2015 Dodge Dart

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Every now and then, you’ll see a Dodge Dart.'15 Dart lead

The original (’70s-era) Dart, I mean.

They were as durable as the pyramids. Well, the famous Slant Six” engine was. The bodies tended to rust away long before that inline six gave up the ghost. That’s the main reason you don’t see many original Darts anymore.

But back in the day, people loved ’em – and Dodge sold millions of them.

This new Dart? Not so much. Sales have been way below what was anticipated – what Chrysler (uh, Fiat) had hoped for. 

Not because it’s a crappy car.

The problem for Dodge (and for its Fiat owners) is that – unlike the original Dart – this new one doesn’t stand out in any particular way. It is too much like too many others. But those others (Corolla, Civic, etc.) have established followings and a loyal buyer base.'76 Dart

The Dart does not. It’s been a long time since 1976 – the last year the original Dart was sold new. 

People who remember the original see nothing in the new to make them recall the good ol’ days (like the New VW Beetle does) and besides, people who remember the original Dart are mostly in their 40s and up now – and not really the new Dart’s target audience.

To woo the first-time buyers and 20-somethings who are the bread and butter of the compact economy car market, you need to do more than resurrect a successful name from the past.

You need to wow them – not “it’s ok” them.'15 Dart touchscreen detail

The Dart has a really nice (though optional) super-sized touchscreen – the same basic unit you’ll find in higher-dollar Chryslers like the 300 – and a large trunk (13 cubic feet) for a small car and isn’t objectionable in any way. But it sorely needs something like an available diesel engine (which Fiat has in inventory) that would give it 50 MPG capability and the can’t-kill-it-longevity of the venerable Slant Six.

Or – how about an R/T version to go heads-up against the Honda Civic Si?

Then it’d be a worthy inheritor of the name.

Something different.

Something special

And would almost certainly sell much better than it has so far.

WHAT IT IS

The Dart is a compact-sized, FWD sedan in the same general class as other entry-level compact sedans like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Mazda3, among others.'15 Dart silver

Prices start at $16,495 for the base SE with 2.0 liter engine and six-speed manual transmission and crest at $23,795 for a top-of-the-line Limited with 2.4 liter engine and six-speed automated manual transmission.

In between are SXT and sporty GT trims, as well as an economy-focused Aero Dart that features a Fiat-sourced 1.4 liter turbocharged “Multi-Air” engine capable of delivering 41 MPG on the highway. This version of the Dart stickers for $20,495.

WHAT’S NEW

The Dart’s electronics have been updated (Android smartphone/music streaming compatibility) but if you want an old-timey CD player, it’s extra-cost now. On the other hand, the more powerful 2.4 liter engine is no longer exclusive to the sport-oriented GT; it’s now the standard engine in the SXT and Limited, too.

Unfortunately, the high-performance R/T version of the Dart that Dodge teased us with a few years back is still just a “concept” car and may never be offered for sale.

WHAT’S GOOD'15 Dart stick pic

Low base price relative to rivals; better odds of being able to haggle it down vs. a Toyota or Honda. 

41 MPG capable.

You don’t sit down low in the thing, bathtub-style.

You can rest your left arm on the top of the door frame when the window’s down.

Exceptionally easy-to-use electronics. Best in class. 

Strong on paper engines.

Manual or automatic transmissions available with all three engines.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

41 MPG capable … with extra-cost engine. Standard engine’s mileage (24/34 with the automatic) is a bit less than par for the class.

Under-par acceleration with standard engine(10 seconds to 60 with the optional automatic) due to fatbody curb weight.  

No diesel engine option.

UNDER THE HOOD'15 Dart engines

The Dart does offer pretty much the widest range of engines in this class – three vs. the typical two (or just the one, as in the case of the ’15 Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic) as well as the choice to go manual or automatic with any of them.

The standard-issue engine is a 2.0 liter, 160 hp four paired with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automated manual. On paper, this comes off as superior equipment relative to the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla – which come standard (respectively) with a 1.8 liter, 143 hp engine (paired with a five-speed manual) and a 1.8 liter, 132 hp four (comes paired with a six-speed manual but the optional automatic has just four speeds).

But the less-potent-on-paper Civic and Corolla are both quicker and more fuel efficient – because they’re several hundred pounds lighter than the Dodge: 2,754 and 2,820 lbs, respectively – vs. an appalling portly 3,297 lbs. for the Dart.'15 Dart 2.4 engine

This “compact” sedan weighs more than an Accord mid-sized sedan (3,192 lbs.).

