Posts Tagged ‘cars’

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The Return of the Dodge Dart

May 22, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

 

It’s back.

The Dodge Dart, the popular, stylish little car that zipped along the roadways and was a favorite of millions of American motorists a generation (or two) ago, is being reintroduced  as the first American designed and made small car of the rejuvenated Fiat-Chrysler partnership. The Dart is a long awaited venture for Chrysler, which merged with Fiat during bankruptcy to combine their respective strengths: Chrysler design, and the Italian company’s experience with small cars.

But why name it Dart, after a car which was ubiquitous following its introduction in 1960 and sold to more than 3.6 million motorists before being was retired in 1976? And while there are souped-up Darts running on modern drag strips, those are old shells with modern innards.

“It was really the best name out there,” explained Ryan Nagode, the chief interior designer of the 2013 Dart. “We tried a lot of names – names we made up, names we borrowed, letter combinations, letters and numbers –you name, it we tried it. But in focus groups of all ages, the Dart was the most popular.

“For older drivers, they remember the Dart fondly from their younger days. And for the young drivers, who weren’t around back then and had no idea of the old Dart, they thought the name was cool. It implied it was slim and swift and aerodynamic and they liked it. It’s the only name that appealed to both groups – older and younger drivers. So we went with it and brought the Dart back.”

Perhaps he’s right.

“I loved my Dart!” exclaimed Marilyn Elie, a retired, Westchester County, elementary school librarian, who owned the car when she started her career some 40 years ago. I would talk to it, sing to it, and it never failed to start for me and take me everywhere.  It worked for me long past the time when everyone said it was too old and should be traded in.

“Then I went away for a while and didn’t talk to it and by the time I came back, it had quietly died. I still miss it.”

The new Dart is not simply a reprise of the original, in the way that the current Ford Mustang—with an updated engine and electronics – is stylistically reminiscent of the best of that breed from the ‘60s. It is built on the platform of the midsized Alpha Romeo, which gives it the closer wheelbase and turning radius of a compact car, while its interior space is slightly larger than that of the popular, mid-sized, Hyundai Sonata and Chevy Malibu.

Under the long, sloping hood, the Dart’s power plant comes in three, performance flavors:

  • Rallye: 2.0-liter , aluminum engine cranking out 160 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque; and Rallye, sportier 1.4-liter turbocharged engine producing 160 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.
  • Limited: For an additional $1,300 Dart lovers can get a sportier model with a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged, aluminum engine producing the same 160 horsepower, but jumping the all-important torque to 184 pound-feet. There isn’t much difference in regular commuter driving. But on the open road, the turbocharger makes a mark. Driving up the steep grade of the Hudson Highlands rising just past West Point the Standard model struggled to move the speedometer into the high 80s. But the Ltd easily surged up the winding, open road.  Both cars have speedometers topping out at 120 miles per hour. On the Rallye, that’s not wasted space.
  • Sport R/T: Dart’s performance model, with 18-inch wheels instead of the 17-inch wheels on its two automotive siblings, has a 2.4-liter aluminum engine cranking out 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.

The Dart, in all models, is a front-wheel drive car that comes with a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission with an electronic manual mode. A manual transmission in a car used primarily for urban commuting – complete with regular traffic jams – can make the motoring experience seem as if one is going to a gym to continually exercise the right arm. And that is more punishment than motoring pleasure. The electronic manual mode is appreciated on long hills, however, as it is easy to tap into a lower gear for more power and then tap back into automatic mode. They also project an EPA mileage of 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 MPG on the open road using regular gas.

Inside, Chrysler gave considerable thought to the riding experience for both old and young drivers. The seats are wide, Nappa leather, padded, manually adjusted, but heated in the front. In the rear, there is more than enough leg room for passengers  in the range of ta small NBA forward standing six-foot, five-inches in his new Nikes.

For sound, the Dart has AM/FM and Sirius Satellite radio, as well as a 506-watt Alpine surround-sound system with nine speakers and a subwoofer, which is more than enough to awaken the average neighborhood. Chrysler is offering an installed, quirky, Garmin navigation system with Sirius traffic and weather guides as an option. The standard, 8.4-inch information screen – which also is used for the crystal clear backup camera – makes it easy to see the navigation or other systems.

