New Dodge Dart hopes to hit bull's-eye

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By TOM KRISHER, Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — As the new Dodge Dart makes its way to showrooms, Chrysler wants you to remember some things about its namesake from the 1960s and 70s.

The Dart was sporty. You could order it any way you wanted. Some versions, like the Swinger, were street racers with bold stripes, hood scoops and giant V-8 engines.

The company also wants you to forget some things: Darts could be boxy, boring and slow — generic transportation for the American middle class. There was even a utilitarian station wagon.

The new Dart comes only as a four-door compact, but Chrysler is hoping that it will have the broad appeal of the old one. The company is aiming base models, which start at just under $16,000, at younger millennials, and it's hoping that more expensive luxury and high-performance models will bring in wealthier baby boomers.

The Dart, which is arriving at dealers en masse this week, is hardly generic. Its body slopes from front to back with a rounded front end to make it aerodynamic. Buyers can choose from three engines that get decent gas mileage. And just like the old Dart, people can custom-order them in more than 100,000 combinations.

Chrysler is counting on the Dart, and its zippy name, to get the company back in the small-car game, where it hasn't competed since the Dodge Neon of the 1990s. The new Dart is built on the chassis of the Giulietta, a five-door hatchback sold in Europe by Alfa Romeo. But its interior is bigger than a Giulietta.

The company revived the Dart name, last used in 1976, because it had a good image with boomers; young people think it means aerodynamic and sleek.

Executives would do handsprings if the new car gets anywhere near the old Dart's sales, which peaked in 1974 at more than 340,000.

The Dart, which has received good reviews from car magazines, could stir up the small-car market that's now led by traditional front-runners Honda and Toyota, followed by Ford, Chevrolet and Hyundai. Compacts are one of the biggest segments of the U.S. car market, making up 15 percent of sales.

Here are some of the Dart's highlights:

UNDER THE HOOD: Buyers can choose from three four-cylinder engines and three transmissions. There's the standard 2-liter four called the Tigershark that puts out 160 horsepower and a 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo, also with 160 horsepower. A 2.4-liter turbo in the sporty R/T version comes out toward the end of the year with 184 horsepower. Transmissions include a six-speed automatic, a six-speed manual and a six-speed dual clutch transmission. Transmissions vary with what engine you pick.

OUTSIDE: The Dart looks more expensive than it is. It has side creases, slight fender flares and big wheels and tires. It has an aggressive-looking grille, and Chrysler borrowed LED lighting across the back from the Dart's big brother, the Challenger muscle car. The company promises low noise and handling that are comparable or better than the best compacts in the U.S. The car can be ordered with one of 12 exterior paint colors, which include bright red, orange and yellow.

INSIDE: It has soft plastic materials on the dashboard and doors rather than the prairies of hard plastic that Chrysler was famous for. Gaps between the vents, switches and dashboard are almost nonexistent, and the switches feel solid.

The Dart can be ordered with 14 different interior and trim combinations. It can have bright-colored stitching on the dash that a designer copied from the accents on her upscale purses. The car also has storage under the front passenger seat and a huge, deep glove compartment.

FUEL ECONOMY: Depends on engine and options. Aero model can get up to 41 mpg on highway. Base 2-liter gets 36 on the highway and 25 in the city. The 1.4-liter turbo can get 39 mpg on the highway and 27 in the city. The 2.4-liter engine isn't available until the third quarter and has not yet been rated for mileage by the Environmental Protection Agency.

PRICE: Base is $15,995, excluding $795 shipping. The price rises quickly after that to more than $26,000.

CHEERS: Killer looks, especially when dressed up. Interior that matches many luxury cars. Fast acceleration, crisp handling and good fuel economy. Quiet on the road for a small car.

JEERS: 2-liter engine doesn't get great mileage compared with base engine of competitors. Makes low-frequency rumble on some pavement surfaces.

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