Hence its thirst:  24 city, 34 highway with the doggy six-speed automatic (more on that below), though you can get that up to 25 city, 36 highway if you stick with the standard six-speed manual. Either way, though, 0-60 acceleration lags behind others in this class: Expect a 10 second run with the automatic – significantly slower than automatic-equipped rivals like the Mazda3, which gets there in about 8.3 seconds and also manages 30 city, 41 highway. You’ll get to 60 about half a second sooner with the manual.'15 Dart scales pic

If the Dodge weighed 300 pounds less, it’d probably be the quickest car in the class – and deliver class-leading mileage, too.

Higher trims (SXT, GT and Limited) counteract the curb weight with more engine – a larger 2.4 liter four that makes 184 hp – much more hp than is available in the Corolla and exactly even with the Mazda3’s optional 2.5 liter, 184 hp engine. On the plus side, it’s available with either the six-speed stick or the six-speed automated manual and the zero to 60 time is reduced to a more class-credible 8.2-8.3 seconds. An even bigger plus is that the EPA numbers for this engine (23 city, 35 highway) are almost as good as the base 2.0 engine’s. Probably because it’s not working as hard to haul all that weight around. '15 Dart 1.4 turbo

If you want maximum mileage, you can order your Dart with a Fiat-sourced 1.4 liter turbocharged four. There’s on-demand power (160 hp) via the turbo but when the engine’s not on boost, there’s less engine to feed. Hence the EPA rated 28 city, 41 highway (with the manual; mileage declines slightly to 28/40 if you go with the six-speed automatic).

Unfortunately, this version of the Dart – the Aero – will cost you $4k more than the base SE Dart. It’s also about $1,530 more than the ECO version of the Toyota Corolla ($18,965) which can deliver as much as 30 city, 42 highway.

ON THE ROAD'15 Dart road 1

So many new cars are so fundamentally alike it is sometimes as challenging as doing differential equations to come up with any meaningful differences to write about.

Which is why it was something of a relief to notice right away the pleasantly retro seating position you find inside the Dart. The door tops are low – and the seats themselves mounted pretty high – the net effect being you can rest your left arm on the top of the driver’s side door when the window’s down – perfect for summer-time one-hand-on-the-wheel cruising. I haven’t been able to do that in a modern car since I began reviewing modern cars more than 20 years ago. Most manufacturers build their cars with doors that almost seem to come up to the roofline, so that you feel you’re sitting in a bathtub. This is probably marvelous for side-impact crashworthiness, but it makes the car – especially if it is a small car – feel claustrophobic.

You do not feel this way in the Dart.'15 Dart road 2

You also won’t feel much in the way of g forces when you accelerate – at least not with the base 2.0 engine and especially not when the base 2.0 engine is teamed up with the six-speed automatic. Given the much better performance – and nearly the same mileage numbers – you get with the larger 2.4 liter engine, it’s probably the engine you’ll want to go with. Also because it doesn’t have to work as hard to get the Dart’s 3,000-plus pounds of deadweight going – which may mean it lasts longer than the constantly struggling 2.0 engine.

The Aero Dart’s 1.4 engine give you mileage and performance – but its price premium makes it hard to justify buying relative to the mileage/performance you can get elsewhere for less. 

There is an upside to the Dart’s higher-than-thou curb weight.'15 Dart interior 1

While the extra beef does dial back what the Dart would otherwise be capable of both performance-wise and economy-wise, it also endows the car with the heft – the plantedness – of a larger car. Light is good when it comes to many things, but it can also result in a car that bounces a bit more when it hits a ripple in the road – and which is more susceptible to being pushed around by a strong crosswinds. The extra couple or three hundred pounds – along with an Italian-tuned suspension – make the Dart a very pleasant (because bigger-feeling) car to drive.

Kudos also are due the very good sight lines ( a function of the higher-up seating position) and the secondary controls – especially the optional eight-inch touchscreen, which has large buttons that are much easier to touch accurately with the vehicle in motion and one hand on the wheel.

AT THE CURB'15 Dart curb 1

The Dart’s tail has Challenger/Charger-esque wraparound tail-lights and a cleanly integrated trunk spoiler lip that bleeds off from the bone lines that run down the car’s flanks. Fatty pressed oval exhaust tips (GT models) add a further sporty touch.

The nosepiece has the Chrysler crossbar in a recessed (and narrow at the top) grille that wide-mouths as it descends to the lower valance – offset on either side by bullet-point driving lights. I think the car looks best from this angle.

But it also looks good from any angle – even if the side profile is something of a letdown, but only because it’s so shy relative to the front and rear clip treatments.

