2013 Dodge DartEnlarge Photo
That said, the Dart is no one-size-fits all compact sedan. With three different engines and three different transmissions offered—split over five different trims (SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited, and R/T)—it’s aimed to fit the needs of everyone from frugal small-car shoppers to those wanting an upscale compact or on-a-budget enthusiasts.
The sporty Dodge Dart R/T won’t be available until the fall. Likewise, Dart models with what will probably be the most fuel-efficient powertrain—the 1.4-liter MultiAir Intercooled Turbo engine and six-speed DDCT dual-clutch gearbox—probably won’t reach dealerships until September (Aero models, with their ratings of at least 41 mpg highway, are also delayed until then).
While the 2.0-liter models may be the volume seller of the line, it’s the DDCT that’s supposed to make an upscale impression and prove its mettle with the smooth, economical, and surprisingly strong 1.4T. And today we were among the first to drive a demonstration DDCT-equipped Dart.
Our first impression? This dual-clutch Dart doesn’t sound, react, or behave much if any differently than a standard automatic transmission.
Smoothness is the focus
To Roy Nassar, chief engineer for DDCT, that’s mission accomplished, as most American shoppers will want the unit to behave just like the automatics they’re used to, not the more attuned, enthusiast-honed device that dual-clutch gearboxes have the potential to be.
And really it’s no surprise that with the backlash that Ford experienced a year or two after introducing its Powershift dual-clutch transmission in the Fiesta and then the Focus (and with other small-car automakers, like Mazda, openly shunning dual-clutch setups), Chrysler engineers were wary, and wanted to get it right—with a more conservative tack on their unit.
Complaints regarding the Fiesta’s DCT in particular revolved around jerky, overly throttle-sensitive behavior at low speeds, although Ford seems to have fixed those issues through revised calibration. Early reviews also expressed frustration over how Ford didn’t allow full manual control over shifts when wanted by the driver.