Dodge Dart is a high-tech, high mileage hit for Chrysler that remains affordable -- TECH TIME AUTO REVIEW
One of the most critical launches in recent memory has been the Dodge Dart, which re-introduced Dodge to the compact car market.
The Dart been getting a lot of good accolades lately, and there’s a good reason for that.
I recently got a chance to test one the 2013 Dodge Dart, and explore the bevy of tech features it boasts, and I’m back with a full report.
Before I even delve into how the Dart’s tech systems function , let me just say that one thing that jumps out from the get-go is the impressive touchscreen which controls it all.
At 8.4 inches (standard on the top trim level, available on lower trim levels), this is among the biggest screens you’ll find in any vehicle.
The only version of the Dart you can’t get this huge screen in is the SE entry level model, where you’ll have a basic conventional radio setup and no full color display.
What this screen size accomplishes is providing a lot of room for a solid layout with distinguished areas that are easy to control and see.
The screen started out in other Chrysler/Dodge vehicles a few years back, said Ryan Nagode -- Chief of Interior Design for Dodge, Ram and Fiat products
“The screen launched in our 300 and Charger a few years ago. It’s borrowed from system we had established in those vehicles. We had won awards for its user interface,” Nagode explained. “We picked something we could use across car lines from smaller to larger cars. We tried to pick a format that if you go from one thing to another you still have a good row of icons static on top all the time. We don’t want you fumbling for smaller buttons on the screen.”
What’s on the screen
In terms of what you see on the screen, there is a status bar on top that will always keeps you informed of temperature in the vehicle, what time it is, among other information (which is also customizable).
There are little touches that are nice, such as notices popping up in the status bar when a designated favorite music artist comes on.
Below the status, in the center of the screen, there is area where the content of each section can be viewed. Many controls are redundant; such as climate -- where you have the touch controls but also physical controls below the touchscreen. If you use the physical dials to change temperature or other climate settings, your screen will reflect that (I just used the touchscreen once I got used to the system, though.)
The Dart’s system of vehicle control via the touchscreen was among the easier to use ones that I have tried in the recent past, and I was very quickly able to adjust to it -- as most people should be, too. The screen is also quite responsive to touch.
You get the usual array of music sources -- AM/FM, satellite radio, USB and AUX connectivity, bluetooth connectivity for your smartphone’s music and music apps like Pandora (album art will be displayed on screen).
In satellite, you can tag songs so you’re alerted when they are being played anywhere, which is a helpful feature.
On the satellite end, the first year is free, which is longer than any other automaker, and then you have to pay. Another satellite-related feature is Sirius Travelink, which gives you weather updates, sports scores, etc. upon your request.
You also get a CD player offered as an option. This is actually pretty smart in my view, because as we move more to cloud based music fewer people will want a CD player. Interestingly, the CD player is in the center armrest, not up front in the display.
There is also an SD card slot where you could listen to music from. This comes with the 8.4-inch touchscreen. Base radio just has AUX and USB ports.
The navigation in the Dart is based on Garmin’s system, so if you’ve ever used a Garmin GPS it will look very familiar. It can be controlled on the screen or by voice.
in my experience it worked well, for the most part, in terms of voice control, but make sure you’re enunciating clearly to avoid having to repeat yourself.
For safety, you’re not allowed to push buttons in the navigation system (i.e., enter addresses) while you’re driving. You must do it by voice in that situation.
One key feature on most new vehicles technology-wise is the backup camera, so you can see what’s behind you when you’re backing up. I found this especially useful on the Dart, as the extra large screen size gave me a better view than many competitors’ screens.
Voice commands, steering wheel controls
These elements of today’s vehicles are critical in the drive make them safer.
Instead of fumbling with your radio buttons, say “tune to CNN” and it will go to CNN’s satellite channel, even if you’re listening to FM radio. This kind of simplicity is critical to keeping your eyes on the road at all times.
On the steering wheel, you can control volume, music source, channel and more. The buttons being placed on the rear of the steering wheel make it very easy to adjust the volume and channel/source.
On front of the steering wheel you get the voice button, call button, cruise control and arrows taking you through the info in the dashboard cluster.
The overall system in this vehicle is called the UConnect 8.4N, which entails the entire radio system and voice controls: The screen, interface, climate, radio, etc.
There is an even better UConnect system coming out now, but the Dart was released before it was ready (That system -- called UConnect Access -- is debuting on the new RAM 1500 pickup and the Viper)
The system on the Dart has the same basic core though, but there are some upgrades coming with the new UConnect Access, which will no doubt be coming to later Dart models as it expands across the Chrysler/Dodge/Ram lineup.
What’s controlled by voice?
You can do pretty much whatever you’d like to do by voice in the Dart via the UConnect system. You can make calls by voice, control your music, control climate, and control navigation. If you connect your phone via Bluetooth, your contact list is automatically pulled in contact list, so you can say “Call Joe” and it dials.
The vehicle I tested got 31 mpg on average (27 city/37 highway) … This is a pretty good range for a non-hybrid vehicle. There are two engines offered -- a 1.4-liter engine and the 2.0-liter engine, and the various versions of the Dart vary from an average of 25 mpg up to 32 mpg. Some models do as well as 41 mpg on the highway, so you can easily surpass that 32 mpg mark if you’re mostly on the highway. the 1.4 liter engine is more efficient that the 2.0 engine.