The real treat, though, is inside.'15 Dart curb 3

Big breadbox-style dash, into which is fitted the main gauge cluster in front of the driver and then, a bit down and to the right, the iPad-like flat screen for the secondary systems and their controls. Surrounding this is a thin belt of contrast-color LED piping that glows cheerfully at night. Another clever touch: The seat cushions hide storage cubbies. Just pull up on the little tab at the back.'15 Dart seat 1

More needs to said about the touchscreen interface – about how good it is. It’s the best such system I’ve encountered in any new car to date – irrespective of price. The size of the screen alone (8.4 inches) is helpful, because the touch-icons are not scrunched down to Chiclet-sized and hunkered together into a too-small space.You can clearly see each one at a glance – and use each one without accidentally using another one. I generally hate these electronic interfaces – because they almost always make simple tasks such as changing the radio station or adjusting the AC more difficult than mechanical dials and buttons, all for the sake of looking “high tech.” But this system is both high-tech and can’t be faulted, ergonomically. The only thing I would fear – as a potential buyer – is the potential repair/replacement cost of the screen and whatever’s behind it eight or ten years down the road from now.'15 Dart dash detail

Of course, that’s just as true for other cars equipped with similar system… which is pretty much all of them.

I mentioned the Dart is heavier than other cars in this class. It’s also a little bigger than other cars in this class. At 183.9 inches bumper-to-bumper, it is six inches longer over than a Honda Civic sedan (177.9.  inches), 3.9 inches longer than a Mazda3 sedan (180.3 inches) and 1.3 inches longer than the Toyota Corolla (182.6 inches). '15 Dart back seats

The Dart also has a bigger car’s wheelbase – 106.4 inches – vs.103.2 for the Civic (the Corolla and Mazda3 are closer at 106.3 inches each). However, the Dart comes up way short – relative to the amazing (in this respect) Corolla when it comes to second row legroom. The Toyota has an incredible 41.2 inches of it – comparable to a Mercedes S Class or BMW 7 full-sized luxury car in terms of spreadin’ out space – while the Dart is way back there, with 35.2 inches of second row legroom. But the Corolla’s anomalous – far better thanothers in this class, second row-legroom-wise. The Dart’s backseats are just as roomy as those in the Mazda3 (35.8 inches) and nearly as room as those in the Honda Civic (36.2 inches).

The Dart has a good-sized (13.1 cubic foot) trunk, which is large for a small car. The Mazda3 sedan’s truck is 12.4 cubes; the Honda Civic sedan’s 12. 5 cubes.

THE REST'15 Dart trunk

It’s ridiculous that the 2015 Dart – a compact-sized FWD car with an aluminum four-cylinder engine – weighs several hundred pounds more than a RWD (and mid-sized) ’76 Dart with a cast iron slant six engine. If it weighed a more class-appropriate 2,700 lbs. instead of almost 3,200 lbs., the new Dart would probably be capable of 45 MPG with the 1.4 liter  Fiat-sourced engine. 

And if it had a diesel engine… .

But, don’t blame Fiat – which like every other automaker has diesels in inventory and sells them widely everywhere except here.'15 Dart diesel image

Because of Uncle.

Washington has made it both costly and difficult to “certify” diesel engines for sale in passenger cars, which is why there are so few of them available. And the few that are available (VW Golf TDI, for example) don’t deliver mileage that’s spectacularly better than many current gas engines do – and meanwhile, diesel fuel costs about 50 cents more per gallon than regular unleaded. Which makes it hard to justify buying them – which is why so few car companies offer them.'15 Dart final

It’s shame, though. If the Dart weighed less – and if Uncle relaxed just a little bit – a car like the Dart with a small turbo-diesel engine would probably give you 55 on the highway and the thing would outlast you, probably.

Kind of like the original Dart.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s not a bad choice – or a bad car. The problem for Fiat is there lots of other choices.

And some of them are better.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Gotta agree about the colors,when dirty,I cannot distinguish the dark ones from black.Some of the more novel ones seem to be on the imports.I have a hard time telling the cars apart now,the trucks are still pretty distinct(shoebox aerodynamics)

  2. Interesting conversation about auto styling. Car lines used to have in-your-face design cues that made them unique and identifiable. No one ever mistook a Ford for a Mercury or Edsel or Lincoln or Buick or Dodge or Rambler or Studebaker or even a Volkswagen. Today, everything looks like melting candy bars painted the most bland shades of gray and colors so darkly tinted as to be mistaken for black. And shod with hoopla-hoop tires. Ugh. Harley Earl must be spinning in his grave.

