2013 Dodge Dart Limited - "Oh...AaaL!" - Review

Dear Al Bundy,

You were a whipping post for your prima donna wife and whining kids on TV's "Married With Children." The good Lord didn't give you the biggest helping of brains. But he did give you a mother-in-law, named Wanker, whose movements in the upstairs of the house cracked drywall. You triumphed for working-class America, if not always her best qualities. Even if your good-times came at the expense of others. At the end of the day you plopped down on the sofa in front of the TV slipping your hand inside your pant front to announce that you had some "manhood" remaining.

For further humiliation you were stuck with a mid-1970s Dodge coupe. (Actually it was a Plymouth Duster.) The one which rarely ran.  You defended the Dodge while your neighbors flaunted their European luxury cars. Was it because your not-too-swift offspring were conceived in the backseat? You ineptly fell asleep inside your Dodge and let it roll down the driveway, exceeding the 500,000 mile mark before Chrysler came to take it in trade for that new Viper.

As fellow Chicagoans, "Drive...He Said" wanted to audition the all-new 2013 Dodge Dart small family sedan just for you, Al Bundy. Resurrected after 37 years you might not recognize it. Except for 1970's Plymouth Duster rear bar tail lights...now glowing in burnt orange LED. Don't let the fact that the new Dart is built on a FIAT Compact C platform get the "NO MAAM" gang commencing with the  "Fix It Again Tony" stereotypes at their Bundy garage meetings. Because it's assembled right here in Belvidere, Illinois in the "Good Ole U.S. of A."

The tapered exterior pf the 2013 Dodge Dart strikes a balance between the monolithic (Volkwagen Jetta) and busily sculpted (Hyundai Elantra). Included active grille shutters help cheat the wind to the tune of a low .29 cD of drag.

Aiming for the Ride-Handling Bulls-Eye:

Damped unlike any Alfa-Romeo Giulietta, the new Dodge Dart was  tuned for American tarmac. Front struts and rear quad-links barely sneeze at midwestern byways. Body roll is just perceptible when cornering hard.  Optional 17" mirrored wheels with all-season 225/45 Continental ContiPros favor quiet and fuel economy over dry grip. Electric steering assist requires higher effort, but isn't very variable. Four-wheel disc brakes are padded for modest  response to initial pedal travel. Not that this non-SRT version will be likely to visit a pista anytime soon.

Hitting the Scales:

The last non-electrified sporty compact sedan that floored us with impressive fuel economy was the 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv . There's a similar laggard-off-the-line throttle when the  Dodge Dart is fitted with the base 2.0L DOHC inline-four glued to a 6-speed autobox. Dart delivers a whopping 29 miles-per-gallon in enthusiastic hands like ours.

What about the 300-pounds more the Dart carries over the Focus? The Dodge Tigershark matches the Ford Duratec's 160 horses and bests its twist by two with148lb-feet. With a 6-speed [Hyundai] automatic transmission seeking out the highest gear, the Dart's needs 9+ seconds in the quest for 60 miles-per-hour. Overtaking a Focus on the roll? Say a prayer.

That extra Dart mass is evident in reflexes slower, but less twitchy than in a Mazda3. The brakes lose friction in a big way as the pedal nears the firewall.  But there is a fortress level of insulation against exterior noise.

Yes MA'AM:

American families and the Bundy's (not always synonymous) will hoot about inside the new Dodge Dart. Front buckets swathed in leather are an enthusiast's Barcalounger. Throngs of lateral and thigh support here, just plush enough to enjoy the ride. Well for "No MA'AM buddy Big Bob Rooney it would be a tight squeeze. Al can store his copies of "Big Uns" in the convenient storage cubby under the front passenger cushion. The helm tilts and telescopes and the center armrest slides. Yet the dash-top  looms as large as a lake. Rotary dials thoughtfully come in size AARP. The optional voice-commanded 8.4" U-Connect touch infotainment in the Dart is a Jumbotron in this segment.

Two extra inches in wheelbase over the Focus implies a generous 35"-inches of legroom in back. The US EPA says the 2013 Dart's interior volume + trunk volume = 110.3-cu.ft. = Midsize.

At night our Dodge Dart Limited's gauge cluster and instrument panel were circled in a seamless outline of red LEDs. Rivaling the light show at the Jiggly Room.

"Freshman folly" inside the 2013 Dodge Dart? Door arm rests are comfort-challenged. Some of the stalks and more minor switches feel brittle. Visible dashtop and door speaker grilles have this incongruous wavy pattern. They skimped on trunk upholstery. Though the lid of the expanding 13 cu-ft trunk opens with a waft gentler than in most BMWs.

Past the End Zone:

Al Bundy hasn't scored a touchdown since the infamous four from his Polk High days. Dodge has faced a similar drought with small family cars. With the 2013 Dodge Dart it's finally raining. Chrysler-Fiat has realized that even at a base price of $15,995, your "average [and not so average] Al" deserves high build-quality and personality in their wheels.  Sure they'll need to sell a few more Ferragamos to splurge the $25K on our loaded Limited version. So AaaL, here's to your first 500,000 miles in the new Dodge Dart.

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