Nearly bankrupt just three short years ago, Chrysler has staged an unexpectedly strong resurgence, outpacing the overall US market’s turnaround month after month.
But there’s a big gap it needs to fill if it hopes to keep that momentum going, and the much-needed entry arrives in US dealer showrooms this month.
The reborn Dodge Dart saloon brings back to life a once-popular brand name, but the new offering is anything but retro.
It is, in fact, the first Chrysler product to share its foundation with the American firm's Italian partner, Fiat – the Dart using a modified version of the Alfa Giulietta platform, here widened by two inches to make room for corn-fed American posteriors.
Compared with the model it replaces, the new saloon’s handsome exterior styling is much more in tune with the market, with Dodge’s newly updated double-crosshair grille, a curvaceous, almost coupé-like roofline and the sort of broad hips and high rear shoulders that fit the muscular image the brand likes to portray.
The sumptuous interior – at least for its segment – is light years beyond the tacky, hard plastic cabins for which Chrysler has long been known and roundly criticised. If there’s a downside, it’s that the rear seats are a little too compact to accommodate three adults in comfort.
Unlike key competitors who generally offer a minimal mix of options, the Dodge features an extensive list including three different engines: a base 2.0-litre making 160bhp and 148lb ft, a turbocharged 1.4-litre 'Tigershark' using Fiat’s MultiAir technology to produce 160bhp and 184lb ft, and a 2.4-litre version of the Tigershark – coming later in the year – making 184bhp and 171lb ft. The 1.4-litre package is peppy, although you need to work the optional dual-clutch gearbox aggressively to keep it in its torque band.
A real surprise-and-delight feature is the electric power steering system, one of the few to actually feel like a well-tuned hydraulically assisted rack and pinion steering box. It encourages aggressive driving through the corners, a feeling underscored by the Dart’s MacPherson strut-style front suspension and trailing-arm independent rear axle.
It's a moot point if you live in the UK; the Dart won't be sold here. But as far as the US is concerned, while the new Dodge won’t send the Japanese packing, it serves notice that Chrysler is no longer intent on sitting at the back of the compact pack.
Dodge Dart Limited
Price $19,995 (£12,945); Engine 4cyls in-line, 1368cc, turbo, petrol; Power 160bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 2500-4000rpm; 0-62mph 7.8sec (est); Top speed 130mph; Gearbox 6-spd automatic or 6-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1447kg; Economy 38.9mpg (est); CO2 NA