Old name adds Italian spice to Dodge lineup

2015 Dodge Dart
2015 Dodge Dart

If you’re old enough to remember the Dodge lineup from 1960 to 1976, you’ll recall a sporty 340 cu. in. muscle car, as well as that quintessential Pacific Northwest icon — the 4-door Dodge Dart with the seat belt hanging out the door and Uff Da bumper sticker traversing the environs of our beloved Ballard. Yaa, sure, ya betcha…

The Dart nameplate was retired in 1977 but resurrected in 2013 to headline Dodge’s line of compact sedans. Debuting for model year 2014, it’s deja vu as the Dart occupies the very same spot in Dodge’s lineup as the original — the difference being this Dart is Dodge’s first car engineered by corporate parent Fiat.

This Dart is a front-wheel drive compact sedan taking on substantially stronger competition than the 70’s version — Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta, Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Mazda 3, and Subaru Impreza.

How does it stack up? The structure is solid, the engineering excellent, and the equipment and trim choices outstanding. Its fundamental foundation was adapted from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta — Fiat’s smart Italian hatchback.

2015 Dodge DartThe Dart is Detroit Iron. While some of the engines feature Fiat’s innovative Multi-Air induction technology, all three powerplants are built at Chrysler’s Dundee, Michigan plant, with final vehicle assembly in Belvidere, Illinois.

New for 2015 is a touchscreen adding Android compatibility for Bluetooth phones and streaming music, as well as USB connectivity to your devices. The CD player is no longer standard on all models, but a stand-alone option available on certain trims. Also, the 2.4-Liter engine is now available with Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) specifications.

Model Lineup: The Dodge Dart SE comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, 4-speaker AM/FM radio, power windows, and a 12-volt outlet. The SE is powered by a 2.0-liter I-4 engine, mated to a six-speed manual transmission.

The Dart SXT adds the 2.4-liter Tigershark I-4 engine with MultiAir2 technology. It’s mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission or the available six-speed Powertech automatic. It offers LED tail lamps, automatic headlamps, Uconnect 200 a.m./FM/CD/MP3 radio with audio input jack, Bluetooth with voice command and rearview mirror microphone, steering wheel with audio controls, cruise, trunk pass-through, six speakers, security alarm, and illuminated vanity mirrors.

The Dart Aero includes the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine, mated to the manual, or available six-speed automatic transmission. The Aero adds unique 16-inch aluminum wheels, bright chrome grille, 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen media center with illuminated floating island bezel, 7-inch full-color, reconfigurable digital gauge cluster display, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, leather-wrapped shift knob, automatic headlamps, and tire inflator kit.

The Dart Limited (our test vehicle) includes the features on the SXT, plus premium Nappa leather seating with perforated inserts, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, 10-way power driver seat, including four-way power lumbar adjust, power front windows with one-touch up/down, full-color reconfigurable digital gauge cluster with tach and compass, push-button start, Uconnect, featuring an 8.4-inch touchscreen, Garmin navigation, SiriusXM Radio, SiriusXM TravelLink, rear backup camera, dual-zone automatic temperature control, remote start, touring suspension, rear stabilizer bar, ambient interior LED lighting, garage door opener, power sunroof, projector fog lamps, bright crosshair grille with body-color surround, chrome headlamp bezels, bright door handles and 17-inch Satin Silver aluminum wheels.

2015 Dodge DartThe Dart GT builds on the SXT and Limited by adding frequency-sensing sport suspension and performance steering, performance gear ratios, unique engine calibration, 18-inch aluminum wheels, integrated dual exhaust with bright tips, black fascia with Hyper Black grille, dark-tinted automatic headlamps, and projector fog lamps.

Safety features on all Dodge Darts include 10 airbags, ABS with brake lock differential, stability and traction control.

Walkaround: The Italian styling is al dente, although not exactly stunning. It’s aggressive looking, in a semi-bland sort of way, with its crosshair grille, and flared front and rear wheel wells. Active grille shutters reduce aerodynamic drag by closing when cooling air isn’t needed. The underbody is fully enclosed, with a rear diffuser managing underbody airflow and enhancing stability.

The taillamp treatment, is adapted from the Dodge Challenger, and spreads 152 LEDs across the entire rear end.

Interior: Roominess is abundant and well-appointed. Nothing looks cheap, and soft-touch surfaces abound. We found the Nappa leather seats both long-haul comfortable and sporty-feeling. Thoughtful storage touches include a glovebox big enough for a laptop computer, and a bin under the right front passenger seat.

Chrysler’s answer to Ford’s Sync infotainment system — U-connect — offers audio, upgrade audio, satellite radio, and connections for MP3, iPod, Pandora, etc.

Under The Hood: There are basically, three engine choices: a 1.4-Liter, turbocharged Multiair 4-cylinder, putting out 160 horses; the 2.0-Liter DOHC Tigershark 4-banger which also puts 160 ponies to the pavement; and the 184-horse, 2.4-Liter Multiair 2 Tigershark, which powered our test vehicle.

Behind The Wheel: We only drove the Limited with the 2.4 and 6-speed automatic. Our experience included a couple hours of hard freeway driving on I-75 beginning in Tampa, Florida, as well as some tooling around town in Ft. Myers and Cape Coral. Since Florida is flat, there wasn’t any opportunity to gauge the Dart’s performance on winding, hilly terrain. However, on I-75, where 70 mph is a mere suggestion, the Dart had no problem keeping up with traffic — which often exceed 90 mph with cruising speeds above 80 routine. Handling was excellent with one of the best electric power steering systems in this class — accurate and nicely weighted.

Ride quality is comfortable, yet firm enough to suggest a European feel, while gentle enough to take the hard edge off bumps and bad pavement. A little suspension road noise was evident depending on pavement surfaces, but no wind noise.

Whines: The seat positioning is strange. I had to bend my head at an uncomfortable angle to get in, and lowering the seat all the way made no difference.

Bottom Line: Fiat’s positive influence on Chrysler is obvious. The Dart is attractive, roomy, comfortable, well-appointed and optioned. It offers an exceptionally solid feel, with adequate performance and above average road manners. Attractive pricing makes the Dart worth a showroom visit.