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First Look: Dodge Dart

Automaker resurrects an old name for new compact with Italian bones.

by on Jan.09, 2012

The Dodge Dart is the brand's critical new entry in the compact segment.

Two thousand eleven was a huge year for Chrysler, but the automaker knows that it has to fill a huge hole in its lineup to succeed.

With that in mind, the automaker’s Dodge brand resurrected the Dart nameplate, putting it on a new compact which replaces the unloved Caliber in its lineup.

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Dodge President and CEO Reid Bigland said Chrysler increased sales by 43 percent in 2011, the largest increase for any automaker and far above the 11 percent recorded by the industry as a whole.

Dodge leaned on Italian partner Fiat for the the Dart’s platform which comes from Alfa Romeo.

It would seem that Dodge is trying to hedge its bets, offering three engine choices, as well as three transmissions in an effort to see what resonates with consumers.

Five trim levels, 12 exterior colors and 14 color and trim choices, six wheel options and five model trim levels, will give buyers thousands of choices to customize their vehicle. A reconfigurable instrument panel offers hundreds of customization options.

It will also come standard with 10 airbags and class-exclusive safety features including rear available cross-path detection.

As is becoming the norm these days, the Dart will offer several connectivity options. A downloadable cellphone app will allow owners to start their car and unlock it, and even locate it in a parking lot.

The Dart borrows a feature first seen in the Journey crossover – under-seat storage.

Bigland said the Dart may have compact dimensions on the outside, but it has midsize space inside.

Dart’s three four cylinder engines are:

-          Base 2.0-liter – 160 horsepower, 145 pound-feet torque,

-          Optional 1.4-liter – 160 horsepower, turbocharged using Fiat’s Multi-Air technology

-          Optional 2.4-liter – 184 horsepower, Multi-Air

Bigland said that while final figures are not yet available, Dodge expects the Dart to greatly contribute to the automaker’s efforts to reach government fuel economy standards. It will be rated at as high as 40 miles per gallon on the highway depending on engine and transmission choice.

The three transmissions are: six-speed manual, conventional six-speed automatic and six-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Some consumers have balked at the new dual-clutch automated manuals in other cars, so it would appear Dodge is hedging its bets with a traditional automatic in addition to the dual clutch.

Prices will start at $15,995.

The Dart will be built in Belvidere, Ill., where the Caliber is currently built.

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