2013 Dodge Dart SXT Rental Review, Avis/National

Notable standard features on Avis/National’s 2013 Dodge Dart SXT

  • 2.0L 4-cyl engine (160-hp, 148 ft-lb), 6-speed automatic transmission; 0-60 mph ~ 9.2 seconds (Car & Driver)
  • 24/34 (city/hwy) mpg fuel economy
  • Regular gas
  • 13.1 cubic feet trunk volume
  • Power windows, mirrors, locks
  • Manual tilt & telescoping steering wheel (no audio controls)
  • 6-way manual driver’s and passenger’s seat, cloth
  • Manual headlamps
  • Single zone manual HVAC
  • 6 speaker with AM/FM/CD/MP3/(12 months free Sirius subscription)
  • Inputs: Aux
  • 60/40 split-fold rear seats

PROS:

- Snappy new exterior design
- Nicely contoured front seats
- Above average interior material quality
- Steering feel nicely tuned, unusual for this segment

CONS:

- Poor build quality (isolated incident?)
- Features that are standard on competitor vehicles not so on the Dart
- Noticeable road and tire noise
- Thick B-pillars block sideward vision
- Not very fun to drive, engine feels a little pokey

CONCLUSION: Vastly superior to the Dodge Caliber that it replaces.  Not as fun to drive as its crosstown rival, the Ford Focus.  Some build quality issues with my particular rental (isolated incident?)

Thank the rental deities that the Dodge Caliber is no more!  And my kudos to National Car Rental for being the first to acquire the Dart!  Add the Caliber to a long list of horrible rental cars that used to plague fleets and renters.  Enter its replacement the 2013 Dodge Dart.  The new redesign is leaps and bounds above the old Caliber and its Fisher Price plastic-ky interior.  The Dart traces its origin to the Dodge Hornet, a concept car which debuted in 2006 as a mini MPV.  The Hornet never made it to production thanks to the 2008 financial crisis.  Following Chrysler’s bankruptcy and FIAT’s takeover in 2010, the Hornet borrowed some underpinnings from Fiat’s other product, the Alfa Romeo Giuletta, and emerged as the 2013 Dodge Dart.

The exterior design is still very much American.  The Dart wears Dodge’s familiar four quadrant grille, albeit in an updated sleeker and slimmer form.  The rear “racetrack” 152 LED tail lights are reminiscent of those used on the larger Dodge Charger.  Renters will be disappointed that the racetrack tail lights do not light up on the SXT trim.  

Although every Dart is equipped with the LED racetrack tail lights**, they can only be activated by the dealer if they were purchased as an option (source: MotorTrend).  At this point, it’s unclear if National (and other agencies) will be purchasing trims higher than SXT or this $225 aesthetic option separately.  **Note: supposedly Darts not equipped with LED racetrack tail lights instead have red plastic on the trunk, but my Dart’s derriere looked like more than just red plastic, so I’m going with the all-Darts-have-red-LEDs-until-activated theory for now.  On the other hand, the $225 wouldn’t be justified if it were just a firmware flash and a complete replacement of the rear would make more sense….

With an optional 6-speed automatic transmission (+$1,100), this Dart, as rented, had an MSRP of $19,890.  That’s not cheap and is just a few hundred dollars less than a comparably equipped 2013 Ford Focus SE.  So how does the Dart compare to the Focus?  Read on to find out!

Unfortunately during this rental, Mr. Pixel Rally was unavailable, so I had to borrow a camera from my backup photographer, Ms. HN.  At least the pictures will be of somewhat better quality than my usual cellphone ones.

With the base 2.0L engine, theoretical fuel economy is somewhat worse than the Ford Focus.  In a mix of city and highway driving, I averaged a reasonable 30 mpg, which is right in line with estimates.  The brakes were excellent although almost too sensitive- even the slightest tap with my foot induced neck-whipping stops.  The suspension seemed tuned more for comfort than the sportier Focus, but was in no way soft.  Body roll was minimal.  Steering feel was very well tuned, which is surprising for this segment of cars.  The steering was weighted on center with considerable heft, but lightened through turns.

The engine was competent around town, but seemed slightly underpowered.  Indeed, its 0-60 times are around a second slower than the Focus.  Additionally, it was slightly noisy when pushed- not ’13 Altima noisy, but more so than the Focus.  Tire and road noise were noticeable and intrusive.  Driver visibility was hampered by the small sideview mirrors and the enormously thick B-pillars.  Be careful when changing lanes!

The interior is all new and is a considerable improvement over the Caliber’s nauseatingly horrible plastic covered layout.

The steering wheel was comfortably thick, although it lacks any sort of mounted audio controls.  The dashboard is a combination of soft- and hard- touch surfaces and overall material quality is very good, rivaling that of the Focus.  Large, easy-to-grip knobs make up the HVAC controls and provided excellent tactile quality.  New gauges comprise the driver’s instrumentation, and as gorgeous as they were, I had difficulty reading the speedometer.  The combination of red and white demarcations was confusing to read (maybe I’m just getting old). 

Front seats are surprisingly well contoured with large side bolsters usually found only on sports cars.  They were very comfortable and supportive, and almost as good as the ones on the recent ’13 Altima I rented recently.  The seats even had contrast white stitching; an odd combination with cloth seating material, but it suggests a premium design.  Rear seat legroom was adequate and more spacious than the Focus, although rear headroom was not.  I was only able to sit in the back with my head slanted to one side.  Trunk space was commodious with a wide opening and flat loading floor.

Of disappointing note were some features which I was expecting to find as standard trim, but were not.  For instance, headlights were still manually operated.  The steering wheel was devoid of buttons for controlling audio or cruise control.  There was only an AUX jack with no USB port.  (Even the diminutive Kia Rio comes with a USB port as standard equipment.)  Additionally, the infotainment “display” was the saddest excuse for a control screen.  I was expecting to see Dodge’s snappy 4.3″ touchscreen as standard equipment.  Instead, the Dart had a tiny display with seemingly last generation white text on black background.  It’s something I would’ve expected on the old Caliber.  My last complaint relates to the trunk release button being unobviously recessed beneath the dashboard and difficult to locate.

I also experienced an unfortunate electronic gremlin with the Dart that soured my rental.  Hopefully, it was just an isolated incident, but it was definitely concerning given that the Dart was nearly brand new with just 300 miles on the odometer.  On the second day of my rental, the speedometer suddenly stopped working.  On my way to return the vehicle the next morning, it miraculously came back to life again.  Additionally, the driver’s window screamed an almighty rattle each and every time I rolled down the windows.  If this were a pre-production car I might be more forgiving, but the Dart has already been in production for several months now.

In summary,  the Dart lacked the sportiness and “fun” factor that I felt in the Focus  Pricewise, the Dart competes with the base-trim Focus SE, but in rental fleets, you’ll find many very nicely equipped Focus SEL sedans for the same ICAR classification and rental price.  From my rental experience, the Focus SEL outclasses the Dart SXT. Ford wins this match, it seems.

I’m sure my opinion would change with the Dart R/T trim level sporting the Tigershark MultiAir engine, but it’s unlikely that rental agencies will be purchasing a top-of-the-line trimmed compact car.  On the whole, the Dart is a fantastic upgrade over the old Caliber, inside and out.

For more information on the 2013 Dodge Dart, please refer to the manufacturer’s website here:

http://www.dodge.com/en/2013/dart/

 

 

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