There was just a hint of a turbo lag as power came on.

Engine sounds were nearly constant, far more so than in the quieter interior of the Hyundai Elantra.

The Dart’s manual transmission had a satisfying feel and shifted smoothly. Gears were easy to find, and the clutch pedal was neither too light nor too heavy.

The tester averaged 29.1 miles per gallon in combined city/highway/country road driving. Note that Dodge states this turbo can operate on regular or premium gasoline.

The test Dart felt heavier than expected, perhaps in part because Dodge refers to this four-door car as a compact sedan. In fact, by federal government measurements, the Dart is a mid-size, and it weighs more than 3,180 pounds, which is 500 pounds more than a 2012 Elantra or a Civic sedan.

The Dart, however, did not ride ponderously. Rather, the overall impression is of a substantial car that’s stable, and it’s not a feeling often found in this class of car. It clung to the pavement tenaciously in sweeping curves and tracked confidently, always staying in its lane with just a bit of an adjustment to the steering wheel.

Passengers felt road vibrations a good amount of the time, and road noise from the tires came through to the interior. But this tangible connection to the road is bound to please drivers who prefer European surefootedness. Better yet, the Dart’s solid handling characteristics come without harshness and without a punishing ride.

The test Dart had good-looking leather-covered seats whose cushions provided a plush feel as opposed to the firm foam feel of the Corolla and Ford Focus seats. The interior has soft-touch, pleasant plastic; it gives a bit when pressed and looks upscale, as plastics go. Ceiling material could be mistaken for the high-quality stuff seen in Volkswagens.

The 13.1-cubic-foot trunk is a welcome surprise. It’s bigger than the 12.5-cubic-foot trunk in the Civic and the lift to get items inside is not strenuous.

The big touchscreen in the test car is one of the best in the car business. Easy to operate, it was colorful but not gaudy.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

FILE - More than 100 opponents of the Republican redistricting plans vow to fight the maps at a ral...
Associated Press

Abortion ruling puts spotlight on gerrymandered legislatures

In overturning a half-century of nationwide legal protection for abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided and that it was time to “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives” in the states. Whether those elected officials are truly representative of the people is a matter […]
16 hours ago
People salute the casket of Hershel "Woody" Williams set up in the first floor rotunda of the West ...
Associated Press

WWII Medal of Honor recipient to lie in state at US Capitol

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced at a memorial on Sunday where Williams was remembered for his courage, humility and selflessness. “He never quit giving back,” said Manchin. That […]
16 hours ago
FILE - California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the recent mass shooting in Texas during a news confe...
Associated Press

‘Join us in California’: Newsom targets GOP in Florida ad

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom is running for reelection in California, but his latest television ad is airing in Florida. The 30-second spot scheduled to air on Fox News starting Monday takes shots at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his policies, while drawing a contrast with California. “Freedom, it’s under attack in your […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Video shows Akron police kill Black man in hail of gunfire

AKRON, Ohio (AP) — A Black man was unarmed when Akron police chased him on foot and killed him in a hail of gunfire, but officers believed he had shot at them earlier from a vehicle and feared he was preparing to fire again, authorities said. Akron police released video Sunday of the pursuit and […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Shark attacks Long Island lifeguard during training exercise

FIRE ISLAND, N.Y. (AP) — Suffolk County officials closed a Long Island beach to swimming Sunday after what they described as an unprecedented shark attack that injured a lifeguard. The lifeguard had been playing the role of a victim during a training exercise when the shark bit him in the chest and hand, Suffolk County […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Missouri lawmaker resigns from House after fraud conviction

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri legislator has resigned her seat after being convicted of falsely claiming she was giving patients stem cell treatments for COVID-19. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday that Republican state Rep. Tricia Derges of Nixa sent her resignation letter to House Speaker Rob Vescovo on Friday. She was convicted in […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.