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Dodge Dart...Mid-Size Admin Sedan

Written by Police Fleet Manager Staff

Chrysler Group, LLC just introduced their first car designed and developed under the FIAT-Chrysler umbrella, the Dodge Dart. The Dart is not a compact car. The way the EPA classifies vehicles, it is in the mid-size class. The Dart is in the same mid-size class as the Fusion, Malibu, Avenger and Cruze. At 110 cubic feet of combined interior space and trunk volume, the Dodge Dart and the Chevy Cruze are exactly the same size.

 

Two Tigersharks, One Turbo

The Dart is available with three very different engines using three very different powertrain technologies—including arguably the most advanced fuel management system in the world. In an era of 300 hp V6 engines in mid-size and full-size sedans, a 160 hp 4-cylinder may seem small. And it is small for any patrol vehicle but frankly, it completely fills the bill for a police admin mid-size sedan.

The standard engine in the Dart is the 160 hp, 2.0L DOHC Tigershark I4. The two optional engines are the 160 hp, 1.6L Turbo I4 MultiAir and the 184 hp, 2.4L SOHC Tigershark I4 MultiAir II. All Dart engines are built in Dundee, Mich.

The two Tigershark engines, the 2.0L DOHC I4 and the 2.4L SOHC I4, are brand-new engines. Each uses 88 percent new, different or unique parts. Each uses an aluminum block with cast-iron bore liners and aluminum heads. The 2.0L Tigershark has nothing in common with earlier 2.0L Chrysler engines. The new engine uses dual, independent, variable valve timing on both the intake side and the exhaust side. Four cylinder engines are notoriously noisy with lots of vibration. Not so the Tigershark. Dual counter-rotating balance shafts eliminate the typical 4-cylinder vibration.

The 2.4L Tigershark, the obvious choice for police admin, has the same bore but longer stroke compared to the 2.0L version. The 2.4L engine also has an upgraded crankshaft, connecting rods and revised bearings. The new engine also has additional counterweights on the crank to improve durability and further reduce vibration.

The 2.0L I4 and the 2.4L I4 are both E85-compatible. The new engines carry a five-year/100,000-mile warranty. The oil change frequency is calculated based on engine rpm and engine temperature, and under normal driving conditions is set at 8,000 miles. The spark plugs on Tigershark engines are good for 100,000 miles.

 

Excellent 6-Speed Automatic

The Dart SXT 2.0L I4 with the 6-speed auto is the clear choice in this product line for police admin use. The 6-speed Powertech auto (6F24) is from Hyundai and built in West Point, Ga. Hyundai-Powertech has been building transmissions for passenger cars and diesel trucks for ages. The 6F24 is filled for life. It has no dip stick. It does not need a trans filter change or a trans fluid flush.

This is one of the most advanced 6-speed drivetrains we have driven. The Powertech 6-speed auto, and the downshift software, is awesome. A little throttle and you get a little downshift; a little more throttle and you get further downshifts; a lot of throttle and you get a lot of downshifts. The engine rpm and the trans gear selection are perfectly matched.

The Dart uses the six different gears to keep the overhead cam engine where it works the best. A lot or a little, the engine and trans act as one unit to provide whatever the driver wants. This just may be the best aspect of the new Dart! It is a 4-cylinder sedan that uses the 6-speed trans to be instantly responsive. Unlike most 4-cylinder powertrains, you don’t have to floor the gas on the Dart to get any response.

Far from “hunting” for the right gear, the Dart gets to the right gear quietly, smoothly with no fanfare, fuss or effort. Ever since the original “kickdown” linkage of the 1950s, the throttle was supposed to control the transmission. The Dart does this is a world-class way…seamless, responsive and impressive.

 

Watch the Trim Level

The base Dodge Dart SE comes standard with a 160 hp 2.0L I4 engine. Heads-up! The Dart SE also comes standard with a 6-speed MANUAL transmission. This might be the only mid-size, family sedan sold in America that doesn’t have an automatic transmission as standard equipment. It is an $1,100 (MSRP) must-have option.

