First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart reviews dodge first drives
2013 Dodge Dart. Click image to enlarge
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Dodge Canada

Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

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2013 Dodge Dart

Austin, Texas — A few years ago, things were looking desperate for Chrysler. With the North American auto industry in crisis in 2009, Chrysler was forced into bankruptcy. It re-emerged a few weeks later as a different company with Fiat effectively in charge based on their acquisition of 20 percent of the new company. Other major shareholders included the United Auto Workers Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association trust and the governments of the United States and Canada, who had loaned the company billions of dollars to help it survive.

Since then, Chrysler Group as it is now known has not only survived, it has prospered. After 28 consecutive months of sales growth in North America, the company announced that it had earned $473 million in the first quarter of this year, its best quarter in 13 years, up from $116 million earned in the first quarter of last year, putting the company well ahead of the $183 million earned in 2011, its first year of profitability since the bankruptcy. That same year, Chrysler Group repaid $7.6 billion in loans to the US and Canadian governments and increased its share of ownership to 58.5%. Chrysler has set a profit target of $1.5 billion for 2012.

First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart reviews dodge first drives
2013 Dodge Dart. Click image to enlarge

Surprisingly, Chrysler has managed this success without a compact car. (We know; we’ve tried to erase the Caliber from our memories, too. -Ed.) In Canada compact cars account for 23 percent of the market, second only to full-size pickup trucks. The compact market — accounting for some 350,000 vehicles annually in Canada alone — cannot be ignored.

Nor could Fiat afford to ignore it. As part of its deal with the governments, Fiat agreed to develop a compact car that would be built in the United States and achieve 40 mpg (US).

The 2013 Dodge Dart is that car.

It would be easy to assume the Dart was built only to acquiesce to the demands of government, but nothing could be further from the truth. Fiat and by extension Chrysler want to capture as large a piece of the North American compact car market as they can get.

And to get it, they have built a compact car that will send chills up the spines of many competitors in the segment.

First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart reviews dodge first drives
First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart reviews dodge first drives
2013 Dodge Dart. Click image to enlarge

The new Dodge compact has the interior space of many mid-size sedans, yet drives like a much smaller car. It can be outfitted with a choice of three engines (2.0L, 1.4L turbo, and 2.4L) and three transmissions (six-speed standard, six-speed automatic and six-speed DDCT Dual Dry Clutch transmission). It can be equipped with the latest infotainment and graphic display technology, but comes well equipped even in base trim. It is attractively designed both inside and out and offers customers unprecedented choices to outfit and customize the car to suit their personality. With plentiful use of high-strength steel, industry standard active safety technology, and an unprecedented 10 airbags, it is safe. And, with a price that starts at $15,995 and tops out at $23,995 (excluding a $1,500 destination fee), the 2013 Dodge Dart is aggressively priced.

The Dodge Dart is not a cautious foray into the compact car segment, it is a full-on assault.

Dodge designers began with a proven design from Europe, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, lengthened the wheelbase by approximately 100 mm (4 in.), lengthened the car overall by about 300 mm (12 in.), widened it by 50 mm (2 in.) and converted it from a hatchback to a four-door sedan more in keeping with North American tastes; well, in keeping with American tastes, at least.

The result is pretty good considering the challenges facing designers when working with a compact platform, four doors and a trunk. It is unmistakably a Dodge, from its crosshair grille to its Charger-inspired rear with over 150 LEDs. It is a good-looking butt on any car, but on an economy car, it is gorgeous. And with a choice of basically two front clips (actually four if you include chrome vs. body-colour grille inserts), how your Dart looks in someone else’s rear view mirror is entirely up to you.

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