    • Dear CC,

      “Today, everything looks like melting candy bars ”

      That’s my perception too. I’ve wondered about that. I know that Detroit began wind tunnel testing in earnest back in the 80s to increase fuel mileage.

      I understand it made a huge difference. Mileage for the same weight jumped substantially.

      But I have to say, if current cars as of 2015 accurately represent minimized air resistance, I’m not particularly crazy about the resulting body shapes.

      The older 50s, 60s, and 70s cars had body shapes that were more appealing, at least to my eyes.

      Now too many cars look like safety Nazi concept cars.

      • THE Nazi concept car was Volkswagen. That concept enjoyed 7 decades in production, sold millions worldwide and spawned about a dozen variants based on familiar underpinnings.

        My take on fuel consumption – much effort has gone into increasing thermodynamic efficiency of internal combustion engines and with great success. Bland styling helps cost efficiency in production and assembly, as well as weight reduction, otherwise greater effort would have reconfigured the undercarriage to considerably reduce aerodynamic drag. It still looks like a utility room under there! Most Americans are gridlocked on metropolitian thoroughfares where a clever body contour becomes lipstick on a pig and 9 speed overdrive transmission is rendered useless but higher thermodynamic efficiency shines. Just my opinion.

  3. That storage cubby under the driver’s seat would be really great for storing a handgun, I think. I don’t know the measurements, though. If it was locking with the driver’s key, that would be especially useful…

    Opinions?

    • Hi Warp,

      My Sig .45 will fit, easily – but the problem is access. Can’t get to it while you’re in the car (well, sitting on the seat). But for secure storage, it’s a pretty good hidey-hole. Doesn’t lock – but if someone’s already broken into your car, I doubt a lock would help much.

  4. I see lots of these new Darts because there is a local dealership and the closest competitor is 20 miles away. That makes Chrysler-Fiat-Jeep-Ram the only fish in our little pond. The Jeep and Mopar nameplates are by far the most popular by a massive percentage. There are even some Fiat 500s around and I seldom see them anywhere else. Location, location, location.

  5. Last week diesel fuel was priced the same as regular unleaded here in western Colorado. The price of unleaded went up. Diesel tends to maintain prices longer than unleaded, I guess because of volume sold and how often the tanker truck comes by.

  6. Diesel will never happen for many reasons,I detect a brand that may go the way of another big dept store(which I think has numbered days) I expect the little light dart could stay with a 59Ford which probaly had an infamous Y-Block probaly a 292(could have been a 312(by 59 it seemed the 312s were about extinct.replaced by the Y-Block derived 332-390 FE series anyrate the old bodies were terrible but the engine was a jewel,the old slant six was used in everything from trucks,cars, to forklifts.Like K-Mart,I dont think Chrysler is going to be with us much longer,both are still barely hanging on,why did Chrysler split off the profitable Ram truck line?Who knows,bad decisions have been made in the past and will still continue to be made.

    • I don’t remember about the Mopars, but ’59 was one of the fugliest years ever for both Ford and Chevy.

      • PtB, just think about the Mopar line, the whole Ford line and the GM line all the way through and I think 59 and 60 were about the worst for the entire bunch of them. They musta changed notes back then. 61 comes along and Chevy, Buick, Ford and Doge all had a side look of a point gradually increasing to a sorta wide thing at the rear. I’m trying to remember other brands but back then the big car led the styling cues and it went across the big cars of each company. The 62’s of each company looked better and then they had some pretty neat looking cars, at least Ford and GM did in 63. ’64 and both were flattened and looked bulkier. In 65 Chevy had a pretty good looking car and I suppose Ford did too but the edgy stuff Ford does isn’t my type of styling. There’s a whole new “classic” out there now and it has a diehard following, the early and mid-nineties GM pickups. I’d buy a brand new one right now if they’d make it, the TBI gas or the 6.5 Turbo diesel. The pickups still looked good when GM went to the roller cam engine and called it a 5.7L but that engine, while having more power, wasn’t the dead reliable one of the early 90’s.

        • Wife came home from the library a couple of weeks ago with DVDs of the first season of Dr. Kildare. The show wasn’t bad, as hospital shows go, but I really liked the 1960 Buick ambulance. Sharp!

            • Dear 8sm,

              Grand Budapest Hotel!

              I just watched it too a month ago.

              Not entirely sure what the plot/theme of the film was, but I was intrigued by the quirky characters and and entertained by the unexpected events throughout.

              It struck me as a throwback to the “screwball comedies” of the 1930s and 40s.