At the base SE trim level, another must-have feature is OPTIONAL: air conditioning. Hard to believe! The SE also has manual door locks, manual driver’s seat, manual outside rearview mirrors and no cruise control. All of these, except the power seat, are part of the mid-level SXT trim package, a $2,000 (MSRP) adder. We take automatics and A/C for granted in any vehicle for admin use. Not so with the Dart. Don’t forget!

 

Driving Impressions

We drove three versions of the Dart: a Dart Rallye, 1.4L Turbo, 6-speed stick; a Dart SXT, 2.0L, 6-speed auto; a Dart Rallye, 1.4L Turbo, 6-speed auto. At 6 ft. 4 in., I had plenty of head and leg room, and plenty of shoulder and elbow room. Many compact and even mid-size cars have very limited elbow room, which simply adds to the agony and claustrophobic feel of most smaller sedans. Elbow room is good on the Dart.

However, this is not the car for uniformed patrol. With pronounced side bolsters on the seat bottom and seat back, the Dart is very comfortable wearing plain clothes, but there is simply no room on the left and especially the right for a full duty belt.

The biggest fault with most 4-cylinder sedans is a lack of throttle response. Combine that lack of low end torque with a Turbo or overhead cam design that needs to rev up, and “sluggish” is the best word to describe the response. Not so with the Dart. The Dart 2.0L I4 with 6-speed auto reached 60 mph in 9.9 seconds. That is just one second slower than the V8-powered Ford CVPI. The passing performance in both urban and rural scenarios is excellent.

The first gear in the 6-speed auto is very low…you will definitely feel a “launch.” From a stop, the Dart pulls hard, even sets you back in the seat a bit, especially for any kind of 4-cylinder. The first three gears quickly rev the engine up to 6500 rpm. By that time, you are way past any urban speed limit, or have easily merged onto any interstate.

The huge 5.5-gear ratio spread allows for a solid launch, easy passing performance, and low rpm cruising. First gear is a stump-pulling 4.21:1 while Sixth gear is a relaxed overdrive of 0.77:1. Dodge calls this a “closely aligned stepped shift schedule across all six gears.” In other words, it has an ideal gear ratio spacing. This trans is electro-mechanic-hydraulic excellence.

You don’t have to hammer the Dart to pass traffic on a two-lane road, and you don’t need a big-ole running start like you do in most 4-cylinder compact and mid-size sedans. Just give it whatever amount of gas you want for the situation. Double overhead cams, variable valve timing, and an instant selection of one of six gears will handle the rest.

It is hard to tell when the trans shifts from launch to highway speeds. It also means there are no sudden abrupt and jerking downshifts. The downshifts, especially at urban speeds, are subtle. You want the Dart to go a little faster, you give it a little gas, the trans downshifts a little, the engine revs up a little…and instantly, smoothly, you are going a little faster. No drama. No big deal. Very responsive.

 

Like an Alfa Romeo

FIAT used the C-US-Wide version of the platform for the Dart. The U.S. version is 1.5 inches wider and has a 3-inch longer wheelbase than the Italian version used with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Otherwise, the Dodge and the Alfa Romeo share the suspension: front MacPherson struts, twin-tube shocks, rear multi-link suspension, electric-boosted rack and pinion steering.

It may not be important in a police admin sedan that the car is a blast to drive…but the Dart is. The Dart has Alfa Romeo-like handling. The steering is quick. It is also lighter than you may expect at parking lot speeds. The electric motor-assisted rack and pinion remains precise and with a good on-center feel at all speeds. The ZF rack & pinion steering is straight from the Alfa Romeo. It has a good steering feel and feedback. The increase in steering effort is linear as the wheel is turned.

We put 3,000 miles on the Dart over a period of four weeks. It was all admin driving with an equal mix of heavily urban, urban, suburban, rural and highway with no idle time. During this kind of routine police admin use, we exactly hit the EPA Combined fuel economy rating. So, expect the 2.0L I4 with a 6-speed auto to average 27 mpg in your admin use.

The right question is not, “How well will the Dart serve as an admin sedan?” Instead, the right question is, “Should Chrysler have named their newest car the Dodge Dart?” Or should they have kept the name from the concept car—and an ancestry dating back to the famous Hudson—and called it the Dodge Hornet?


Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2013

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