When staff photographer Patrick Hoey and I needed to drive to New Jersey for a photo shoot, I didn't think twice before signing out the Dodge Dart. The Dart hadn't ventured far from Ann Arbor since it arrived in December, and I wanted to see how it would deal with long-distance travel. The few staffers who had taken longer trips in the Dart, however, praised it as a high-speed cruiser.
Over the nearly 800-mile journey, the Dodge dispatched highway miles with an ease we expect from larger American sedans. The ride is comfortable, the cabin is quiet, and the navigation system is excellent. The wide, soft seats are pretty comfortable, even if it could do with more lower-back support to prevent fidgeting after a few hours on the road.
Leaving the turnpike for Pennsylvania's State Route 41 revealed one of the Dart's big downfalls. The hilly, winding two-lane road confounded the dual-clutch automatic. Sometimes the transmission stayed in sixth gear when climbing steep hills, making the engine surge and stumble as turbo boost built and fell. At other times, the transmission dropped two or three gears, only to slip the clutch for what seemed like an eternity when re-engaging sixth gear. Using the manual-shift mode helped, but that somehow defeats the point of paying for an automatic transmission.
After our stopover in southern New Jersey to drive a classic Buick (look for it in the August issue of Automobile Magazine), I decided to introduce our Four Seasons Dart to one of its ancestors, a 1972 Dodge Dart sedan.
Gene Donatiello paid $1000 to buy this 1972 Dart Custom sedan second-hand when it was six years old (it cost $3600 new) and has driven it nearly 90,000 miles since. It covered only a few thousand miles annually because Gene lived just one mile from the school at which he taught. He never planned on keeping the Dart for so long, but after sixteen years of daily use, he was too attached to sell it.
"I just like driving it," Donatiello says. "It's very reliable. It has the lightest power steering you ever tried."
These days, the ’72 Dart covers only about 1000 miles a year and wears a New Jersey historic license plate. Donatiello says the car has needed only mild maintenance, such as a new power-steering pump, new brakes, new tires, and a new radiator. He confesses, though, that driving a car without power brakes in modern traffic can be a harrowing experience. His daily driver is a Honda CR-V.
The name may be the same, but these cars have almost nothing in common. The 1972 Dart is rear-wheel drive and a full twelve inches longer than our front-wheel-drive 2013 Dart. Instead of a turbocharged four-cylinder and six-speed dual-clutch transmission, Donatiello’s car has a 3.7-liter Slant Six engine rated at 110 hp and a three-speed Torqueflite automatic. In other words, there's no clear lineage between these cars.
"They share a name and they both have four wheels, but that's about it," declares associate web editor Evan McCausland, whose first car was a 1975 Dart.
Before the 800-mile trip, we made sure the Dart was in top condition. The car went to the dealership for its first scheduled service, which involved an oil change and an inspection and was free under warranty. Next, we had the driver's-side rocker panel repaired. The panel was mysteriously dented during the winter -- no one ever fessed up to bumping anything -- and because the surface paint cracked, the panel started to rust and had to be replaced. Total cost: $684.37. It's an expensive mistake we hope not to repeat. Finally, we spent $100 to remove our winter tires and reinstall the factory all-season rubber on the Dart's 17-inch wheels.
We left the Dodge Dart in the capable hands of senior editor Joe Lorio, who will drive it around the Northeast for the next few weeks. Check back next month for his impressions on the car.