They say everything is big in Texas. That goes for football stadiums to politics. But that’s not the case for one small, eclectic city is the Lone Star state. Welcome to Austin; home of cool music, liberal minds, melting pot culture mixes, and the most diverse array of food trucks that you likely won’t discover anywhere else. These mobile food operators even have their own stationary addresses. Austin also recently played home to Chrysler’s launch of the re-born 2013 Dodge Dart.
The original Dart had much success in the 60s and 70s before its inevitable replacement by the Aspen. Those original entry level vehicles were dependable and sturdy and offered an array of engines. For 2012 Chrysler pulled out its shovel and headed to the graveyard to dig out the Dart nameplate and re-birth it as an all-knew “2013” model to compete in the compact vehicle segment; the fastest growing sector in the auto industry. Based off of the global “F” platform and featuring Alfa Romeo Giulietta DNA, and including Fiat engine and transmission combinations, the new Dart offers a multitude of configurations with 14 interior choices, 12 exterior colors and 6 engine options. In addition, Chrysler’s Mopar performance and customization division will tender 150 accessories for the little guy.
Dodge has been doing an exceptional job with both its exterior designs and quality of materials in its vehicles across the board. Whether it’s Charger, Challenger or Durango, I have been highly impressed. The Dart inherits the same recognizable Dodge DNA and gives auto consumers yet another stealthy choice in the $15,995 and up range. The grille is headstrong, its headlights are euro inspired and the vehicle’s projector fog lights and sporty wheels give it a menacing demeanor. I prefer the grille’s bumper in black rather than in the body color. Additionally, the rear end’s 152-LED Tail lamp design is infatuating and reminds you of classic muscle cars.
For our morning commute to lunch and back to the W Hotel my drive partner and I chose a Dart Rallye ($18,995 MSRP) in Bright Silver Metallic Clear Coat with a Black/Light Diesel Gray cloth interior. There are four other trims consisting of the SE ($15,995 MSRP), SXT ($17,995 MSRP), Limited ($19,995 MSRP), and R/T ($22,995 MSRP). The Dart reminds me of what the Neon used to be to the brand back when it was conceived in 1995. Every team needs a point guard to run the offense. And Dodge didn’t disappoint in the safety arena, which is always a topic of discussion with small vehicles. Each model is equipped with 10 standard airbags and depending on the trim level the Dart is enhanced with Blind-spot monitoring, electronic stability control, ParkView rear backup camera, ParkSense rear park assist, panic brake assist, electronic roll mitigation and much more. Bet you thought I was talking about BMW’s MINI brand?
Power for all model Darts will be generated by world-class, fuel efficient, four-cylinder powerplants that drive the front wheels, but in three different versions: a 2.0-liter Tigershark 4-cylinder that delivers 160 horsepower and 148 pound feet of torque connected to either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission; a 1.4-liter MultiAir intercooled, turbocharged four that mates to either a 6-speed manual or DDCT automatic transmission; and finally, a 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir four-banger that pumps out 184 horses along with 171 pound feet of torque coupled with either a 6-speed manual or automatic gearbox. The 1.4-liter MultiAir engine is similar to that powering the Fiat 500.
Our vehicle featured the Tigershark 2.0-liter 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine paired with the 6-speed Powertech ATX transmission. The power on the road seems very anemic and doesn’t really do justice to the Tigershark name. The brakes are pretty grabby as well, and the MacPherson Strut front suspension was a bit soft as I abruptly discovered during a quick turn. We found the 1.4-liter Multi-Air 4-cylinder Turbo much better in acceleration. It has 24 more lb.-ft. of torque than the Tigershark. We didn’t get a chance evaluate the 2.4-liter MultiAir2 Tigershark 4-cylinder because it wasn’t available at launch.
The most interesting development in the industry today is auto company’s ability to instill high-quality features and technology into the interiors of value conscious vehicles. Kia and Hyundai do this exceptionally well, and now Dodge is on the same path. I’m a huge proponent of Chrysler’s 8.4” Uconnect Touch interface with Voice Command. Add in Sirius/XM, a sweet sound system, iPod connectivity and multi-hour drives fly by in minutes. Moreover, the cabin is very spacious for a small car; the steering wheel is heated; the glovebox is sizeable; the front seat flips up to unveil additional storage; ambient lighting adds flavor; and the instrument cluster features a secondary 7”display.
On the ride back from lunch we took a detour and explored downtown Austin in search of the much talked about food trucks. Such an interesting town. We didn’t find exactly what we needed — a veggie hot dog — so we headed to Whole Foods instead. Parking in their small lot found to be the easiest task of the day. After all, if the Dart can accomplish 39 highway miles per gallon then you better stock up on healthy snacks to endure the long journey before your next fill-up.