Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

All-New Dodge Dart: A Far Cry From My '69 Coronet

When I was a kid, you might get a punch in the nose if you made a disparaging remark about a Ford or a Chevy.

Boys were fiercely loyal to either Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, and to either Fords or Chevys. There were a few Mopar loyalists out there as well; but, for the most part, they either kept their heads down or were in such small numbers that they barely registered on the playground radar.

My family was firmly in the GM/Chevy camp. After returning from the Pacific in 1945, the only car my dad could find to purchase in Erie, Pa. was a 1939 Ford. Twenty years later he still couldn't find a positive thing to say about it. In fact, he became so frustrated with it that he drove it off the road and into a tree. He removed the plate and walked away from it. Yes, he had some impulse-control issues.

Indeed, we were a GM family. I can't think of anyone on either side of my family who owned a Chrysler product until the 1970s when my sister and her husband bought a Dodge of some stripe. I don't even remember what it was -- a Plymouth Fury, maybe. That was the only Chrysler I can remember in my family history until 1985.

That was the year I paid $1,200 on a tote-your-note lot for a 1969 Dodge Coronet. "Big Green" I called it. It was a monster of a car. I used it to move myself from New Mexico to Florida. Nearly every personal belonging I had made that journey with me. A clothes rod containing all my clothes stretched across the back seat. The trunk was crammed full of luggage and boxes.

I drove to Florida via Louisville where I spent New Year's Eve. Somewhere around Lexington, the right wheel bearing exploded. I drove it that way to Orlando. Although sloppy, the steering continued responding to my input. Somehow I made it to my buddy's house in Casselberry, Fla. without killing myself or anyone else. When we pulled the wheel a couple of days later, what was left of the bearing was fused to the axle.

A few weeks later, the bearing issue resolved, I drove Big Green to Boca Raton. It was the car I used for my first year there. I'm sure the rich, snobby locals were aghast that such an ugly, old heap was cruising the pristine streets of Boca. It may have been the best $1,200 I ever spent.

I tell you all of this to set the stage for my thoughts on the all-new Dodge Dart.

Having attended the national media launch of the new Dart several months ago, I've included it in several of the top-seven stories I've written for different clients over the past six months. I liked the car a lot when I drove it originally. I am now a few days into a week-long test of a Dart Limited; I still like it a lot.
Sadly, I have yet to drive a turbocharged version. I can only imagine what a hoot it must be to pilot -- particularly with the six-speed manual transmission.

So far all my Dart experience has been with the 2-liter four-cylinder engine. It releases the same 160 ponies as the turbocharged 1.4-liter turbo, but only generates 148 pound-feet of torque compared to the turbo's 184 pound-feet of torque. Torque is the power that gets the wheels turning and it means everything in terms of quick starts.

I've driven both the six-speed manual and the driver-shiftable, six-speed automatic. The manual snicks through the gears nicely. The automatic is smooth and efficient. I'm less than overwhelmed with the 2-liter's acceleration, but can live with it for the 27 combined mpg that the automatic-equipped Darts boast.

Exhibiting a decidedly sporty feel, Dart draws its driving dynamics from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta on which its architecture is based. It's tight and responsive.

My $24,965 (with several options) Limited is loaded up with features like leather seating, navigation unit, keyless go and Chrysler's Uconnect. It's comfortable and user friendly.

Chrysler is looking for big things from the all-new Dart; I suspect they won't be disappointed.

It's certainly a far cry from Big Green. Thank, God.

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