CHELSEA, Mich. -- Badged with a vintage nameplate of Dodge's entry-level vehicle produced from 1960 through 1976, a thoroughly modern 2015 Dart compact sedan in new fuel-stingy Aero edition deftly scoots through snaky chicane curves on a blacktop track at Chrysler's vast vehicle test facility in Chelsea, Mich.
This particular Dart -- rigged with a 6-speed manual stick and a turbo-charged 4-in-line MultiAir engine shared with the racy Fiat 500 Abarth through Dodge's Italian corporate parent -- achieves fuel economy numbers of 28/41 mpg city/highway.
Standard features on Dart Aero range from projector headlamps and 4-wheel disc brakes to 16-inch cast aluminum wheels painted Tech Silver, dazzling LED racetrack taillamps, automatic headlamps, Parkview rear backup camera, black cloth seats with mesh inserts, 6-way manual adjust driver and front passenger seats, a rear bench with folding seatback, leather-bound steering wheel with audio controls, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 7-inch color LED reconfigurable display, 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen media center and Uconnect Bluetooth with Voice Command.
We estimate that the MSRP for a 2015 Dodge Aero sedan tallies to $19,995.
But there's more: Dodge offers the front-wheel-drive 2015 Dart with three different 4-cylinder engines in five trim designations: Price-leader SE, fuel-thrifty Aero, up-level SXT, deluxe Limited and sporty GT.
Dart SE the entry model totes a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Tigershark engine with dual overhead cams (DOHC) and variable valve timing (VVT) to generate 160 hp at 6400 rpm plus torque of 148 lb-ft at 4600 rpm. The 2.0 4-pack plant links to the C635 6-speed manual or optional Powertech 6F24 6-speed electronic automatic and nets fuel figures of 25/36 mpg city/highway with manual shifter.
Dart Aero packs a 1.4-liter 4-in-line MultiAir with single overhead cam (SOHC), turbo-charger and inter-cooler. It makes 160 hp at 5500 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 2500-4000 rpm, linking to the C635 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed dual dry clutch (DDCT) automatic with manual mode.
Dart SXT, Limited and GT issues stock exclusively a SOHC 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Tigershark MultiAir2 plant that nets 184 hp at 6250 rpm with torque of 174 lb-ft at 4800 rpm. Shifters are the C635 6-speed manual (standard for SXT and GT) or 6F24 6-speed electronic automatic (standard for Dart Limited, optional for the SXT and GT).
Dart's exterior design features smooth lines flowing over a wedge-shaped body with the canted front hood and raked windshield tipping to the extreme to enhance aerodynamic efficiency. A chin-forward prow projects Dodge's signature split-crosshair grille and an aggressive lower fascia houses optional foglamps. Flanks bulge with muscular fenders ringing nice wheels and the blunted tail seems downright sculptural with that ring of 152 LED racetrack lamps streaking between rear corners.
The wheelbase stretches nine feet long and sets up a curt turning diameter around 36 feet so Dart seems easy to maneuver. The unibody structure composed primarily of high-strength steel produces a chassis that feels rock solid.
Independent suspension elements consist of front MacPherson struts tuned to minimize camber loss, with coil springs over gas-charged shocks and stabilizer bar, and a rear multi-link arrangement tied to coil springs and gas-charged shocks plus (for SXT, Limited and GT) a link-type stabilizer bar.
Dart also stocks many active safety systems like quick-response electric power steering and 4-wheel disc brakes hooked to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), electronic brake assist (EBA) and anti-skid devices via the electronic stability control (ESC) system, hill-start assist (HSA) and traction control system (TCS).
Dart's passenger compartment, padded and insulated, amounts to a comfortable space packed with stylish appointments and premium interior finishes.
The layout consists of two buckets in front of a bench broad enough for three in a pinch but with indented sections for two. Backs of the second-row seat fold down to expand the trunk's cargo capacity to 42.4 cubic feet.
Driver fits snugly in a comfortable bucket which adjusts in multiple directions.
Instruments in the dashboard cluster include analog gauges with black faces and white lighting, plus (for SXT, Limited and GT) a 7-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) display.
Dodge sets MSRP numbers for 2015 Dart editions in a range from $16,495 to $22,995.