No More Nitro … But, Hello Dart!

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Chrysler is throwing two of its slow-sellers in the woods – the Dodge Caliber and its over-reachingly named cousin, the Dodge Nitro.

Will they be missed?

Not by Chrysler. Or Chrysler’s new owner, Fiat – which knows a stinker when it smells one. The Caliber never hit the target and last year was particularly awful, with overall sales down more than 20 percent. Ditto the Nitro – which was about as explosive as a soggy M80.

And so, it’s time to say sayonara. And hello to something much more appealing.

A single new model will replace both the Caliber and the Nitro when Chrysler resurrects a great name from its past – Dart. Chrysler teased the car press with a sneak peak at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. Unlike the boxy-crossoverish Caliber and Nitro, the reborn Dart will be a compact sedan – more in line, layout-wise, with the Caliber and Nitro’s best-selling forebear, the Dodge Neon. It will also be the first Chrysler-badged model to be cross-pollinated with Fiat DNA, including  the 1.4 liter turbocharged and intercooled engine from the Fiat 500 Abarth – rated 160 hp. Reportedly, this engine will be capable of at least 40 MPG on the highway – which would be nearly 10 MPG better than the gas-thirsty Nitro or Caliber.

An R/T “Tigershark” version will be offered, too. This Dart will have a larger and more powerful 2.4 liter engine that also features Fiat’s “Multi-Air” technology  (electric-hydraulic control of the air intake without a conventional throttle body). Output is pegged at 184 hp.

All engines will be paired with six-speed transmissions, either manual or automatic.

The Dart itself is also a Fiat reboot, even if it has a historic American car name.

It’s based on the European Alfa Romeo Giulietta, but made longer and wider to better suit American tastes – and American roads.

The skin, though, is still very Detroit. The car on display looked very much like a two-thirds  scale Charger – with very similar full length LED tail-lights and the familiar, familial split-crosshair grille up front. Inside, there’s a stylish asymmetric dash with a glow-red LED surround – although that might not see production.

Technology-wise, the Dart will be offered with replay mode SiriusXM satellite – the first production car in this class to offer that feature –  plus wireless remote iPod connectivity via the U-Connect interface.

Chrysler dealers will also offer 150 different accessories with which owners can upgrade the performance of their Dart or just make it more unique. See here for official details:

It looks like a winner. More to the point, it looks the like the car that should have succeeded the Neon instead of the Caliber and Nitro – which turned out to be Chrysler’s version of the Pontiac Aztek.

Word is the new Dart will be hitting the streets this summer as an early-release 2013 model.

I’m looking forward to getting my paws on one – and I’m betting a lot of you are, too.

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  1. My Dad was once an automobile wholesaler. He had been in the auto business for maybe 30 years by then. In late high school I must have driven 50 different Mustangs, many GTOs (Once a Judge!), Chevelles 396. You name it and I probably drove one. Most I had for a weekend at least, but they were always being sold, that was the business after all.

    For about a week I had a 69 or 70 Dodge Dart 340 four barrel with a 3 speed auto. That thing would COOK! I gotta tell you. Easily as quick as the ‘Stangs and Goats. Hoowee!

    All good times except when they broke. Then it was my nickle if I couldn’t proove it wasn’t my fault.

    On a sad note, speeding tickets cost me my license for 6 months. Once they even threw my butt in jail overnight. LA County. Not a place I wanted to visit again. I think that may have been the judges point.

    • All right. Now you have ruined my morning! I am sick with envy!

      I would have loved to have been born 30 years sooner, to do what I do then rather than now. I imagine the brand-new 426 Hemi Superbird appearing in my driveway for an evaluation. And hell, the brand-new Corvair, too. No talk of “safety.” Just, “how does it run?” “Is it quick?” “What a beautiful steering wheel!” Almost no government involvement…. yet.

      • I had a 1963 Corvair Monza Turbo Spyder. For its time, it handled very,very well. Was it quick??? NO. Even for its time, it was disgustingly slow.

        There are many cars that I’ve owners over the years that I wish I still had. The Corvair is not among them.

        • I had a ’64 Monza and while I agree it wasn’t quick, it was a lot quicker (and faster) than a VW Beetle. It’d do 70 comfortably, a speed that made most stock Beetles sweat. Also, the Corvair had a much more spacious interior, much better body integrity and a good-sized trunk, too!

    • Back in 1991 my friend found a 1970 plum crazy dart 340 on a used car lot in Vermont.The original owner left it there on consignment and it was bone stock and in great conditon for $3,000 what a steal.That car was fast too,ran low 14’s a week after purchase .

  2. Well, I like the exterior body design. Hard to know how it will perform until you drive it. One can expect that the Italian heritage will result in good handling. It will need to deliver more than just that.

    This car will be competing in a crowded market segment. Although I have no personal interest in buying one, I hope it succeeds. That way, Chrysler can survive to build more generations of Chargers and Challengers…. and Ram trucks too.


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