2013 Dodge Dart Limited 2.0 Review Compared to Ford Focus
Best Reason to Buy: Feature availability Dodge's last small sedan, the Neon, was initially a hit due to perky styling and a low price. It was a bare bones car. You couldn't even get power windows in the rear doors, only the front ones.
Cheap the Dart is not. A fully equipped Limited (the top trim level until the GT finally arrives; a planned R/T never happened) lists for over $28,000. Even without the optional engine, sunroof, xenon headlights, or 506-watt Alpine audio system, the tested car listed for over $25,000. When the Dodge Dart and Ford Focus are similarly loaded up, the Dart lists for about $275 more.
For a car without a low price to be a good value, it must include a lot of stuff, and the Dart does. The tested car included a heated 10-way power driver seat (including four-way power lumbar), a heated steering wheel, reconfigurable LCD instruments, a sophisticated infotainment interface, nav, a rearview camera with guidelines, a blind-spot monitor, rear obstacle and cross-traffic detection, proximity key, automatic high beam headlamps, automatic wipers, and fancy lighting inside and out. Many of these features are available on no other similarly-priced compact sedan. The Focus comes closest. Even so, adjust for the Dart's additional features, and it ends up over $700 less than the Ford. A Buick Verano includes about as many features, but lists for over $3,000 more.
Best Reason Not to Buy: Driving position & visibility Perhaps owing to the Dart's FIAT underpinnings, even when the steering column is as low as it will go it's unusually high. Distant, too, even when telescoped all the way out. To compensate, I raised the driver seat, already a little higher than in a Focus or Cruze and higher than I'd personally prefer, at least another half-inch. This wouldn't be too bad, except that the seat--which lacks separate front and rear height adjustments--tilts forward as it is raised.
Even with the seat raised, the view forward is restricted by a deep instrument panel and steeply raked windshield. (In my earlier, summer test drive these also made the interior hard to keep cool.) In the other direction, a rising beltline and high trunk make the case for mandatory rearview cameras. Sadly, these weaknesses are becoming the norm rather than the exception among compact sedans.
Other Reasons to Buy: Quietness, Controls and instruments
Other Reasons Not to Buy: Fuel economy, Front seat support & comfort, Powertrain performance, Ride smoothness
Best Reason to Buy: Feature availability To reduce the Dart GT's price of entry, Dodge could have truncated the R/T's standard features list. Instead, the GT has everything the stillborn R/T would have had. Which is everything the Limited has, plus the Premium Group (heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, Homelink, remote start) and a distinctive "Racetrack" tail light. On top of this, the GT also has satellite radio standard. Options include a Technology Group chock full of features not widely available in an affordable compact sedan (proximity key, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming headlights, and a bevy of collision warning systems), HID headlamps, sunroof, nav, a powerful Alpine audio system, and "hyper black" wheels like those on the tested car.
No direct competitor offers more features. Most offer much less. And this is before we consider the no-cost option of "header orange" paint.
Best Reason Not to Buy: Fuel economy The changes for the GT have changed a few areas from "why nots" to "whys." I also didn't mind the deep instrument panel and limited steering wheel adjustment as much this time around. In a back-to-back drive, the instrument panel on the Focus seemed even deeper than the Dart's. If you're tall, you might feel like you're sitting too high in the Dart. I acclimated.
But the larger engine didn't help fuel economy. The EPA ratings fall from the 2.0's already marginal 24 mpg city, 34 highway to 21/30. (Or from 25/36 to 23/33 if you're comparing cars with manual transmissions.) The Buick manages 21/30 even with its optional turbocharged engine--and received a "why not to buy" for this. These days, most midsize cars do better, and most compacts do much better.
In our real-world driving the Dart GT's trip computer reported less dreadful numbers, at least in the suburbs. When the GT was driven with little care for fuel economy, the trip computer reported averages in thelow to mid 20s. With a light foot it reported averages in thelow 30s. In one fairly long highway trip, though, the trip computer verified the EPA number with an average just over 30.
This new engine employs FIAT's "multiair" throttle-free intake system, allegedly good for a seven-percent fuel economy bump. As with the 1.4T engine, though, this technology has little evident benefit in the EPA's tests or real-world driving.
Note: for 2014, Dodge has improved the Dart GT automatic's EPA ratings from 21/30 to 23/35. They did this partly by substituting the taller final drive ratio from other Darts, so the 2014 GT won't be as quick.
Other Reasons to Buy: Price or payments, Controls and instruments, Quietness, Interior styling
Other Reasons Not to Buy: Rear seat room & comfort, Materials & workmanship, Front seat support & comfort