Despite continuing complaints about the unrefined dual-clutch transmission in our 2013 Dodge Dart, the sedan had its biggest month to date, racking up more than 3000 miles on weekend road trips to Chicago and to Lake Michigan.
We got a fresh, real-world perspective on the Dart when a friend of the magazine, Charley Sullivan, took it on a 500-mile round trip to Chicago. He was unfamiliar with this new model but not its name—which, like many Americans we suspect, he remembered from the long-lived Dodge Dart of the 1960s and 70s. The idea of rehashing those crappy compacts was not enticing, but after a few short hours on the highway, he began to come around. The first question was seating comfort. Would he be seeking out a massage therapist after the five-hour drive? “I’m pleased to report the Dodge Dart passed this test quite well,” he said. Memories of the 1970s receded: “The car handled easily; the cruise control was easy to use, and my new iPhone synced in seamlessly through the Bluetooth,” he said.
He was particularly impressed by the intuitive Uconnect touchscreen system and the sheer quantity of electronic gadgets provided for the Dart’s sticker price of $23,195. The navigation system was particularly impressive. “I know my way around the Windy City pretty well, but the navigation system showed an amazing little feature as I reached the southern edge of downtown, and needed to make a quick jog onto Lakeshore Drive. It started giving me pictures of the exits and merges I was fast approaching and needed to take, with very clear markings of which lanes I should be in. It was instinctive to follow, not to mention pretty cool to see the Sears Tower both in front of your window, and on the Nav screen simultaneously,” he remarked.
A sudden summer squall, with heavy rain being driven horizontal by gusts of wind, added another test on Chicago’s busy streets. But the Dart exhibited “easy, flawless handling,” and “great braking on the inundated streets.” Sullivan was grateful for the “superb wipers” although he would have welcomed one for the rear window.
Soon after returning from its adventures in Chicago, the Dart was scooped up by Jean Knows Cars associate editor Annie White for a trip to Michigan’s west coast. Most of White’s previous driving in the Dart had been on highways, so she was surprised by how confused the transmission can get when you’re not cruising at 75 mph. “We hit stop-and-go traffic on the way to the beach, and at several points the Dart seemed to downshift into first gear just in time to avoid stalling out in second, causing the car to lurch unpleasantly,” White said.
“Even my passenger, a definite non-car-guy, noticed this. I take this as proof that we’re not just being picky. This is a genuinely bad transmission,” she added. White is far from the first to complain about the Dart’s dual-clutch transmission, but many staffers are convinced that the 1.4L turbocharged engine is the hidden culprit.
The engine’s small displacement combined with a large turbo means that peak torque doesn’t arrive until upwards of 2500 rpm, forcing the transmission to constantly downshift in order to keep power on tap. Although a small displacement turbo engine and a dual-clutch transmission may be a bad recipe for a smooth powertrain, it does wonders for fuel economy. On her trip, White noted the Dart’s excellent cruising range as she covered close to 500 miles on a single tank.
After back-to-back road trips, the Dart was due for its second scheduled service. At 14,529 miles, the oil and filters were changed, and all four tires were rotated and balanced to quell a mild steering wheel vibration that we noticed on the highway. All maintenance was done under warranty.