Despite, or perhaps in response to, rumors that Fiat–Chrysler’s Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 sedan siblings could slipÂ into the ether due to disappointing sales, Dodge has announced a mid-year streamlining of the Dart lineup. The move reduces the number of trim levels from fiveâSE, SXT, Aero, GT, and Limitedâto just three: SXT Sport, Turbo, and GT Sport.
Based on the trim level names, Dodge clearly wants to project a sense of sportiness for the Dart family. The SXT Sport moves into entry-level position, starting at $18,990 and utilizing the outgoing SE model’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Although priced $1400 less than the outgoing SXT, the SXT Sport also gives up that version’s more powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic, and standard equipment is roughly on par with the old mid-level SXT. Air conditioning, Bluetooth, a USB port, SiriusXM satellite radio, and 16-inch aluminum wheels are all part of the deal.
To make life at the bottom more tolerable, Dodge is offering three option packages for the SXT Sport, including a Chrome Package (shiny trim for the grille and door handles, along with automatic headlights, fog lights, and 17-inch wheels), a Rallye Package (black grille, fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, full-LED taillights, floor mats, 17-inch wheels, and a rear anti-roll bar), and a Blacktop Package (black-painted grille, door mirrors, and 18-inch wheels, as well as fog lights,Â Â full-LED taillights, a sports suspension with a rear anti-roll bar, floor mats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel).
Sliding into the mid-level slot in the Dart lineup is the $20,490 Turbo, which uses the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine from the outgoing, fuel-economy-focused “Aero” model. To quote Dodge, this new Dart variant is chasing those who are proud to “save the manuals,” as it is only available with a six-speed manual transmission. This is a Dart we could get behind, if not for its laggy turbo engine, which we find isn’t very smooth in its power delivery and slightly overmatched by the Dart’s size and heft. At least there’s more torque on tap with the 1.4 than in the base Dart’s 2.0-liter, non-turbo fourâalthough the sameÂ 160 horsepower. Besides a turbocharger and a “Turbo” badge, the Turbo adds 17-inch wheels, dual exhaust outlets, a restyled hood, and black headlight and grille trim.
Finally, the Dart $21,990 GT Sport assumes the top spot for the latter half of 2016. This Dart uses the 184-hp 2.4-liter “Tigershark” four-cylinder engine (sans turbo) that powered the now-defunct SXT, GT, and Limited models. Again, a six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic is optional. Like the Dart Turbo, the GT Sport wears a “sport appearance” hood, 17-inch wheels, and black-accented headlights and grille. Additionally, it gets automatic headlights, projector-beam fog lamps, a proximity key with pushbutton ignition, heated door mirrors, a 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster display, an 8.4-inch touch screen, a backup camera, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Look closely at the starting prices for the SXT Sport, Turbo, and GT Sport and you see that just $3000 separates the least-expensive from the top dog, unlike before, where the Dart lineup stretched from $17,990 to $25,390. With the prices now so close, the biggest factor for buyers likely will be each Dart variant’s powertrain. The entry-level SXT Sport’s 2.0-liter doesn’t get particularly great fuel economyâjust 29 mpg on the highwayâand it’s not all that quick; the mid-level Dart Turbo’s 1.4-liter turbo, per EPA testing, can return 41 mpg highway but at the expense of a paucity of low-down power; finally, the sweet spot of the lineup has to be the top-spec GT Sport’s 2.4-liter, which mixes solid power with acceptable fuel economy.
Will the compressedÂ model array jump-start the Dart’s sales, which have stayed more or less flatâand far below segment sales leaders such as the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, and Chevrolet CruzeâsinceÂ the model was introduced for 2013? We’ll see when it goes on sale later this month.