Both the 2.0 and 1.4 engines make 160 horsepower, which is decent for a car this size. The difference between the two is in torque.
The 2.0 engine has 148 foot pounds of torque, while the 1.4 engine has 184 foot pounds.
The Dart also has multi-air technology, which helps fuel efficiency and reduction of CO2, electronically controlling air intake to reduce CO2 emissions and boost fuel efficiency by 7.5 percent.
Depending which model of the Dart you get, your sound system will vary.
6 speakers come standard in the RallyE and Limited rides, with an option to upgrade to a 9 speaker system with subwoofer.
4 speakers come standard in the lower SE and SXD trim levels.
How are sales?
The Dart went on sale in May, and has had a very timed launch, according to Kathy Graham of Chrysler Group Media Relations.
“We didn’t get a lot of Darts on the ground until mid-August. Average time on a dealer lot is 17 days. Industry average is typically 65. We’re very pleased with pace of sales,” Graham explained. “About 5,000 units per month are being sold. Market launch fully in place in November. We’re happy with where we are as we raise awareness we have a small car for sale”
Trim levels, prices
One big draw of the Dart is that despite all it offers, it’s still very affordable (unlike most cars out nowadays).
The basic SE model starts at 15995, but that lacks many of the features that make this car so impressive. Dodge officials estimated that only about 5 percent of buyers will take the base model.
The mid-level models are the biggest sellers. The SXT model starts at $17,995, and the RallyE model starts at $18,995.
A new model, the AERO, was recently introduced and costs ($19,295)
In terms of differences, the SE and SXT are more standard compact sedans, whereas the RallyE is more sporty in its appearance.
The star of the Dart lineup, though is the Dart Limited, which starts at $19,995. I tried one of these out and it did not disappoint. If you add a bevy of options, you can spend upwards of $24K on the Dart.
The folks who might consider a Dart are pretty varied. It’s bigger than most compact cars inside, but not huge, so many families might find it too small.
So you have young people without families who want a spiffy new ride with a low pricetag, then you have older folks who don’t have kids at home anymore and want a nice ride that’s smaller in size. These older buyers would be more likely to upgrade to the Limited than the younger crowd.
Dodge knows it has to score big with the Dart. Considering Chrysler’s recent struggles in years past, they need all the hits they can get.
So to help keep customers happy, they are making it quite variable. The vehicles are customizable moreso than many of its competitors -- in terms of color, engine, transmission, etc.
“We tried to have something for everyone without alienating everyone. If you want wild colors, we got them,” Graham said.
Extra features on the Limited
Some features are available on the Limited version that aren’t on lower levels.
It has the option for blind spot monitoring, and it’s the only compact vehicle offering rear crosspath monitoring. That means that when you’re backing out, it will alert you with a beep and a flashing signal in the mirror if vehicles are coming from either direction -- not just behind you.
You also get a Park Assist feature offered on the Limited, which will warn you if you’re going to hit anything in your parking adventures.
There is also a larger 7-inch information screen in the Limited that drivers can customize (the corners can be set to the info you need most often) and can make either analog or digital. A lot of information can be viewed here about fuel economy, vehicle info, trip info and much more. You can view info in miles per hour or kilometers per hour.
These little touches not only increase safety and overall user experience, but they make you feel like you’re driving a pretty fancy car when you’re behind the wheel of a Limited; just without the fancy pricetag.
One area where the Dart does have a weakness is that there is no OnStar-type system to automatically send an alert for help in the case of an accident.
Dodge was out of the four-door small sedan market for many years -- seven to be exact, but they’re getting noticed with their return via the Dart. (which was spurred, in a way, by Chrysler’s union with Fiat, which is known for its small cars.)
Graham said that Dodge had to pack a whole lot of good things into the Dart to get noticed, but she believes they did it and can compete with big name competition in the small-car market.
“Cars are really good now. We had to come with our A game and we think that we did that,” she said, “We offer lots of colors, one of the largest interiors, under the seat storage in the passenger seat. A laptop can fit in the glove box.
“The competition is all very good. But we kind of upped the good with the 8.4 inch touchscreen, blind spot monitoring, 10 airbags, anti-lock brakes on all models, LED racetrack lighting around instrument panel, more ambient lighting in door pockets. There’s a lot packed into that car. In-vehicle tech is a huge point. The 7-inch TFT screen is a feature you’ll find on a high-end Audi and Land Rover . No one in segment is even close.”
It’s pretty clear that the return to the compact car market has been a big success so far for Dodge. This is a very nice vehicle, period.
The Dart’s been on target so far for the Dodge brand, and my experience in the car leads me to believe that trend will continue, thanks in large part to the impressive technology they packed into a car that starts at well under $20K.
If you’re considering buying a compact car, this is one of the top options, not just in terms of in-car technology, but also in overall performance. I truly enjoyed driving this car, and I’m sure a lot of other people will too.
Matt Myftiu can be reached at email@example.com or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”. Check out his blog at realtechtime.blogspot.com.