"I would love to take this car on a road trip."
Staffers are warming up to the 2013 Dodge Dart after some four weeks of whining about its clunky dual-clutch automatic transmission. We didn't fully make peace with the dry-clutch gearbox, although we found good reasons to love our Four Seasons Dart SXT in spite of its drivetrain. For one, the affordable compact car swallows freeway miles in the best tradition of larger Detroit iron.
"The Dart was completely comfortable and felt like I was driving something that's a bit more than a compact sedan," deputy editor Joe DeMatio notes after a quick run to northern Michigan.
"It feels solid at speed and doesn't wander, and the seats are comfortable," senior web editor Phil Floraday adds. His Dart road trip was to Columbus, Ohio, nearly 200 miles from Automobile Magazine's Ann Arbor HQ.
Associate web editor Donny Nordlicht's 22-mile daily commute is mostly on the I-94 freeway. He appreciates the Dart's plush ride and pleasant interior. "The seats are great. I would love to take this car on a road trip, because I bet it'll just eat up the miles in comfort."
Notice how much we like those Dart seats? Copy editor Rusty Blackwell is our dissident: "They feel a little too soft and unsupportive for my tastes," he says. "The driver's seat cushion feels somewhat lumpy and uneven."
Staffers agree on exterior design. "It's pretty distinctive, especially by the standards of most compact cars," associate editor David Zenlea says.
It's a good kind of distinctiveness, Nordlicht adds. "The Dart is really attractive inside and out. The optional LED 'racetrack' taillights make it feel like a much more premium car."
Still, plush seats and snazzy design can't fully mitigate a lurching, reluctant powertrain tuned for fuel efficiency above power and smoothness. "There's a bit too much hesitation before forward progress begins with moderate throttle application, and the dual-clutch automatic certainly isn't up to the Volkswagen level of refinement," Floraday argues.
"If you want to pull away quickly, you'd better really push the accelerator because there's lots of turbo lag and the transmission likes to avoid first gear," Blackwell explains.
To make us feel better about the powertrain shortcomings, we engaged our local Mopar store in some shopping-spree therapy. A $76.60 set of slush mats replaced the ugly, ill-fitting custom rubber mats that we'd installed when the car arrived in December. A fitted rubber trunk mat with a big "Dart" logo cost another $76.60 and should make it easier to clean any spills. A new $39.80 cargo net prevents groceries from flying around the trunk when we drive the Dart like it's an Alfa Romeo. Check back next month to see if we can stop worrying about powertrain harshness and learn to love the fuel efficiency, and if warmer weather makes our disposition toward the Dodge even sunnier.