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2015 Dodge Dart Test Drive Review
The 2015 Dodge Dart has a few surprises for budget buyers looking for a compact car: It's much bigger than you'd expect and can be fun in moments.
The 2015 Dodge Dart doesn't change much from last year, with the inclusion of a Blacktop appearance package wedged into SXT trims. The Aero trim is the only Dart available with the 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder, and the 2.4-liter four extends to the SXT, GT, and Limited trims. The Dart is a versatile car built on a solid platform, but ultimately hides a lot of its best qualities trying to please everyone, all the time.
Look and Feel
The 2015 Dodge Dart is Dodge’s compact car and most likely a first step for many car buyers into the Chrysler group. Don’t be fooled: The Dart is compact in concept only. The car’s interior is larger than some 5-door hatchbacks in its class and rivals those of some smaller midsize sedans.
The 2015 model isn’t significantly different than last year. This year’s model only includes a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) designation for higher trim levels, and air conditioning, power door locks, Bluetooth, and active grille shutters as standard on lower trims.
The Dart begins at $17,490 for the SE, which is the base trim and features a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission. A long list of standard features including windows, doors, wheels, buttons, and fabric are standard on the SE models. (We’re kidding—the SE gets the base treatment, but still features a CD player, 16-inch steel wheels, and a USB port.)
From there the SXT trim, the Dart’s biggest seller by a large margin, adds a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel-mounted controls, and cruise control. Optional extras on the SXT include a 6-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch wheels, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Aero and Limited trims of the Dart are Dodge’s high-mileage and luxury package groups respectively. The Aero model sports a much smaller 1.4-liter, turbo 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission (or an optional dry dual-clutch automatic) and 16-inch wheels to wring every mile out of the Dart. The Limited model drops in the 2.4-liter four and a slew of convenience-minded extras, including an 8-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, power seats, 17-inch wheels, and a 7-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster.
The GT trim is the performance model and adds on top of the SXT package a tuned suspension and engine calibration for the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and a black fascia up front. The GT also sports 18-inch wheels on the outside and Nappa leather on the inside.
The Dodge Dart sports three engine options and three transmission choices—although one is available only on the Aero trim.
The 1.4-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that's available only in the Aero (it was previously available in other 2013 trims) makes 160 hp and 148 lb-ft of twist. That engine, which can be mated to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, is capable of wringing out more than 40 mpg on the highway—albeit very carefully. The turbocharger spools up around 2,500 rpm, which boosts power, but saps mileage. If you’re the kind with a heavy right foot, you may not see the mileage bump, and the engine’s maximum power comes higher in the RPM range, after the turbo’s boost has peaked. It’s a tricky engine to understand and one that may be a little overwhelmed by the Dart’s 3,200-pound weight.
The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine in the base SE trim produces the same 160 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, but makes no assumptions on mileage or power. On the highway, the 2.0-liter manages well into the 30-mpg range, but mileage drops into the 20s in stop-and-go city driving. The base 4-cylinder engine isn’t quick, but it does sip regular unleaded and is fairly straightforward in its power delivery.
At the top of the range is Dodge’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, dubbed the TigerShark, which makes 184 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. That’s not overwhelming power for the heavy sedan, but it is temptingly fun for the Dart, which is loosely based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. The TigerShark’s delivery is smooth and linear, and with a generous redline, perceptively shouty when you mash the fun pedal. Zero to 60 mph happens in around 8 seconds, and the 2.4-liter is surprisingly well married to the optional 6-speed automatic. According to EPA estimates, the 2.4-liter engine manages in the mid-30s on the highway, low-20s in the city on regular fuel.
Form and Function
Behind the wheel, the 2015 Dodge Dart mostly fades into the background, which is good and bad.
The spacious Dart is comfortable and sedate on long hauls, with little commotion from its engine or suspension coming through to the passenger cabin. Even the steering, which is electrically assisted, doesn’t communicate much of the road underneath the car to the driver. A ton of interior space and quiet cabin may make the Dart the best sub-$20,000 road-trip car in production—that’s good.
