As the first all-new model to emerge from the Fiat-Chrysler alliance, the Dart has been highly anticipated. It replaces the subpar Caliber, and many industry watchers have wondered whether it has what it takes to put Chrysler back in the small-car race. After testing two versions, our take is that the Dart is the first decent compact from Dodge in decades and has some solid positives. But overall it can’t measure up to the best in class. For a car that needed to be an all-star, the Dart is a position player at best.
The Dart gets a lot of things right. It has a solid, substantial feel and a relatively quiet cabin. It handles well, whether cruising on a two-lane backcountry road or being pushed to its limits at our track. The steering is well weighted, and there’s minimal body lean in turns. You can also get a wide variety of optional features, including some, such as a blind-spot warning system, automatic high/low beams, and a heated steering wheel, that aren’t offered in many competitors.
Where the Dart stalls out is in its powertrains and interior accommodations. The 160-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in our $20,680 SXT feels notably underpowered. Our Dart Rallye ($24,490, as tested) has a thrashy-sounding 160-hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged four with an optional automated-manual transmission that shifts poorly. Inside, the lumpy front seats have uneven, uncomfortable cushioning. And despite its generous dimensions, the rear seat is somewhat tight. The Dart also gets rather expensive with options; for the price of our Rallye, you could get a larger family sedan.