2016 Dodge Dart SXT Blacktop Review
Unfortunately the opposite is true, with the Dart barely feeding on the scraps left over by the bestselling Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra. Only 87,392 Darts were sold throughout the nation during all of 2015, the three top sellers managing 363,332, 335,384 and 241,706 respectively in the same market.
What to do? If you’re FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) you temporarily halt production until sales catch up to the backlog, and after that maintain the status quo while adding the odd special edition until finally pulling the plug; it will do the same to its Chrysler 200. While FCA is on record in stating that consumer demand for crossover SUVs is a “permanent shift,” hence their reasoning for focusing where they think there’s money to be made, a quick look back at sales numbers achieved by other brands show that it’s not specifically a market shift, but rather FCA’s inability to compete in the compact and mid-size segments that’s at fault.
So what’s wrong with the current crop of FCA small cars? I might be the wrong guy to ask because I’ve liked the Dart since I first slipped behind the wheel in late 2012 and truly fell for it as soon as I heard the burbling enthusiasm of its engine and exhaust. Of course, I’m a driving aficionado and therefore appreciate the expense FCA paid for the independent rear suspension and other goodies already noted, its base 2.0-liter engine putting out 160 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque no less, so if I were laying my own money down I probably wouldn’t balk if its base price were higher than average.
In reality, though, it isn’t. The base Dart hits the street at $16,995 plus freight and dealer fees, compared to $17,300 for the Corolla and $18,640 for the Civic, so nobody can complain about the Dart’s entry-level price.
Granted, the Dart’s front and rear seating areas aren’t the largest in the segment, but I actually found them quite comfortable. Certainly some rivals offer rear seat heaters, while others are sporting more soft-touch surfaces and upping the content quotient to include proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, dual-zone auto climate control, and forced ventilation for the front seats, but these features are only in top line trims that don’t sell as well. After all, the base Dart comes with all the features noted previously plus bifunctional halogen projector headlamps, LED taillights, tilt and telescopic steering, tire pressure monitoring, 10 airbags and much more, while the just-above-base $19,395 Dart SXT gets the larger engine, 16-inch alloys, auto on/off headlamps, body-color powered mirrors, body-color door handles, upgraded LED racetrack taillights, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, air conditioning, Bluetooth streaming audio, a six-speaker stereo, illuminated vanity mirrors, upgraded cloth upholstery, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a center pass-through (not many have that latter item) expanding on an already accommodating 13.1 cubic-foot trunk, a security alarm and more.
That’s close to the model I tested, mine even featuring sportier exterior and interior styling plus a performance-tuned suspension that comes with the $395 Blacktop Appearance group that included 18-inch alloys on 225/40R18 Yokohama all-seasons. The $680 Mopar Dual Exhaust Exterior package adds a matte black air splitter type front lip spoiler, identical looking aero trim on the rockers, and a particularly sporty rear diffuser. In case you were wondering how the dual exhaust portion of that name came to be, the sweet set of fat chrome-tipped exhaust pipes come with or without the racy upgrade, the addition of the Blacktop package also requiring the $595 Rallye package that adds the upgraded exhaust as well as the glossy black crosshair grille, center bumper cap and surround, active grille shutters, small circular fog lamps with black “spears” and surrounds, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Just so you know, this is a mid-pack Dart starting at $19,010 plus freight and dealer fees—the top-tier leather-lined Dart Limited pushes the price closer to $28k when completely optioned out. My tester did not include the optional $495 Cold Weather group that includes heated front seats and heated body-color side mirrors, but it did include a particularly cold and unwelcoming Mopar aluminum shift knob that I’d remove during winter if this were my car. I’d keep the $595 Uconnect Touchscreen group, however, which boasts the largest full-color infotainment screen in the compact biz at 8.4 inches in diameter, along with a useful rearview camera, a remote USB, iPod control, a glove box lamp, and a really cool illuminated instrument panel surround.
I inferred earlier that the Dart wasn’t quite up to the same level of refinement as some others in the class, but that’s mostly because it’s door uppers are made of hard plastic. To be clear, there are many in this segment that do likewise and others that offer the soft door uppers and don’t do their dash top as nicely as the Dart’s, the majority of which is covered in premium-level soft synthetic that also wraps all the way around the infotainment controls as well as around the left side of the primary gauges. What’s more, Dodge even goes so far as to cover the one-piece gauge/infotainment hood in a contrasting French-stitched leatherette that looks and feels very upscale. The outside of that primary gauge/center stack cluster is circled by a unique red racing line similar to the racetrack taillights, adding to the Dart’s unique character, while the large VOL and BROWSE/ENTER/TUNE/SCROLL dials on the center stack get matching backlit red rings around their backsides. On that note, all the dials are large and easy to actuate with rubber surrounds for a nice feeling easy grip, plus their quality, along with the quality of all the other switchgear, is quite good.
Back to those doors, the hard shell actually wraps around the entire outer portion of each panel, whereas the woven gray cloth inserts are padded, as are the leatherette door armrests, and pockets down below accommodate water bottles and other large items. The center armrest is covered in leatherette too, albeit contrast stitched, while it opens up to a large bin featuring a 12-volt charger, aux plug and USB port.
My tester’s upgraded seats were very comfortable and wonderfully supportive, while finished with a textured fabric in the middle and a woven cloth on the outside, plus nice contrast stitching all-round.
Overall it’s a sporty looking cabin, with some slick satin-silver detailing around the vents and inner door handles that matched the aluminum shifter knob noted earlier, as well as the shifter surround just below. Additional chrome highlights can be found elsewhere throughout the interior for a classy look, while an always welcome padded sunglasses holder rested overhead.
The best part about the Dodge Dart is how it drives. My tester’s optional 2.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder has mega output for this class at 184 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, while it mates up beautifully to the standard six-speed manual shifter. What’s more, combined with the big exhaust pipes it made some delectable sounds. Really, this is a much better sounding four-cylinder than what BMW, Mercedes Benz, or any other producer of direct-injected anything offers. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m a proponent of direct-injection for its performance and fuel economy benefits, but MultiAir manages to deliver all the benefits of DI without the carbon buildup issues and with a much better audio track.
The Tigershark engines have a wonderful growl, while that six-speed manual is a great deal more enjoyable to throw through the gears than any current German box. I’m not going to compare the Dart to a similarly sized BMW 3 as far as handling goes, although for its class it’s a superb little dancer that’ll run rings around most Asian competitors, and does so while delivering a nice compliant ride that’s ideal for long distance travel. The Dart is also one of the safer cars in its class, earning a top five-star rating from the former and a 2015 Top Safety Pick from the latter.
It even gets decent fuel economy with an EPA rating of 23 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway and 27 combined, compared to the base model’s 25 city, 36 highway and 29 combined rating, and 28 city, 41 highway and 32 combined for the 1.4 turbo. And if you’ve heard that the Dart was plagued with reliability issues (a problem with the initial 2013 model for sure), the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Darts have been quite reliable with nowhere near as many complaints.
As you can probably tell I’m personally disappointed that FCA is giving up on this great little car, especially now that most of the bugs seem to be exorcised from within. Truly, the Dodge Dart is a superb little car that deserves at least twice as many sales as it’s receiving, so take advantage of this fact and check it out before it’s gone, as I’m sure your local FCA dealer will only be too happy to reward your interest with a healthy discount.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann and Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press