The U.S. government offered to give a further five percent of Chrysler to FIAT if the latter offered a U.S.-built car that achieved 40 MPG in the EPA’s tests. The skeptic in me figured that FIAT would lightly rework one of its cars, minimally tweak the styling to make it a Dodge, and call it a day. But have they? I’ll be attending the formal introduction tomorrow. But photos have already leaked, and they provide some clues.
First, on that 40 MPG figure. It’s not such a high mark, since it uses unadjusted CAFE numbers. These haven’t appeared on window stickers since 1984. Today’s EPA fuel economy ratings take the gross numbers, deduct 10 percent from the city figure and 22 percent from the highway figure, then (beginning in 2008) further adjust them to better predict real-world results (roughly another 10 percent). So the combined figure that appears on window stickers will in in the low 30s, or even 30.
Next, the good news: the new Dart look like a U.S. market car, not something from Italy that has been rebadged. While the donor car, the Alfa Giuletta, is a hatchback, the Dart is a sedan, though one with very little trunk lid aft of the C-pillar. The somewhat bulbous rear end recalls the last Dodge Avenger. The midsection recalls the last Neon, while the overall shape resembles the current For Focus with less complicated surfaces. More tasteful than the Focus? More boring? Depends on your personal tastes. Note, though, that the Dart is being shown with the largest available wheels. Lesser trim levels with smaller wheels will likely appear less sleek.
The interior looks especially promising in the leaked photos, with an upscale appearance and many stylish yet tasteful details. It should also be fairly roomy, as the Dart is very large for a compact car, 184 inches long and 72 inches wide. For comparison, the Neon was 174 inches long and 67 inches wide. Wheelbase is up just over an inch, though, from 105 to 106.4, so all of that extra length might not translate into interior room. I’ll report back on this. The current Focus is also 72 inches wide, but “only” 178.5 inches long. Virtually the same size as the Dodge? Buick’s compact sedan, the Verano. The list of available equipment appears lavish. If you can get it elsewhere in the segment, you’ll be able to get it on the Dart.
Three four-cylinder engines will be offered in the Dart: a 160-horsepower / 145 pound-feet 2.0-liter, a 160-horsepower 184 pound-feet 1.4-liter turbo, and a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter. Some sites are incorrectly reporting a 145 pound-feet torque figure for the 2.4, but this is mathematically impossible given the peak power specs. Figure about 165. All three engines will be offered with a six-speed manual as well as either a conventional automatic or automated dual-clutch transmission.
Pricing, real-world fuel economy, and especially reliability remain to be seen. We’ll be reporting on these down the road.