2015 Dodge Dart Review

2015 Dodge Dart - Dart name returns with home-grown flavor


When Mitsubishi Motors announced earlier this summer the closing of its central Illinois facility, the number of Prairie State automotive assembly complexes dropped from three down to two for the foreseeable futre: Fiat-Chrysler Automobile's Belvidere plant adjacent to the Northwest Tollway in Boone County and Ford Motor Company's Torrance Avenue facility in Chicago.
Mitsubishi's closing of its sole U.S. assembly structure surprised few as the underutilized plant located in downstate Normal built fewer than 50,000 vehicles annually during the past few years. By contrast, Belvidere pumped out 342,552 units in 2014. While just one model rolled off the assembly line in Normal last year (the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport crossover) Belvedere generated three: the Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot (both of which share platform underpinnings) and this week's tester, the 2015 Dodge Dart sedan. Belvidere's three crews work four 10 hour days on two shifts for 120 production hours per week.
Dodge Dart, reborn in the 2013 model year, replaced the five-door Caliber as Dodge's entry-level offering. The Dart name graced Dodge dealers from the 1960s through the mid 1970's primarily as a two-door coupe.
A huge new 638,000 square foot body shop adjacent to the assembly facility opened in 2012 to welcome the soon-to-arrive Dart. Also, a 'Metrology Center' came online. Fiat introduced this 'study of measurement' concept used in Europe to minimize assembly-line downtime. In 2014, 82,511 Darts rolled off the line.
In 2009, Fiat and Chrysler began historic merger talks and by 2014 the former Chrysler Group became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fiat. At the end of 2014, Chrysler Group was renamed FCA US consisting of Jeep, Ram Truck, Chrysler and mainstream performance Dodge brands. Dart's return signaled the first major effort of shared engineering and technology between the merged partners.
Although marketed as a compact, the four-door 2015 Dart skews bigger, close to a mid-sizer. Case in point, the Dodge Rallye SXT tester failed to squeeze into a designated indoor garage slot carefully and painstakingly fitted for compact-sided vehicles (due to serious cluttering issues, not undersized building dimensions).
Largely a carryover from the2014 model year, a few notable updates in 2015 include: value-added tweaks to select option packages, the compact disc player now a stand-alone option and three new adjectively enhanced exterior colors: Passion Red, Laser Blue and Vitamin C Orange.
Three different four-cylinder engines are available to power Dodge's smallest product: a 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder cranking out 160 horsepower, a 2.0-liter four cylinder also delivering 160 horses and a 2.4-liter four cylinder with 184 horses. Only the 1.4-liter turbo engine recommends higher-grade 93 octane fuel. The remaining two get by just fine with 87-grade octane.
The trio of engines combine with five trims: entry SE, Aero, SXT, Limited and GT. The 1.4-liter turbo solely powers Aero while SE enjoys the 2.0-liter four banger exclusivity. The three remaining trims gear up for the 2.4-liter engine. All boast front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is not offered nor are gas-electric hybrid powertrains. Chevrolet's compact Cruze offers a diesel alternative which Dart has yet to explore. Six-speed manual transmission comes standard on all trims sans Limited. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on Limited and optional with other trims.
On the highway, the four-door Dart performed as expected. The 2.4 liter's subtle, specifically tuned engine growl reminds occupants of its working desires, not an overly muffled luxury tilt. Body sway remains minimal during aggressive turns.
Base price starts at a very competitive $16,495 for an entry SE, lower than domestic compacts from Ford (Focus) and Chevrolet (Cruze). Our SXT trim checked in with a $19,000 starting number. With a goodly number of options including enhanced 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen with Garmin Navigation ($595), Rallye Appearance Package ($595), six-speed automatic transmission ($1,250), upgraded stereo ($595), Satellite radio with one-year subscription ($195) and compact spare tire, the bottom line ended at $23,620 with $995 destination charge.
Our Rallye Package option, exclusive to SXT trims, included premium cloth seating, 17-inch hyper black aluminum wheels with all-season tires, a smoother-riding touring suspension dual rear exhaust, fog lamps and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. In-dash navigation while not available in SE remains optional in Aero, SXT and GT while standard in Limited.
Two faint vertical hood creases beginning near the center windshield gently skewing inward as both approach the front end with it's narrow, blackened cross-hair Dodge-like grille flanked by wrap-to-the-side headlight housing. The stout deck lid butts up against a large rear window trimmed by narrow C-pillars matching the sleekness of front A-pillars. Body-colored, strap-like handles adorn all four side doors. The SXT's artsy back end includes two rows of long-strung LED (light emitting diode) lights roped together at each end, illuminating in red when the sun goes down. Dodge aptly labels it the "LED Racetrack Tail Lamps."
Just about all Dodge, Chrysler and Fiat products include secondary (aka redundant) audio and station preset controls smartly designed behind the three-spoke steering wheel; a natural area for finger placement and rest when confidently grabbing the wheel. It's part of the well-executed Uconnect driver interface system.
Dodge's Uconnect touch screen is one of the largest available (8.4 inches) in a compact-sized vehicle, easy on the eyes and very intuitive when in use thanks to icons and words happily working in tandem. Good-sized, old-school twist knobs are available also to tweak sound and station presets. It's updated in 2015 to Android Smartphone compatibility for Bluetooth connectivity and USB adaptability.
Full disclosure; the last tested vehicle sported 'My Ford Touch,' a much maligned, short-lived audio/voice command interface thankfully retiring after the 2015 model year. After a week's worth of seemingly unnecessary multi-clicks just to change a station preset or squinting-and-scanning to visually locate an undersized 'home' screen icon, an in-car Victrola would seem a worthy advancement.
The front of the manually tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is home to cruise control buttons (at 3 o'clock) and scrolling commands for the multi-function instrument panel digital window (at 9).
Climate controls include a large dial for monitoring fan speed and push buttons sending temperatures up and down. To monitor fan direction, one must summon the Uconnect screen, select the well-marked climate selection and push the desired directional icon. Redundant temperature and fan speed touch controls are also accessible from this screen. The center console region gently skews toward the driver, but twist dials remain within reach of shotgun riders.
Front cloth bucket seats, with white stitching also found on the dashboard, manually slide fore and aft with the pull of an under-seat grab bar. Seating height remains constant, but is situated a bit higher than some compacts; nice for those on the seasoned side of 50. Dart's generous compact dimensions allow three riders in the back row, although head room may impact those more than 6-feet 2-inches. Seat back's fold down with a 60/40 split via pull straps along outboard edges leading to the decent-sized 13.1 cubic-foot trunk. Beware of curved, exposed goose-neck type hinges that may impact larger stored packages when closing. Dart includes 10 standard air bags, impressive for a compact-sized product.
At A Glance
2015 Dodge Dart
Price as Tested: $23,620
Wheelbase: 106.4 inches
Overall Length: 183.9 inches
Overall Width: 72.0 inches
Overall Height: 57.7 inches
Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder
Horsepower: 184
Fuel Economy: 23 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Five year, 100,000 miles
Assembly: Belvidere, Illinois

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.