Then, there are interesting touches.

The front passenger seat folds out to reveal a hidden compartment about three inches deep. It’s big enough to hold a iPad, though one wonders who would choose to sit on their expensive electronic tablet? 

“What’s with the marijuana compartment,” Nagode was asked at a press preview.

When he stopped laughing at what was obviously a common nickname, he said “that’s not its purpose. It’s a place to hide small items which you have to leave in the car – like a tablet – but don’t want to leave in public view where it might encourage someone to break a window and grab it.

“It’s not intended to stash drugs.”

Good intentions aside, there are slots on either side of the center console to hold cell phones, placing them about six inches from the power outlet. The glove box is about 18 inches deep, enough to easily hold an iPad.  Inside the deep storage bin under the center console arm rest are the connections for the USB, MP3, and iPod ports, as well as the CD player.  In most cars, the small holes for the auxiliary music connections are hard to find in daylight – and impossible to locate at night when one is driving. On the Dart, however, the connecting ports are backlit, providing at a glance an instant locator. There is also a soft backlight around the dash, cup holders, and door. One can also utilize the Bluetooth for both cell phone communications and to play 1,000 or so of your favorite tunes. The, phone, navigation and entertainment systems can all be voice activated and controlled.

Chrysler is taking a chance by coming out with the Dart as its first entry into the small, crowded, sharp-elbowed, fuel-efficient market with cars priced under $25,000. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the sleek little Dart can slip past the established models and lodge in the front of the pack.


2013 Dodge Dart Rallye

Midsized Sedan

 

MSRP:                                                                        $21,475

EPA Mileage:                        25 MPG City                          36 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity:                                                      1,000 Pounds

 

Performance / Safety:

 

2.0-Liter, 4-cylinder,fuel injected, aluminum engine producing 160 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission; antilock, 4-wheel disc brakes; traction and stability control;  front wheel drive; independent MacPherson strut front suspension; multi-link independent rear suspension; 17-inch cast aluminum wheels; 10 standard airbags; Halogen projector headlamps.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/Sirius Satellite Radio; 506-watt Alpine premium surround sound with 9 speakers and subwoofer; Bluetooth; CD player; MP3, iPod, and USB ports; heated front leather or cloth seats; folding rear seats; backup camera; leather, telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls;

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Fiat 500: The Italian Gem From Detroit

April 11, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

            The old guy with the shaggy white beard and wide grin started it all.

“Hey,” he shouted from two parking rows away. “A Fix It Again Tony! I had one back in the ‘70s and it was always in the shop. This one looks a lot better! How is it?”

The initial shout breaking the calm on a Sunday afternoon drew attention in the parking lot. But the word “Fiat” hooked everyone in the area.

“Hey,” said a woman who was trailed by a teenage girl with braces wearing a high school jacket. “My daughter is starting high school and is begging for something other than my eight year old heap. Do you mind if she sat in this one and turned on the music?”

And for the next 20 minutes, the copper-colored, sub-compact, four seater 2012 Fiat 500 became as way station for a score of shoppers who wanted to look at, sit in, listen to, and imagine owning the European side of the resurrected Chrysler. Fiat bought Chrysler in a shotgun marriage arranged early in the Obama administration that offered something for each company: Chrysler got to stay alive with a partner knowledgeable about small, fuel efficient cars; and Fiat got a second chance to enter the American auto market.

So far, Chrysler has gotten a lot out of the marriage with an entirely revamped domestic line, including the iconic muscle car, the Dodge Charger and its off-road Jeep group. But Fiat has been slow to hit American roadways, with the company taking time to make sure it had a stylistic winner that could appeal to American tastes. Which is why the Fiat draws a crowd: everyone has heard of it and seen the Jennifer Lopez commercials, but few have had a chance to get close to one.

The 500 is a head turner. It is a sub compact car and at 11.5 feet in length and just under five feet high the Fiat is not much larger than the Smart-for-Two and smaller than the Mini Cooper. The style can best be described as “cute” as it turns heads wherever you go.  Under the hood is a small, four-cylinder engine producing just 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. While those numbers seem anemic, the power plant provides more than enough juice to give the little car some pep once it gets under way. It is not, however, as fuel efficient as one might expect from a sub-compact import. The 500 carries an EPA rating of 27 miles per gallon in city driving, and 34 miles per gallon on the highway – and the little engine prefers being pampered with premium gasoline.

