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2013 Dodge Dart Limited review: proof that a compact can be fun, efficient and affordable

There was a point in time where buying a compact American sedan meant that you were driving a cheap, boring car but the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited shows how well the Chrysler Group has answered the increased demand for efficient and affordable compact vehicles that don’t skimp on the options – or the fun.

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The 2013 Dodge Dart enters the lineup following in a long line of pretty successful compact (known now as the C segment) options that included the Dodge Neon in the 1990s and the Dodge Aries in the 1980s. While there were vehicles like the Neon SRT4 that packed serious driving excitement, many of those drivers who have owned a higher volume Neon or Aries wouldn’t consider those cars to have been the most interesting to drive or to ride in. The Aries played a major role in Chrysler’s grown through the 1980s and having owned one; I can attest that it was a great affordable, reliable and efficient car. However, the interior was very bare even for the time and while efficient, the engine struggled to allow the little Aries to break the highway speed limit. The Neon was a step in the right direction in terms of driving excitement and fuel economy but across the span of the two Neon generations, the interior neither plush nor was it technologically advanced in any way. The Dart is a culmination of what the Chrysler Group has learned about the compact sedan over the past 30 years with the help of Fiat, combining a comfortable, high tech interior with a stunning exterior design and a drivetrain that makes it one of the most efficient and the most powerful compact sedan on the market today.

The Exterior
The American compact sedan segment was once one that was all about blending in but as more consumers of these affordable small cars have demanded vehicles with some real attitude and character, the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited offers an unmistakable exterior design. The Limited trimline is the top of the line option in terms of amenities so my test Dart is technically a luxury package and that begins on the outside with a splash of chrome that you don’t see on the Rallye model that I drove when the Dart was first launched. Luckily, Dodge was able to add some bling to the exterior without diminishing the sporty feel of the Dart and without making it look like said chrome was added as an afterthought to quickly dress up the exterior.

Across the front end, the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited features the same striking countenance as the entire Dart lineup with the slim, sinister crosshair grille but unlike the other compact Dodge sedans, the Dart Limited has crosshairs trimmed in chrome set in a gloss black mesh background. That chrome is echoed through the large projection headlight housings and in the gloss black projection fog light bezels while more gloss black mesh is found in the large lower grille opening. The front end is still clearly sport-minded in its design but the chrome grille and headlights work with the projection lighting setup to give this package a very upscale look. Chrome trim aside, the Dart Limited features the same bold, aerodynamic front end design with the high fenders giving this compact sedan a very sporty look.

Dodge Dart front end

Along the sides the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited wears the same 17 inch polished aluminum wheels that are standard on both the SXT and Rallye models but unlike those lower level trimlines, the Limited package adds chrome door handles with integrated keyless access buttons for the front doors. The greenhouse is set back a bit, presenting a long hood area that leads up to a quickly sloping windshield and a long roofline that makes for plenty of head room inside before swooping down across the back glass to give this sedan a fastback-like design.

Out back, the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited wears the distinct LED racetrack taillight that is – in my opinion – easily the best looking rear lighting setup in the segment. Set perfectly flush to the body lines and filled with gloss black through the middle, this taillight design is sporty and classy. When Dodge announced that they were adapting the LED racetrack taillight design from the Dodge Charger to the smaller Dart, I was concerned that it wouldn’t fit but the company has done a beautiful job with the back end design of this new compact sedan. This gorgeous taillight setup is tucked neatly under the sculpted trunk lid edge that creates a sort of “spoiler” to accentuate the sporty feel while the contrasting matte black lower rear fascia with the dual exhaust poking through each side furthers the performance minded design approach of this high end trimline.

Dodge Dart rear end

The compact sedan market in the United States has shifted towards far more aggressive, sporty looking models even in the more luxury-themed trimlines and the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited is a beautiful example of just how nice a C segment can be – without paying a fortune.

