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 Dart proved to be a much-needed entry in US dealer showrooms.
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, this generation 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 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.
On the equipment front there are five trims to choose from - SE paired with the entry-level 2.0-litre engine, while the mid-range Aero model comes with the 1.4-litre petrol and the other three trims fitted with the 2.4-litre Tigershark motor. Entry-level SE models come with manually adjustable driver's seat, a CD player with auxiliary input and hill start assist as standard. Upgrading to SXT adds split-folding rear seats, rear arm rest, a trip computer, air conditioning and a six-speaker audio system, while Aero models get an 8.4in infotainment system complete with iPod and USB connectivity and a reversing camera.