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July 22, 2013

New-for-2013 Dart takes Dodge down an Italian path

(Continued)

While this car's handling is spectacular — as you would expect from an Italian-based design — its cabin is more of a mixed bag.

It gets a few things wrong, like a hard plastic texture on the center stack that is vaguely reminiscent of the old Dodge Neon, and seats that feel a bit too high for such an otherwise sporty car.

But it gets several things very right, too, starting with the dimensions. It's a compact car that doesn't seem all that compact, with an impressively spacious back seat and ample shoulder and head room.

Its digital displays in the higher-end models are among the best of any car, at any price. The Dart Aero and Dart Limited both get Dodge's reconfigurable cluster display that gives a high-tech, customizable look for the gauges directly behind the steering wheel. It's a gorgeous, practical, advanced-looking setup that I suspect more cars will be copying in the years to come.

If Dodge is aiming to be Chrysler's fun-to-drive brand, this car will do the job. It just does so in a low-horsepower, lightweight, Italian-style way rather than the high-horsepower, heavyweight, American-style way.

It's a very different, fresh version of the old Dodge formula.

Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at carcolumn@gmail.com.

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