We're only one month into our year-long test of a 2013 Dodge Dart, and already the logbook has a contentious mix of accolades and annoyances. Things may settle down once we accumulate more miles, but for now our Four Seasons Dart is off to a rough start -- in more ways than one.
Every driver thus far has complained about the rough, noisy shifts from the dual-clutch transmission. Compared with the smoothness of a conventional torque-converter automatic, the Dart's transmission lurches when the car slows to a stop and then pulls away. The owner's manual promises that the transmission becomes smoother over time as it breaks in properly, and we hope it happens sooner rather than later.
"Calling the engine coarse is an understatement."
"The 'clunk' when downshifting to first gear was so loud, my passenger was convinced that I'd run over something in the road," said managing editor for digital platforms Jennifer Misaros.
The 1.4-liter turbo-four engine didn't escape criticism, either. Tepid low-end power delivery and lackluster sound disappointed drivers who were expecting a smoother, quieter powertrain. "Calling the engine coarse is an understatement, and you really have to keep on the throttle to get the Dart moving with any urgency," said Misaros.
Managing editor Amy Skogstrom echoed Misaros's frustrations with the engine and transmission: "I had to make a conscious effort to keep my speed up in the Dart. The engine sounds coarse, and I experienced occasional hesitation and jerkiness in the transmission."
Despite the gripes, staffers are finding plenty to like about our Dodge sedan. For one, the Uconnect touchscreen earned praise for its simplicity and clarity. "The screen is large and legible, it's easy to use, and the rear-view camera is especially clear," said Skogstrom. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio also lauded the ease with which he could connect his phone to the system via Bluetooth.
Others have praised the roomy trunk and rear seats, with Misaros suggesting the supportive front seats "feel like they belong in a more expensive car." The passenger seat received extra applause for offering height adjustment, a rare inclusion on cars in this segment and price range.
We continue to be pleased with the Pirelli Sottozero Serie II tires we installed to cope with cold weather; they gave DeMatio enough traction to climb his rollercoaster-like driveway after a five-inch snowfall. Thankfully we haven't noticed excessive droning or mushiness at highway speed, unlike some other winter tires we've used.
With hopes that either the dual-clutch transmission will quiet down as it breaks in, or that we'll simply get used to the noise, we haven't written off our Dodge Dart just yet. Check back in a month's time to see whether or not we have acclimated to the transmission's uncouth nature.