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Old World Meets New: The 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye

The 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye

Detroit is getting nostalgic. For the good old days? Well, not totally. Yeah, the profits were nice but that near-bankruptcy thing put the fear of God into them. That, and the ever-rising sales of foreign vehicles in North America.

So enter an Old World name into the fray. Actually, re-enter would be more like it. When the Italian automaker Fiat bought into Chrysler a while back, expectations were high. Fiat, and especially its other, more sporting brand, Alfa Romeo, were expected to breathe new life into what was fast becoming a moribund lineup. Things moved quickly as old models were lopped off the family tree, like the aging PT Cruiser, but not much new product reared its head. Oh sure, the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 were somewhat refreshed—their new powertrains and interiors played to rave reviews in the automotive press. The totally revamped Jeep Grand Cherokee likewise played well in Peoria. But something was needed to bring Joe Everyday-car-buyer back into the showroom.

Which brings us to the subject of this week’s drive: the 2013 Dodge Dart. An old name for sure, but your Aunt Tilly would never recognize it as anything related to her ’64 Dart station wagon with the Slant Six engine connected to a three-on-the-tree. Especially if she were to park her rear in the driver’s seat of my Dart Rallye with the Redline two-coat Pearl paint job. Three-on-the-tree? Get out of the ’60s already; this car came with a nifty six-speed, floor-mounted, manual transmission, which was connected to the optional 1.4-liter I4 Intercooled turbo engine, rated at 184 horsepower.

Is it the fastest pocket rocket on the market? No. But it’s probably one of the most comfortable. Chrysler did their homework when designing the interior. There are plenty of soft surfaces which make you feel you’re in a much more expensive car. (The base Dart SE has a starting price of $15,995, while the Rallye begins at $18,995.) The seats weren’t your usual black or taxicab gray. Diesel Grey is what Dodge calls the interior of the test car, and there was an interesting striping pattern on the seats to break up the usual monotony of color seen in many compacts. The seats were comfortable, front and back. The rear headroom might be a bit tight if you’re six feet tall or more—but how many six-footers are ever asked to sit in the back seat anyway? In the front, while reaching across the dashboard for something, I did manage to hit my head on the interior light console, located above the rear-view mirror, which protrudes a tad more than it needs to. Audio and HVAC controls are within easy reach of both front seat passengers, while those in the back—assuming no one is seated in the middle—can pull down the armrest, enjoy the use of two cupholders, and even pull down the trap door to the trunk area to pass the popcorn to the guy they’re smuggling into the drive-in.

The Dart’s styling is not just an improvement over what many consider to be Chrysler’s previous compact, the Neon. (The Caliber, which succeeded the Neon and preceded the Dart, was really in a different category.) The Dart is the first car to cash in on the Chrysler/Fiat marriage, as it is based on the sporty Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Of course, being a car built for Americans, Chrysler had to lengthen and widen the Giulietta platform to fit the customer. But it’s not so huge as to ruin the dynamics. The independent rear suspension helps give the Dart a ride which will be appreciated on the back roads of America.

Where you’re likely to see a lot of them in the very near future.

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Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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