2015 Dodge Dart GT

Can the tight-cornering Fiat-inspired Dodge corner a crowded market?

The Dart has had a bit of tough time of it since its debut. An unfortunate name, styling that resembles the much maligned Neon, and an odd combination of medium-to-large car exterior with tighter than expected interior dimensions have kept it from achieving competitive sales against tough competitors.

The GT version might best be described as the “warm” version of the Dart, as it isn’t as overtly sporting or thrilling to drive has hot hatches like the VW GTI or Ford Fiesta ST. But in many ways this Dodge is a very pleasing companion. Its exterior stance and proportions are nice, and the blacked out trim and chunky footwear give it a decent stance. Inside, many of the moldings are soft-touch where the competition is hard plastic, and there are loads of “big car” features like a heated steering wheel, remote start, configurable instruments and the responsive 8.4-inch UConnect interface. The seats are comfortable while cruising but not grippy enough to hold one during hard cornering—and the Dart can corner.

Riding a platform related to some of the European cars that are part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) empire, it is flat and composed, with a modicum of steering feel and a commendable resistance to early understeer. This is combined with really nice ride quality, a pleasing surprise given the GT’s low profile 18-inch tires. Brake feel and power are good too, meaning that dynamically the Dart is competitive with such cars as the Honda Civic and Chevy Cobalt and superior to the Toyota Corolla. But there is none of the interactivity of the Ford Focus, VW Golf or GTI, nor the Mazda3.

The powertrain certainly doesn’t help. A 2.4-liter version of the company’s “Tigershark” family, there is none of the fire one might expect given its name. 184hp and 174lb-ft are adaquite numbers, but simply wont shift the Dart’s bulbous body as quickly as the turbocharged mills in many competitors; it is also harsh when used in anger. Likewise the “Powertech” six-speed automatic; which, while fine in normal use, has none of the directness of the Mazda’s Skyactiv auto or the twin-clutch tranny in the VW. EPA ratings are on the low side of the class, as is real-world economy. Acceleration is also underwhelming for the Dodge brand, which is trying to build itself a reputation as FCA’s performance division.

The Dart has many pleasing personality traits: it rides well, is quiet and refined (except when you extend the engine towards redline), the transmission is unobtrusive, and it is loaded with lots of nice features for a quite reasonable sticker price. Keep expectations in line and it will satisfy, but when judged as the sportiest model in the lineup, the GT comes up wanting, with little of the breeding that separates the merely good from the truly compelling. Bring on a Dart R/T.

EPA ratings: 22/31mpg; 26mpg combined

0-60mph: 8.2 seconds

Price as tested: $24,680

Here is what Dodge has to say.