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2016 Dodge Dart
New Car Test Drive

Introduction

The Dodge Dart boasts distinctive styling, a spacious interior with abundant features and strong safety ratings in a compact sedan. The Dart has established a solid reputation, competing against such long-standing models as the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, and Toyota Corolla. The Dart offers a choice of three engines.

The Dart, a front-wheel-drive sport compact, joined the Dodge lineup for the 2013 model year. For 2016, a new Sport Appearance Hood is optional for Dart GT and Dart SXT models with either a Rallye or Blacktop package. Otherwise, the Dart carries over largely unchanged. The Dart name dates from the 1960s.

We have found the Dart drives well and delivers on the promise of sporty handling. The base engine lacks any spirit and does not live up to the sportiness of the rest of the car, however. The Dart Aero model offers excellent fuel economy when cruising on the highway, but gas-mileage figures for the rest of the lineup are not compelling. Drivers get a good seating position in the Dart, but road noise and tire noise are prevalent.

The standard engine for the Dodge Dart is a 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy for the base Dart SE with the 2.0-liter engine and manual gearbox is EPA-rated at 25/36 mpg City/Highway, 29 mpg Combined; with the automatic it’s 24/34 mpg, or 27 mpg Combined.

A better choice is the 160-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter engine that comes with Dart Aero models, matched to either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a dual-clutch automatic transmission. While horsepower is the same as the 2.0-liter, the turbocharged engine offers more torque, which propels the car more briskly from standing starts. The Dart Aero manages an EPA-estimate of 28/41 mpg City/Highway, that highway figure being particularly impressive.

Most powerful is the Dart SXT, GT and Limited sedans get a 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine. The Dart Limited with automatic transmission is EPA-rated at 23/35 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined.

The Dart earned a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA’s top score. The Dart also earned Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That combination of crash-test scores makes it one of the highest-rated cars for safety in this class, topped only by the Honda Civic.

Model Lineup

The 2016 Dodge Dart comes in five trim levels:

Dart SE ($16,695) has the 2.0-liter engine, with 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes cloth seats with mesh inserts, Uconnect four-speaker radio with CD player, and 16-inch steel wheels. (All prices are MSRP and do not include $995 destination charge.)

Dart SXT ($19,000) uses the 2.4-liter engine and manual or optional automatic transmission. Upgrades include LED taillamps, automatic headlights, cruise control, six-speaker radio, Uconnect voice command with Bluetooth, and 60/40-split folding rear seat.

Dart Aero ($20,495) gets the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and 6-speed manual or optional dual-clutch 6-speed transmission. Standard are a chrome grille, 8.4-inch touchscreen, configurable gauges, rearview camera, and 16-inch aluminum wheels.

Dart Limited ($23,795) has the 2.4-liter engine mated with the 6-speed automatic. Included are a touring suspension, dual-zone automatic climate control, Nappa leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, SiriusXM radio, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.

Dart GT ($21,995) adds a frequency-sensing sports suspension, performance steering and gear ratios, pushbutton start, rearview camera, and 18-inch wheels.

Safety features on all models include 10 airbags, along with basic electronic safety systems. Blind-spot alert and cross-traffic detection are options.

Walkaround

With its wide stance and seemingly low cowl, the Dodge Dart looks more substantial than some other models in its class.

Like the larger Dodge Charger sedan, with its chunky, spirited appearance, the Dart suggests a sense of dignity and seriousness that isn’t always present in an affordable model. A long, smoothly flowing roofline and low fender tops help differentiate Dart from the more boxy look of a Cruze or Focus.

Interior

Inside, a flowing dashboard builds upon the sporty-looking exterior. Upper-level models feature an 8.4-inch display that handles navigation, climate, and audio controls. A smaller screen, offering vehicle information, sits between gauges.

Unlike some compacts, the Dart is amazingly spacious. In some ways, it’s virtually a midsize sedan. Seats are comfortable in both the front and the rear. Considering the Dart’s profile, the seating position is higher than you might expect.

For a relatively low-priced compact, the cabin appointments come across as warm and inviting. Just about everywhere you’re likely to touch, the surfaces feel soft and coordinate neatly with the details of the dashboard. Large swaths of textured plastic detract from potential elegance, however.

Outward visibility is impressive. That’s not such a common appraisal in this era of strengthened roofs.

Driving Impressions

Engine choice determines whether a Dart behaves like a sporty car or an economy machine. Performance is not always as inspiring as exterior styling suggests.

Darts are heavier than most compact sedans, so the standard 160-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder can result in sluggish response when merging into heavy freeway traffic, especially on an uphill ramp while heavily loaded. Even when simply rolling down the highway with friends or family aboard, lack of energetic reactions can be noticeable. On the plus side, the 6-speed automatic transmission that most buyers select does a great job of choosing the right gear at the right time.

Pick the turbocharged, 160-horsepower 1.4-liter engine and, despite identical horsepower, you’ll quickly notice additional torque, resulting in better acceleration and a sportier, more responsive driving experience. Even with the turbo, though, you’ll have to keep your foot firmly pushed into the accelerator pedal much of the time, to make those pleasing actions take place. In part, that’s because the transmission is geared tall, to keep the engine revs low at highway cruising speeds, which helps fuel economy. That translates to less-exuberant performance while acceleration toward higher velocities.

If you’re willing to relinquish a few miles-per-gallon, we believe the best option in the lineup is the 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which is standard in SXT, Limited, and GT models. In SXT and GT, the 2.4-liter is available with either a manual gearbox or an automatic transmission, while the Limited is automatic-only.

Summary

With three engine choices and three transmission possibilities, the Dart has several personalities. Although the Dart is hardly a sports sedan, it demonstrates more sportiness in both appearance and behavior than many shoppers might suspect.

Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.


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