            The engine is mated to a six-speed, automatic transmission and it is a performer. On dry or wet winding roads the Fiat operates more like a sport sedan. And on unpaved, pot-holed roads the MacPherson suspension and twin-tube, sport shocks smooth out or minimize even the roughest bumps without disrupting ‘Trane’s “Love Supreme” in the CD player.

The interior of the Fiat 500 provides the biggest positive impression on neighbors and strangers who see the car – and is likely to do the same with the thousands of visitors to the New York International Auto show, opening at theJacobJavitsCenterinManhattanFriday. The seats are double-stitched, Italian leather with equally thick padding on the doors and arm rests. The front seats are manually operated, but they can be heated. And while there is ample leg room for six-footers in the front, the rear seats are more for show than use, unless the passengers are children.

  The dash provokes mixed reactions. The plastic molding is color coordinated with the exterior of the car. And the controls and dials are raised, light colored, plastic buttons. Men who sat in the car invariably exclaimed positively that the buttons were convenient and easy to get used to. Women who sat in the car disdainfully said it was like “driving a blender.”

The 500’s blender does control a wealth of gadgets. There is Bluetooth cell phone and audio connections; and the glove box contains MP3, iPod, and USB connections.  And the Bose sound system can satisfy any type of music lover. But the price of the 500, at about $23,000 is puzzling since it puts this sub-compact in a category with several, large, compact cars under $25,000, such as the Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, Honda Civic, and Chevrolet’s Sonic and Cruze (  http://bit.ly/Io8dSv  ).

But the Fiat 500 is unique and difficult to categorize. It is, physically, a small sub-compact car. Yet its quality, styling and precision handling would tend to pit it against a more upscale competition. For variety, at the New York International Auto Show, which opened Friday, the automaker put its Fiat 500 Abarth model in the spotlight. This variation, with a scorpion logo, has a four-cylinder power plant producing 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. That amount of power on such a light car puts it in the performance category of the Mini Cooper – which costs nearly twice as much – and would run the Fiat head to head with the $27,000 Nissan Juke, which has a four-cylinder, turbocharged engine and cannot resist a drag race.

The 500 does not have a navigation system, which is a drawback for a car costing just above $23,000. But there is a factory installed Tom-Tom navigation setup with a three-inch screen installed on top of the dash. The Tom-Tom is more cumbersome and less user friendly than its competitor, Garmin. It seems to have been designed by members of the Flat Earth Society who didn’t get Christopher Columbus’ message and still think the heavens revolve around the earth. As a result, there is no true north orientation, and the Tom-Tom landscape spins merrily around the always upward-moving avatar. The result is a system best used with Dramamine.

In addition, while the Bluetooth function is set through Tom-Tom, the system does not turn off or pause the entertainment system when you have an incoming phone call. Unlike Garmin, it simply plays both through the same set of Bose speakers and subwoofers, though there is a button on the blender to mute the music.

It remains to be seen what kind of splash the reintroduction of the Fiat will have on American car buyers. But considering the excitement in engenders on the street, this second coming of the Italians should be a lot more productive than the first venture.

2012 Fiat 500

 

MSRP:                                                                        $23,250

EPA Estimate:           27 MPG City                          34 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.4-liter, aluminum alloy engine producing 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission;  power rack and pinion steering; MacPherson front suspension with twin-tube shocks; rear twist-beam suspension with twin-tube shocks; 4-wheel, anti-lock brakes; stability and traction control; 15-inch aluminum wheels; halogen projector headlamps; fog lamps; front, side mounted, and side curtain airbags.

Interior /  Comfort:

 

AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; Bose premium sound system with 6 speakers and a subwoofer; USB, iPod, and MP3 connections; Cd player; Tom-Tom navigation with Bluetooth; power sunroof; tilt and telescope, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone, and cruise controls;  fold flat, split rear seats; leather seats; heated front seats.

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