The first Chrysler vehicle to be based on Fiat Group architecture, the front-wheel-drive Dart utilizes lengthened and widened Alfa Romeo Giulietta underpinnings; they're referred to internally as the "Compact U.S. Wide (CUS-Wide)" platform. The proper 'Merican-sized architecture features MacPherson struts up front (specifically tuned, Dodge says, to minimize camber loss for more responsive steering) and an independent suspension in the rear. Both front and rear suspension cradles are of a high-pressure, die-cast aluminum construction. The Dart, which is to be offered only as a sedan, rides on a 106.4-inch wheelbase and is 183.9 inches long and 72.0 inches wide.
The Dart starts production in the second quarter of 2012, initially with two engines: the so-called "Tigershark" 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder and a 160-hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged and intercooled four similar to the one found in the Fiat 500 Abarth. Both make 160 hp, but they have vastly different torque ratings; the 2.0 whips up just 145 lb-ft, while the 1.4 turbo will offer 184. A few months after launch, a 184-hp, 171 lb-ft 2.4-liter "Tigershark" four will come online. There's no word yet on a hopped-up SRT4 model (or even a Swinger variant for that matter).
Both the 1.4- and the 2.4-liter powerplants employ MultiAir technology, although the latter features the slightly revised MultiAir 2 system. MultiAir 2 is said to offer more efficient exhaust-gas recirculation by more precisely controlling the start and end of the valve events and extending the opening on the intake cycle. Darts equipped with the 1.4-liter turbo will have just one intercooler, as opposed to the two tinier units found in the Fiat 500 Abarth.
The 2.0 and the 2.4 Tigersharks are based on the previous units found in Chrysler's powertrain portfolio. In an effort to keep the passenger compartment free of extraneous engine noise?a massive problem with the Caliber?both have had their cylinder heads rotated 180 degrees, thus putting the noisy exhaust bits toward the nose of the vehicle and the less-raucous intake mechanicals toward the occupants.
The all-aluminum 2.0-liter is standard and the iron-block/aluminum-head 1.4-liter turbo is optional on the Dart SE, SXT, Rallye, and Limited models. The late-arriving, all-aluminum 2.4-liter will be exclusive to the R/T. All are to be built at the GEMA engine plant in Dundee, Michigan. Fuel-economy ratings have not been released.
Three Transmissions, Too
The standard transmission bolted to all three engines is a six-speed manual designed and built by Fiat Powertrain. The Chrysler Group's first dual-clutch automatic?a six-speed unit?is available only with the 1.4-liter turbo. A regular-style six-speed automatic is an option with all three engines.
Electrically boosted power steering with a ratio of 15:1 is standard, and is projected to provide a three-percent improvement in fuel economy over a traditional hydraulic system. The steering column tilts and telescopes, and preliminary results peg the turning circle at 38.1 feet.
Color-Me-Badd? Inside and Out
Twelve exterior colors will be available, including a few of the wackier Dodge finishes, including "Header Orange" and "Citrus Peel," ensuring that Mopar buffs on a budget?the car will start at $15,995, excluding a few hundred dollars for destination and delivery?will have no trouble finding an appropriate hue for their sensible transport.
Inside, drivers will be able to focus their eyeballs on no less than 14 interior and trim color options. Soft-touch materials and ambient interior lighting are said to offer an upscale feel. A variety of technology and luxury gizmos include an 8.4-inch UConnect Touch Media Center with voice recognition, an Alpine audio system, a full-color seven-inch TFT instrument cluster (the tach and speedo are analog), keyless entry and start, and a heated steering wheel.
Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and ten airbags?the most in class?come standard, as do electronic stability control and electronic roll mitigation. Vented rotors measure 12.0 by 1.1 inches up front; solid discs in the rear measure a comparatively diminutive 10.4 by 0.4 inches.