The Interior
Where the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited really shines is inside, where technology that has previously only been found in some of the priciest luxury cars in the US makes the Dart one of the most impressive cars in the compact sedan segment. Most notably, the Dart Limited comes standard with the huge 8.4L infotainment screen mounted high in the center stack and the 7 inch customizable thin film transistor (TFT) gauge cluster mounted in the floating island dash bezel. These are features that we have enjoyed in other vehicles including the Grand Cherokee SRT8, the Dodge Charger SRT8 and the new Dodge Durango but no other car in the segment offers these high tech goodies.

Dash of the Dodge Dart Limited

The 8.4 inch infotainment touch screen in the Dart Limited is similar to the setup used in the majority of Chrysler Group vehicles that offer such a system and with full controls of the sound system, the navigation, the heating and air conditioning controls, the hands free phone system and the vehicle settings. Also, there are steering wheel controls for both the cruise control and the sound system in addition to traditional knobs and buttons mounted below the touch screen for those who prefer to adjust the radio or climate control system without using the touch screen. These traditional controls are a bit abridged but this is a control system that caters both to those who want high tech and those who do not.

More significantly, the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited comes with the standard 7 inch TFT gauge cluster that is one of the best looking layouts in the world. The outer edges of the cluster hold a large tachometer on the left side and the fuel gauge on the other with the large adjustable screen mounted in the middle. With the buttons on the steering wheel, the driver can customize this large center section (shown above with the digital speedometer) with the Dart logo joined by what is playing on the radio (in this case, USB track #93), the outside temperature on the left and the compass direction on the right. This top area can also display things like fuel range, fuel economy and trip information. For the large central section (where the digital speedo appears below), the driver can also select an analog style speedometer with the growing flower design in the middle that shows fuel economy figures and serves as a sort of driving coach for the best fuel economy possible. As you drive more efficiently, new pedals grow on the orange and yellow flower while hard driving will make the pedals fall away. You can also pick a smaller digital speed readout with a long list of fuel economy readout options below for those who want to see fuel economy information without the bright colored flower.

Dodge Dart TFT Cluster

When it gets dark out, the interior of the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited continues to shine with a warm red glow permeating from around the edges of the “floating” gloss black dash bezel that runs across the driver’s side and middle of the dash. Combined with the red knobs and buttons in the lower portion of the center stack, the Dart Limited looks every bit as cool when the sun goes down and the lights go up. This is truly a remarkable gauge cluster in any modern vehicle but the fact that it is standard in the sub-$30k makes it that much more impressive. Lots of cars in the US auto market have these configurable TFT gauge clusters but none of them are compacts and none of them have a price under $30k. My Dart Limited test car carried an MSRP of $25,270 and that includes the upcharge for the 1.4L Turbo engine, the Dual Clutch automatic transmission, the$795 destination fee and a handful of interior options that are discussed below.

One of my favorite features of the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited is that while there is lots of high end, high tech content – leather is not standard. While I am a fan of leather seats, many people are not and some of those people are forced to accept leather seats if they want a loaded up interior. The Dart Limited allows you to pack this sporty compact sedan full of high end amenities without opting for the costlier leather seats. However, to dress up the interior a bit Dodge has made the leather wrapped steering wheel, the leather wrapped shifter, the leather covered center armrest and the leather trimmed door panels standard with the cloth seats. While there are other color options available, my Dart Limited test car was decked out almost entirely in black from top to bottom – with only a touch of silver here and there breaking up the blacked out interior.

In addition to all of the standard high tech goodies in the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, my test car was fitted with the Technology Group package, the high end UConnect system with Garmin GPS navigation and Sirius satellite radio. The only interior features not included in my Dart Limited test car is the Premium Group package which adds heated leather seats, a heated leather steering wheel, remote start and a universal garage door opener.

Dodge Dart front seats

Gadgets aside, the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited offers a ton of elbow, head, leg and knee space for the driver and front passenger with equal amounts of elbow and head room in the back seats – especially if you only have two people in the back seat. The Dart is a little tight on leg room for taller rear riders but even with the front seats moved all of the way back, children can comfortably fit in the back seat. It is a little tight for adults in the back seat when the front seats are pushed back but with the front seats adjusted to comfortably seat a 6 foot tall driver and front passenger – two adults can get comfortable in the back seats.