              • Bevin, I thought it more witty than 30’s and 40’s films for the most part. It was obviously anti-war showing the inanities of things that really happened in Europe and the convolutedness of the relationships of various ethnicities and their conquerors. I liked the symbol they used for the bad guys, close enough to a swastika for even clover.

                Those scenes of various people hissing at the two main characters and telling them what to do were pretty funny.

                I was feeling fairly ill and went to sleep during part of it. I’ll be watching it again here soon, maybe today since it’s raining and that’s not conducive to construction.

            • Grand Budapest Hotel was a nice movie. Takes one back to a slower and more genteel time, while showing the stupidity of human conflict.

    • I’m almost sure the Ford had a different engine and transmission both than factory. So easy to change a 312 into a former 292 setting and that other car was probably wrecked. 3 of us had an old dune buggy made from a Ford. Seems like it had a hot engine before it was sold to us. We replaced the engine 12 times seems like and the transmission that many or more. It had dual rear wheels so we had a bunch of 3 speed manuals and a few OD manuals that lasted even less time.

      I know people who still aren’t over that Cummins diesel being replaced by the 24 valve. I see some of the newer one have problem internally the old ones didn’t. I wonder if Cummins wasn’t pushed into that situation though, better mileage, eco friendly, less noise, stuff like that isn’t always ready for the long haul. I think that was an 07 Dodge the boss’s wife had that dropped something in the bottom end.

      On another note, I commented on the snazzy new Dodge gas pickup a guy was driving the other day. It was a 14 and was a fancy dan kinda thing, real shiny. He said he gave something like 44K for it and now(and I know this is right cause I checked the prices on new Dodge gas pickups)he said he could buy the same thing for 30K. I was lamenting new GMC’s are so expensive and the boss said ‘Go get a brand new loaded out Dodge half ton for 30K, just looked at some when I bought my new truck(dually, Cummins’. We’re talking 4Wd and crewcab too.

  7. These things are so rare on the road around Phoenix that it’s a noteworthy event when I see one. Usually once every two to three weeks.

  8. I had one of the originals for a while back in the day. Although I’m an AMC guy, there’s not much doubt the Dart and Valiant were the best of the old domestic compacts. My only real complaint was that the power steering had absolutely zero feel.

    If Chrysler brought back an updated version of that car with decent rustproofing, fuel injection, disc brakes and power steering with more feel than the radio volume control they’d probably sell like hotcakes. Of course the federal thugs would never let such a thing happen even if the manufacturer were interested in doing so.

    • Power steering, wow! A friend had a Valiant, a four door, about a ’64 or 5 model or so in ’66. We had great times in that car and it would outhandle nearly anything around.
      A classmate had a 59 Ford Fairlane(big car)with a 312 I think. They raced and that Valiant with it’s slant six stayed right with that Ford. We were amazed, at two things, that the Valiant was that quick and the Ford so slow.

      • The Slant Six was an amazing engine, combined with the Torqueflite transmission you had the closest thing to a bulletproof drivetrain you’ll find. If only those cars had decent rustproofing a lot more of them would still be around.

        Few people remember today that the slant-six was originally designed to be an aluminum engine, but Chrysler hedged their bets and developed the cast-iron version in parallel “just in case.” Some aluminum jobs were ultimately built but the metallurgy and coolant chemistry of the day really was not so hot and they were soon discontinued (much like the Rambler aluminum six).

      • a friend back in college days went home for the weekend in his 65 Mustang 289 4 spd. Found they had set up a ‘drag strip.’ but it was only 1/8 mile, they couldn’t find a full 1/4 mile available, safe, and fuzz free. A straight 6 Nova was beating everyone off the line and being passed just over the finish – til Daryl went home and got his Bonneville 650.

        • I recall the Mustang had the worst axle hop I’d seen. All it needed was a large bottom spring for street tires anyway but you could advertise you were up for a race with the add-on bars that hung down. We did some stupid crap back then with add-ons. Some of it was the equivalent of 24’s now and neon lights. Probably the best add-on that changed the looks some were the hood pins. Those old hood latches needed some insurance and some like myself had locks instead of keys not only for keeping all your engine pieces but because people stole those damn keys left and right. Theft more than anything else bought on the inside hood release. i can recall getting a battery stolen and some other things.

  9. I agree with the need for a diesel in this car. Or have it lose 500 lbs. Or both. The torque of the diesel will get that mass moving much quicker than the gas engines ever could. And get outstanding highway mileage because the engine is relaxed at highway speeds.

    I like the back end styling, with the Dodge “Bandit” style taillights. But the side view is a case of the blahs. Just nothing there to attract the eye. The interior, and the dash, is well done.

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