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There is an awful lot of variety out there in the automotive world, as consumers can select from minute micro-cars to gigantic leviathan SUVs.
However, there is still a large segment of the Canadian population that just wants to put a small automobile in the driveway.
Canadians love small cars. This posed a real problem for Chrysler when the company chose to replace its venerable Dodge Neon (later SX 2.0) with a rather bland crossover called the Caliber for 2006.
The Caliber was a five-door hatchback that looked more like a station wagon, and it was the smallest and least-expensive model in the Dodge lineup until the arrival of the front-wheel-drive Dodge Dart in 2013.
While the Caliber was not completely awful, it did suffer from an incredibly noisy continuously variable transmission and a rather firm suspension. In short, it didn't appeal to those consumers looking for a vehicle with a comfortable ride and car-like handling. The decision-makers at Chrysler dropped the ball when they assumed that the market's love for SUV and CUV designs was strong enough to permit the loss of an entry-level automobile.
Judging by the number of Dodge Darts I see on a daily basis across Vancouver, it appears the sleek and attractive European-inspired sedan was just what Chrysler needed to invigorate the Dodge brand and attract budget-minded customers back to their showrooms.
For 2014, Dodge has added a sportier offering to the now five-model Dart lineup. The Dodge Dart GT has been conceived and packaged to appeal to a youthful audience, consumers who appreciate the act of driving as well as a healthy dose of curb appeal.
Unique exterior styling cues include a Hyper-Black cross-hair grille treatment, 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, projector fog lamps, body-coloured door handles, and underbody aerodynamic upgrades.
Under the hood resides the 2.4-litre Tigershark, an in-line four-cylinder MultiAir engine. This normally aspirated power plant produces 184 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque. The car comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, but a six-speed automatic is available as an option.
The car accelerates with authority and there is enough torque to keep you entertained as you make your way through the first three gears, but fourth, fifth and sixth are best left for cruising. With a little practice, runs to 100 km/h can be executed in just over eight seconds. I must admit it feels faster.
The car's engine is quite noisy, but not in a bad way. It can be a bit raucous when driven hard.
The GT is fitted with a sport suspension and a rear stabilizer bar to help hone the car's handling, but the steering is overly assisted, which makes it feel a little sloppy when cornering. Overall ride quality has been engineered more for comfort than handling precision.
When targeting younger buyers, it is important to both dress up the interior to impress and load the car with technological and entertainment goodies.
The design of the Dart GT's interior is a model of simplicity, but thanks to the use of high-tech displays, it manages to look very modern.
Seating surfaces are wrapped in supple leather, complete with high-contrast stitching. Interior door panels and armrests also benefit from a touch of leather, while the grab rails are edged in body-coloured accent trim.
The centrally mounted 8.4-inch LCD display is a touch screen design which serves as the command centre for Dodge's Uconnect multimedia system, as well as the screen for the rear-view camera system, and the optional Garmin-engineered navigation system.
The driver's cockpit area has been designed so all controls and switchgear are within easy reach and view. The innovative instrument cluster incorporates a seven-inch customizable display which permits the driver to change the look of the speedometer, as well as access information and control screens for a variety of other systems.
Dodge has equipped the Dart GT with an impressive list of standard equipment, but my test unit was also ordered outfitted with the Technology Group, which includes a host of high-end safety technology. This package seemed reasonably priced ($1,495) when you consider it includes rain-sensitive windshield wipers, HID headlamps with auto high-beam control, Dodge's park sense rear park assist, blind-spot and cross-path detection and an alarm system.
Audiophiles will also want to order the sun/sound group ($1,295) which upgrades the audio system to include nine Alpine speakers, including a subwoofer, and a 506-watt amplifier. A glass sunroof is also part of this package.
Adding a Garmin-engineered navigation system to the build sheet is also quite reasonable at $525.
There is seating for five in a pinch, but the rear passenger compartment is best reserved for two adults, especially if taller people occupy the front seats and have them set at the rearmost position.
The trunk, with a capacity of 371 litres, is spacious enough for a pair of golf bags. The rear seatbacks fold forward in a 60/40 split configuration to allow larger items to be transported.
I must admit for the most part I enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the Dart GT, but I also came away from the experience a little confused as to where this car fits in the marketplace. While the GT has the looks of a sport machine, it does fall short in the performance department when compared to most of its competitors in this arena.
On the plus side, however, it is a good-looking car with enough European flair to capture the interest of those looking to win points for fashion and style rather than lap times.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014