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First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart

Shifting the balance of power in the compact class.

by on Apr.30, 2012

Coming at you - Dodge redefines the American compact car with the help of its partner, Fiat.

With its unexpectedly strong first-quarter earnings it’s no wonder Chrysler officials have been crowing about the turnaround of a company that was bankrupt just three short years ago.  Those profits have largely been driven by a surge in demand for models ranging from the midsize 200 sedan to the big Jeep Grand Cherokee.  But there’s a gaping hole in the Chrysler corporate line-up that the maker must fill if it hopes to keep that momentum going.

To plug that gap the Dodge division is getting an all-new compact sedan for which the maker curiously decided to revive an old nameplate, the launch of the 2013 Dodge Dart brings back a once-formidable badge last used in 1976.

That means there are perhaps two generations of American motorists who have, at most, vague memories of that nameplate.  As for older Baby Boomers, well, the original Dart was popular enough in its heyday but, like so many American models of the 1970s, it had serious issues by the time Dodge dropped it from the line-up.  So, gaining traction for an all-new Dart will clearly be a challenge, especially with Dodge aiming at two distinctive audiences: young buyers starting up a family and older empty nesters.

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But spending a couple days with several late pre-production models convinced TheDetroitBureau.com that Dodge has nailed the needs of compact customers – enough to pose serious challenges to the segment’s traditional Japanese leaders. That’s especially true when you consider that Dodge will offer five different versions of the new Dart, with six powertrain combinations – including one bumping up to “41-plus” mpg – 14 color and trim packages, three different wheels and 100s of customizable options.

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