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2016 Dodge Dart Test Drive Review
The 2016 Dodge Dart hopes to capitalize on compact buyers looking for size and value over advanced powertrain options.
Look and Feel
Form and Function
The 2016 Dodge Dart is the king (or queen) of big compacts with a large exterior that rivals that of some midsize sedans. With a lot of metal to haul around, the Dart may not be the quickest in its segment, but an ultra-frugal optional engine at least helps keep mileage competitive. This may be the last year for the current Dart before a badly needed update, which should help it pick up some of the style points that it's lost to competitors such as Honda and Hyundai.
Look and Feel
The 2016 Dodge Dart is the fourth year of the current compact car, which shares a platform with many other vehicles in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' portfolio. The Dart evokes a historical name for the automaker (and perhaps some good feelings), but the compact sedan shares very little with the Dart of yore.
This 4-door compact sedan is hardly compact. Among the biggest in the segment, the Dart rivals some midsize cars in terms of size and interior passenger space. The car is aimed at younger, first-time buyers with a bevy of customization options including bright blue, orange, and red color options.
For this year, very little on the Dart has changed from 2015. Special appearance packages are available for the car, including a sport hood package and a Rallye package with darker accents.
From the base SE trim, the Dart is offered in SXT, Aero, GT, and Limited packages. The base 2-liter 4-cylinder engine is available only in the SE, and an optional 1.4-liter turbocharged four that can be married to a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic is available only in the Aero. All other trims receive a 2.4-liter four, which Dodge has dubbed “TigerShark,” that can be fitted with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.
The Dart is offered with a base 2-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 160 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. That engine manages 25 mpg city/36 highway/29 combined when paired with Dodge’s 6-speed manual. A 6-speed automatic transmission can be stuffed into the Dart for $1,250 extra and penalizes mileage slightly with estimates of 24/34/27, according to the EPA.
In Aero guise, the Dart can be fitted with a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine borrowed from parent automaker Fiat, but assembled in Michigan. That mill makes 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of twist, but is suited for low-rev cruising. For long-distance runners that engine can eke out 28/41/32 with a manual transmission, according to the EPA. The turbocharged engine is also available with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic that drops the highway figure to 40 mpg.
Most Darts, including our SXT tester as well as Limited and GT trims, are fitted with Dodge’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that cranks out 184 hp and 174 lb-ft. Those 24 extra horses aren’t academic; they help transform the Dart from miserly distance runner in lower trims into a semi-bright compact in higher trims. The 2.4-liter four can take either a 6-speed slushbox or a semi-lucid 6-speed automatic transmission, which is built for around-town commuting. The manual’s long legs are definitely the pick if you’re looking to make the Dart an interstate hauler.
The Dart’s most potent engine manages 0-60 runs somewhere in the 8-second range, which isn’t the fleetest in its class.
Despite its size and considerable heft for its classification, the Dart’s MacPhersons up front and rear multi-link setup keep the car from toppling too far under its weight. Limited and GT versions benefit from a rear stabilizer bar in back that can help keep the rear end from splashing around.
Form and Function
The Dart is built and performs well as an entry-level commuter compact with plenty of room for four. The interior cabin is quiet and composed—much more than you’d expect from a compact car—and registered a hushed 60 dB during cruising.
Four adults can fit comfortably within the Dart’s four doors, with plenty of room for a 6-foot-3-inch galoot such as yours truly. The seats aren’t as comfortable as those of others in its class, such as the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic, but Dodge keeps the car from penalty-box detail with sporadic use of nice materials. Our SXT tester, shod with cloth buckets up front, was comfy, but we were curious as to how well the deeply pocked interior would hold up.
Dodge’s Dart carries over 400 pounds more weight than the Corolla, and it shows. Although the car manages to shuffle itself well around town, under extreme circumstances—i.e., heavy braking or acceleration—the Dart reveals its heft. The car pitches and rolls a little more than some in its class, although it’s hardly noticeable in everyday driving.
Dodge seems to have found a better formula for commuter cars than some in the Dart’s steering rack. Its turns are relatively sharp and precise—despite having a fairly large turning radius—and despite some serious boosting at low speeds, driving on the highway is confident and sharp.
What the Dart may lack in relative powertrain perks, it attempts to make up for in interior design, perks, and space.
Dodge packs most trims of the Dart with a large, 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen as standard (it’s not available in the SE and optional for SXT trims) that’s informative and easy to use. The screen may not be as sharp as others in its class, but its menu navigation is simple and intuitive—something I believe my 60-year-old father could master quickly. A large 7-inch TFT display is standard in Aero, Limited, and GT trims, but be warned that the base instrument cluster in SE and SXT grades is not very sharp or appealing.
The Dart’s interior fit and finish is on par with the rest of the segment, and interior materials feel sharp for a car that competes near $17,000 to start. The car looks and feels sturdy, a departure for old Dodge vehicles that felt more than hollow.
Split-folding rear seats reveal a small-ish 13.1-cubic-foot cargo area, and the seats don’t make way entirely easily—it took me a good few minutes to re-arrange the rear seat belts.
The rear seats sport a full 35.2 inches of legroom, which is 1 inch shorter than the long Honda Civic’s legroom, but fully 6 more inches of hip room for rear passengers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rated the Dodge Dart with a 5-star overall crash rating, including 5 stars for front and side crashes. The Dart received only 4 stars in rollover crash testing, according to the agency.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the Dart as Good in all its crash ratings, except its notoriously difficult small-overlap test, where it earned an Acceptable rating.
The Dart can be equipped with advanced safety features such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection monitoring, rear parking assist, and smart-beam headlamps in GT and Limited trims. The Dart cannot be equipped with front crash prevention in any grade.
Rear backup cameras are standard for models equipped with an 8.4-inch touchscreen.
Starting at $16,995, the Dart presents value in the compact segment based on its size. Although the engines aren’t the most potent in its class, and fuel efficiency may be lacking in city driving—highway cruising is comparable—the Dart makes a compelling case based on available tech, comfort, and size.
The Dodge Dart tops out around $24,000 for a Limited trim with 17-inch wheels, which is lower than top-end competitors such as the Civic that can approach $27,000 on the high end.
The 2016 Dart suffers in powertrain advancements and some style, although it’s expected that Dodge will significantly refresh the Dart for 2017.
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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