2013 Dodge Dart long-term update: A small car for the rest of us

Motoramic Contributor

As a larger guy—6’2” and comfortably north of 200 lbs.—the notion of small cars yet comfortable cars felt forever out of reach. I wedge into Japanese subcompact cars, reflexively slamming the driver’s seat all the way back and keeping my elbows tight. So thank you, Dodge, for the Dart’s generous interior dimensions and the plush, and wide front seats. Hips and shoulders fit with ease and I don’t fight my passenger for elbow space on the armrest. No need to worry about small car safety either; the Dart scored top marks in the IIHS crash tests, only eight out of 37 small cars tested can claim this, and the ever popular Corolla and Golf are not among them.

As my daily driver for the past month I’ve found the Dart’s mid-sized deception goes beyond interior space. There is something reassuringly solid about this car. The door shuts with a resounding thud matching my last BMW, sound insulation is superb at highway speed, and the huge 8.4-inch navigation screen is the same size found in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Other subcompacts have shrunken steering wheels (*cough* Corolla), but I love the Dart’s thick and sporty grip.

The Dart has enough of a sporty image to avoid the stigma of a bland compact commuter. I still find myself catching looks at the front and back whenever I approach the car, and think springing for the 18” wheels would really complete the whole look. Our deep red Rallye model with its aggressive front end has serious personality and is easy to spot among the sea of silver Toyotas at your local parking lot.

Our recent cold weather snap has brought about a creaky steering noise first thing in the morning. I’ve also found the cabin heater to be slower to come up to temp than other cars, though this could be isolated to the 1.4-liter turbo engine. I’ve complained before about the dual clutch transmission’s performance but this month I have some praise to balance the equation. I spent a weekend as tour guide in San Francisco and performed countless nightmare hill starts — grades of 25%+ with three adult passengers. The transmission did not allow the car to roll backwards, and provided smooth and progressive power.

We’re looking forward to enjoying the Dart on some long trips over the upcoming holidays. We’ll be doing more cold weather testing and hopefully some snow testing as we approach 17,000 miles. Stay tuned for more updates.