The 2013 Dodge Dart Limited shows that you don’t have to pay $50,000 for a sedan that has this incredible level of interior content. The high end infotainment system and a customizable TFT gauge cluster are previously unheard of in this affordable compact sedan segment but Dodge has integrated these features into a gorgeous, roomy interior that can take on the likes of the biggest luxury brands in the US – with a price well under $30k. No longer does driving an affordable American compact sedan mean that you have to suffer with a boring, bare interior. The Dart Limited has been recognized as one of the nicest interiors in both the segment and the industry for a good reason.

The Drive
MY 2013 Dodge Dart Limited test car was fitted with the 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine sending 160 horsepower and 184lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via the optional 6-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. This makes the Dart one of the most powerful cars in the class (rivaled only by the Ford Focus ST) and just as importantly – the Dart is among the most efficient cars in the segment. Dodge and the EPA expect that this drivetrain will allow the Dart Limited to achieve 27 miles per gallon around town and 37 miles per gallon on the highway with a combined figure of 31mpg. During my time with the Dart, I averaged just under the expected number with a real world number of 30.6 miles per gallon. However, I drove the Dart harder than I would expect the average compact sedan driver but when cruising casually on the highway – I was able to meet or exceed the 37mpg figure on the highway when running slightly above the posted speed limits. Mind you, I live in a fairly flat area with very little traffic so I got great fuel economy around town and on the highway when driving reasonably…although my spirited driving sessions prevented me from reaching the expected combined fuel economy numbers.

The fuel economy of the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited is great but so is the fuel economy of plenty of other cars in the segment. Where the Dart really excels is the driving dynamics thanks to the power of the spunky little turbocharged Fiat engine. Even with the dual clutch, the Dart will put a spin to the front tires before accelerating hard through the gears. A manual transmission would be my first choice but the dual clutch automatic provides crisp, precise shifts that are refreshing compared to the lazy slushbox automatics found in many self shifting compact sedans. Also, while the shifts are very crisp under hard acceleration, the DCT shifts smoothly and quietly when driving gently so the dual clutch offers the best of both worlds in terms of smoothness and precision. Acceleration is slowed just a touch by the quick spool time of the 1.4L engine but once the air and fuel are being rammed into the engine – the Dart will accelerate hard throughout the powerband without any hesitation. It is one of the most powerful cars in the segment and that translates to being one of the quickest and fastest cars in the segment so for those who want an efficient compact sedan that offers great fuel economy and a really great driving experience, the Dart fulfills those needs better than any car in the segment.

Dodge Dart Limited side

Finally, in addition to accelerating hard, the 2013 Dodge Dart Limited offers a great blend of handling and ride quality. This is a compact sedan that you can toss into a tight turn while cutting through back country roads with a great response from the suspension and steering system while still packing a nice, smooth ride when cruising down the highway – even when soaring at higher speeds through long, gradual turns. The Dart is smooth and confident while being driven hard but for those who arent into that sort of thing, the Dart is also remarkably smooth. Very little of the “road noise” is transferred through the suspension or steering and while you do get some wind noise at highway speeds, the Dart is one of the more welcoming, pleasant compact sedans on the market on a short run across town or a three hour drive to visit grandma.

The Final Word
The 2013 Dodge Dart Limited is at the top of the compact sedan segment in pretty much every way with the most power, the best fuel economy and the most well equipped interior I have seen from a car of this size and price class. The Dart offers technology that is unrivaled by any other compact sedan available in the US and enough power to make it one heck of a lot of fun to drive – without compromising fuel economy that is among the top of the class as well. If you want a compact sedan that will realistically seat four adults in an environment packed with high tech goodies while also providing a great driving experience – the new Dodge Dart has to be on your short list of cars to drive before you make your next new car purchase.

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