However, the Dart—despite its size—has flashes of fun. Our GT, which sports a slightly different tune on its suspension, could whip around parking lots and take a quick corner more sharply than you’d expect from a compact budget sedan. In that respect, the Dart’s supple steering and suspension in other trims isn’t doing its skeleton many favors.
Despite carrying roughly 60 percent of its weight up front, the Dart is fairly well composed under hard braking and doesn’t nosedive badly. Although the stopping power for the big compact is substantial, the brake pedal still communicates a lighter-than-normal feel—maybe it's a little too spongy.
Available in the GT trim, the Dart’s 18-inch wheels don’t make the ride any harsher, and the standard 17-inch shoes are relatively non-intrusive as well. Base SE versions are available with 16-inch wheels, but we haven’t driven those.
At the top of the range, the Dart includes two features that work hard to separate it from others in its class.
A 7-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster displays the Dart’s speed predominantly and other customizable information about the car including tire pressure and temperatures. It’s a sharp display, and one that isn’t typically included in other compacts, but it’s included only in trims above the base SE and volume SXT.
Additionally, the Dart also includes a standard Uconnect AM/FM/CD radio with 6 speakers in most trims (the SE has only 4 speakers) with an optional 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen standard in pricier Aero, GT, and Limited trims. The 8.4-inch touchscreen is bright and fairly easy to navigate, but it’s not the sharpest display out there, and it’s relatively onerous to convey spoken commands with repeated success.
Inside, the Dart is fairly well appointed with some thoughtful touches on the interior including a decent cockpit design for such a low-priced car. The seats are wide and forgiving, and sufficiently bolstered. In back, rear passengers have more than enough legroom—I glided my 6-foot-2-inch frame in and out of the backseats with ease—and there’s enough space in the trunk (13.1 cubic feet) to stash plenty of gear.
The only major gripe for the car is the Dart’s steering wheel, borrowed from every other Dodge car, that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the car’s aggressive style. The 3-spoke wheel has plenty of grip, but the steering wheel controls are blocky, and the overall design just doesn’t fit. (Maybe we’re just being picky.)
The pricier trims (Aero, GT, and Limited) do well to hide the idea that they share plenty with the base version, which starts at around $17,500. Basically, the higher-end Darts feel like premium cars on a budget, not budget cars stuffed with premium gear.
The Dodge Dart received 5 stars for safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and mostly Good ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Dart received only an Acceptable rating in the notoriously difficult small-overlap crash test, and the Dart earned 5 stars in every NHTSA category except rollover crashes, where it earned 4 stars.
The Dart comes standard with a long list of standard safety equipment including driver and passenger airbags (including knee airbags), antilock brakes, child seat latches, electronic stability control, and traction control.
An additional safety suite of blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, and parking-assist features are available as an option ($1,095) in Limited and GT trims.
The Dodge Dart covers a lot of ground with a $17,490 base price all the way up to a nearly fully stocked GT as tested with a $26,680 price tag. An all-options-selected Dart still doesn’t sniff $30,000, which is a good thing for an entry sedan.
A few owners have dogged the Dart for transmission problems and electronic gremlins. J.D. Power rated the Dart as “About Average” for quality and not so kindly for predicted reliability. However, the group gave the Dart very high marks for performance and design, and gave the car an award last year for its performance.
It’s hard to imagine the Dart as something other than a budget buy for many people, but it is relatively reassuring to know that it has a solid frame from which to build.
Forced into early retirement before his 1988 debut bout against "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase for the Intercontinental Championship belt, Aaron is a syndicated automotive columnist in newspapers spanning the Louisiana and Gadsden purchases and the Northwest Territories. When he's not writing about cars, he's driving them. And when he's not driving them, he's probably eating or sleeping because you need to do that too.
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