Thursday, July 18, 2013

2013 Dodge Dart SXT test drive review. Economy with history

The Dodge Dart has been a part of the American Automotive scene for more than 50 years.  But the nameplate disappeared from Dodge showrooms for 36 of them.  Now, after that long hiatus, the Dart is back.  I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with a 2013 Dart SXT Special Edition.  And even though I’ve always been a fan of big cars with big engines, I now have a better appreciation for the benefits of a small, economical sedan.  Let’s take a brief look at the history of the Dodge Dart in general, and specifically at my Bright Silver Metallic test car.

The first reference to the Dart name was as a 1956 "Idea Car."  The name was short-lived as a concept, however, as Chrysler styling head Virgil Exner tweaked the design and rechristened it the "Diablo" for the ’57 show circuit.  But the Dart name soon reappeared in 1960 as an entry-level version of Dodge’s full-sized production model.  The example in the picture is a ’61 Dart Phoenix convertible that has been for sale at the KC Classic Auto Display in Lenexa, Kan.

In 1962, the Dart was reinvented as a smaller car. During this time, the Dart was saddled with controversial styling that really polarized the buying public.  But by the end of the decade, things started settling down, and it set the stage for the Dart that most people have come to remember.  Take this 1971 Dart Swinger coupe that I shot at the Downtown Liberty Cruise.  These were decent, low-key cars that had the potential to either look and perform like a low-budget, slat six-powered grocery-getter, or a lightweight muscle car.

The final Dart in the U.S. market for awhile would be in 1976.  This is still the type of car I usually think of when I hear the name “Dodge Dart.”  That image isn’t particularly positive, however.  This car that I found in Kansas City, Mo., is indicative of the type of Dart I remember.  Stodgy, rusty, plain.  Of course it’s green, or some type of earthy ‘70s hue.  This is the reason I was surprised they even brought back the Dart name in the first place.  They planned to jump back on to this train?

In 2012, I had the opportunity to attend the reveal of the 2012 Dodge Dart to the media in Detroit.  Look at all those real journalists taking pictures of the freshly introduced Dart at the same time as me!  The sporty, needle-nosed small sedan was nothing like its 1976 inspiration.  For a small car, this one was loaded with technology.  It could be had with nice leather, a touch-screen entertainment system, and stylish aluminum wheels.  It may have taken a lot of years for the Dart name to return, but they were busy making some serious improvements during that time.

We drove my Dart test car all over the place.  I drove it to work, and observed fuel mileage in the high-20s (manufacturer estimate is 24/city, 34/highway, 27/combined).  On the weekend, I loaded up the family and we darted off (sorry) to estate sales, car shows, and antique malls.  I liked the fact that I could maneuver through tight spaces full of big cars and trucks and never feel like I was herding a whale.  A quick trip to Lawrence reinforced the good fuel mileage observation, and the car transported my wife in son in relative comfort with little wind noise.  The Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, which was accessed through an 8.5-inch touch screen, kept everyone entertained.

This particular car was equipped with a 160-hp, 2.0-liter “Tigershark” four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic transmission.  With only 148-lb/ft of torque, this setup isn’t going to win many races.  But it isn’t supposed to.  This car is unremarkable to drive.  It’s easy; reliable.  It’s perfect for someone who just wants to drop it into gear and forget about it.  Oh sure, you can get a 1.4-liter turbo with a lot more torque, but if you just want an economical city car, this is likely the one you’ll choose.

After turning in the keys to this 2013 Dart, I noticed how big and unnecessary my old car really is.  Am I going to give it up for a Dart of my own?  Eh, I don’t know if I’m ready to make that leap just yet.  But I can certainly see why some people would.  It's small on the outside, reasonably big on the inside, and does everything you ask it to do.  Do you want to see some detailed shots of my little test car?  Check out the slideshow below, or click this link for a nicer version.

1 comment:

  1. Best thing about the new Dart? Its an Alfa Romeo! albeit with a Fiat engine...Wait til we get the 'good ones' ; you'll really like it then!