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Dodge aims for small-car bulls-eye with new Dart

Consumer Reports News: September 28, 2012 04:08 PM

Chrysler Corporation has a lot riding on the new Dodge Dart. It's been years, and arguably even decades, since the carmaker stepped into the ring with a competitive small car. A lot has changed since then. So we bought two Darts to see if the automaker can hit a bulls-eye in this competitive segment.

Based on the award-winning Alfa Romeo Giuletta from Italian parent company Fiat, the Dart has been thoroughly Americanized for this market. Longer and wider than the Giuletta, the Dart looks from some angles as much like a miniature Charger as it does anything from the continent.

Dodge is offering buyers nothing if not variety with the new Dart. It is available in a choice of five trim levels and 12 colors, with three engines and three transmissions, six wheel options, and lots and lots of other packages and extras. And while variety is the spice of life and all that, it can make getting the Dart of your dreams a difficult and time-consuming experience, as we have found out. Especially since the rollout of all those variants has been going on for months. The variety and lengthy options list can also make for a fairly expensive small car.

We chose to add two Darts to our test fleet: a fairly basic SXT with the 160-hp, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic, and a better-equipped Rallye with the 160-hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder matched with an automated manual transmission. With a few basic options that most buyers would probably want, the SXT set us back $20,680, and it took a few weeks to get. That's considerably more than the widely advertised Dart base price of $15,995, but not nearly as pricey as the $24,490 we paid for our Rallye. Delivery charges added $795 to the price of both.

We could have spent even more for our Rallye by checking off some expensive options like a sunroof or leather interior.

It also took even longer to get the Rallye. As it turned out, models with the powertrain in our Rallye didn't even go into production until August, even though the Dodge website would obligingly let us price one out back in June. But on a more positive note, the staffer who drew the straw to buy our Rallye got to be on a pretty friendly basis with several dealers in the six or eight weeks we waited for it to become available.

Now that both Darts are in the test fleet, we're racking up the miles to get them into our test program. Both are reasonably roomy and solid, if not particularly sporty feeling, compacts and are a big step forward for Chrysler in the small-car category. We'll be back with more details and test findings soon. Until then, check out our first impressions in the video below.

Jim Travers

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