Chrysler’s astonishing comeback has been well documented and quadrupling profits in Q1 2012 compared to last year is further evidence of the company’s turnaround.  From a long-term standpoint we all know that product is the key for Chrysler to continue this momentum and the Dodge Dart offers a glimpse on what is yet to come.  I was given the opportunity to take the Dart – as well as most of the overall Dodge and Chrysler lineup - on test drives in Savannah Georgia last week to get an idea of the current lineup and the potential for vehicles farther down the road.

The Dart is Chrysler’s first product utilizing Fiat architecture on a platform that has been lengthened and widened to suit the competitive US landscape.  The vehicle is being produced at the historic Belvidere assembly plant along with the Jeep Patriot and Compass (at least for now).  As a further testament to the Dart’s global origin, the vehicle will feature two derivatives of the Multi-Air four cylinder world engines; a 2.0L Tigershark with 160hp and a 1.4L turbo, also with 160hp but with additional torque.

The drive was held at the Savannah Harbor race track, on Hutchinson Island; a perfect location for highlighting Chrysler’s performance vehicles and specifically the capabilities of the Dart.  The Dart did not disappoint…  have had exposure in the stalwart models in the segment and found the Dart’s driving dynamics to be very competitive and its balance, stability, and performance were among the best in the segment.  The powertrain was spirited in both off the line performance and at passing speeds, and when pushed, it performed well beyond expectations for a typical compact car.  Even more surprising were the car’s capabilities around turns.  The Dart held a great line at high speed, and I think with a more capable driver than myself you could really create some excitement in the vehicle.

From a functional standpoint everything is very easy to use.  I am a fan of the UConnect touchscreen and had it figured out in seconds – very intuitive.  Dodge could do some work on refining the tactile feel of the plastics used in the interior, but overall I found the design and quality to be very competitive.  The Dart’s MSRP of just under $19K for the SXT appears to position it well relative to key competitors in the segment. 

The most impressive aspect of my trip was looking at the overall Chrysler lineup.  Every vehicle in the lineup is not a home run like the Grand Cherokee, but from a historical perspective things look very positive for the brand.  Chrysler has eliminated the underperformers in their product lineup and although they still have a lot of work to do, their current product achievements are commendable.