2013 Dodge Dart

AUSTIN, Texas — With all apologies to Mr. Pun, just as Robin Hood had a quiver full of arrows, so, too, does Chrysler’s Dodge Division have an arsenal of Darts. In automobile lore, Dart has a storied past, selling more than 3.6 million originals between 1960 and 1976. During its run it had something for everybody, power-wise.

The legendary 225-cubic-inch Slant Six was available during the entire production while a host of V-8s were offered. 1962 was the watershed year for raw performance when purchasers could equip their Dart with a 413-cubic-inch Ram induction V8 that pumped out 410 horsepower. It quickly became the terror of the drag strips.

Fast forward to present day and Dodge has reintroduced the Dart as a 2013 model. Not surprisingly it has nothing in common with the original except the name— as one would expect after a 37-year lapse. It may not sport a high-performance, gas-guzzling V-8 but it has everything else, and as Martha Stewart is fond of saying, “That’s a good thing.”

For starters it’s the first Chrysler Group vehicle built on Fiat Group architecture, noted for its low, wide and long dimensions and body-in, wheels-out stance and coupe-like silhouette. Furthermore it mimics the styling cues of its bigger sibling, the popular Dodge Charger, with its crosshair-grille and “racetrack” taillamps.

The sculpted sides are aerodynamically-designed to allow Dart to present the least wind-resistance. The designers have also cleverly woven the headlamps into the equation to further make it slippery. To its credit Dodge didn’t create this vehicle to be “pretty;” but it’s awfully “handsome.” A really slick pair of chrome exhaust tips accentuates the rear fascia.

The 2013 Dart comes in five trim levels: SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited and R/T. The base model comes with a wealth of standard equipment and for a price that begins at $15,995 (excluding $795 destination charge) it’s quite the bargain. There’s a $2,000 price jump between the SE and SXT, a $1,000 increase for each of the next three trim levels and a $3,000 bounce between the Limited and R/T. Even with increase in pricing all Dart models offer incrementally class-leading and class-exclusive items.

There are three fuel-efficient engine choices available for the 2013 Dodge Dart. Standard on the first four trim levels is a 2.0L DOHC 16-valve Tigershark I-4 that produces 160 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Optional is a 1.4L SOHC 16-Valve Turbocharged Intercooled Multiair I-4 that produces 160 horsepower but increases torque to 184 pound-feet. The third selection is the 2.4L DOHC 16-valve Multiair 2 Tigershark I-4. It’s the standard engine in the R/T and produces 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.

All three engines are available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The manual has an effortless clutch that even novices to stick shifts could adapt to easily. Plus, unlike the pressure it used to take to push the clutch pedal down on the old, high-performance Darts, you won’t develop a left leg like you would after a membership to Gold’s Gym.

The initial two engines offer decent highway operation but are both weak on acceleration. The 2.4L would be the engine of choice but as mentioned, is only available on the R/T (which would be my trim level of choice). In the flatlands of the Midwest this wouldn’t present much of a problem but in hilly or mountainous terrain it could involve a lot of downshifting to accommodate the higher altitude.

Slow acceleration aside the 2013 Dart offers a terrifically-smooth and solid ride. Handling is superb and wind noise is practically non-existent. Extensive use of sound-deadening materials contributes heavily to this trait. Dart’s body has one of the highest high-strength steel contents in the industry — 68%. The chassis was engineered to deliver sporty European handling dynamics and steering precision with ride and comfort characteristics tuned for North American roads. Body roll is kept at a minimum. There’s a host of engineering elements that make the handling what it is but I don’t understand most of it and you probably wouldn’t either, so suffice it say it’s in there and you’ll be happier for it.

As good as Dart looks on the outside, the inside is where it all happens and there’s enough user-friendly gadgetry and appointments to make Bill Gates purr. It starts with an available lit floating island bezel that houses an available segment-exclusive 7-inch Thin Film Transistor reconfigurable gauge cluster. It just sits there enshrouded in black until the driver pushes the start button and then it’s the 4th of July. It has full-color graphics and the two gauges are backlit with LEDs. Large performance numbers font makes them easier to read.

Also available in an 8.4-inch touchscreen media center — the largest touchscreen in the compact car class. If ever it’s possible to call an automotive device like this “fun,” this is it. As tech-savvy as kids are don’t be surprised if you find your youngsters reconfiguring your settings to suit their tastes.

The new Dart features available Ruby Red LED accent lighting that frames the floating island bezel, audio and heating, ventilation and cooling controls. It’s reminiscent of the Dart’s class-exclusive racetrack taillamps. Standards four-gauge analog design clusters are trimmed with Ruby Red LED illumination rings around the speedometer and tachometer. (My advice; pop for the optional setup. It’s well worth the money.) To give you an idea of how customizable the new Dart is there are 14 interior combinations with seven interior environments in cloth of leather. The entire car is customizable. There are 100,000 ways to individualize a Dart’s purchase, officials say.

There’s a lot of room in the front seat and an acceptable amount of room in the rear. For a family it would be adequate; for a car pool of adults it would be a bit tight.

But no matter how much you feel squeezed you’re going to be amidst a pile of standard and available safety features, including 10 airbags, all-speed traction control, anti-lock brakes, my absolute favorite blind-spot monitoring, brake assist, electronic stability control and a wealth of others.

The 2013 Dodge Dart seems to have a disdain for gas stations. Depending on the powertrain and options it’s possible to get upwards of 41 mpg (or better) on the open road.

The 2013 Dodge Dart has way-too-many features — both standard and available — to fit within the small amount of space taken up by this review (to prove my point the press booklet we were given listing all the features and pertinent history was almost 300 pages thick). The Dart will be on sale later in the year and sales are expected to be brisk. If the prospect of viewing and driving the new Dart makes your heart race then Chrysler will have done its job. You can easily wait a few more months; you’ve already done so for 37 years.

— Al Vinikour