How to Win The #VOTY
There becomes a point when reliving past triumphs becomes cliche.
The significance of this particular past event still remains, however. The handing off of the 2012 Victory & Reseda Vehicle of the Year to Reid Bigland, the head of the Dodge brand at the time of the awarding, is something still recalling. It remains the climax of the rise of this site.
It has been several months since the hand off in Chicago. The 2013 Dodge Dart sits on top of that lofty position where its crown will be relinquished for another worthy #VOTY winner.
So, why do we need to talk about another 2013 Dart? Has this been already tested a few times over? What about this #VOTY thing? Do we need to remind you that the annual V&R award is coming up in a few months?
There is plenty to catch up since February on Chrysler's Fiat-based compact sedan. Sales are climbing, thanks to a model and package reshuffling. Chrysler listened to customers who wanted less choice and better packaging. This is the reason behind the arrival of the 2013 Dart SXT Special Edition for this particular…article.
If you consider its current marketing campaign on how Dodge was able to bring the Dart to market using cameo appearances by National Football League quarterback Tom Brady and recording artist Pitbull, the car needs to remain in the eyes of its viewers. By reshuffling content across the model range, Chrysler continues to position the Dart for growth in this segment.
So, how do you keep the Dart in front of everyone's eyes? In other words, how will this car continue to wear the tiara of Vehicle of The Year for another few months?
HOW TO LIVE WITH IT EVERY DAY: My weekdays consist of an early morning rise and a relatively short commute from home to my day job on the Minneapolis-Fridley border between the Mississippi River and the BNSF rail lines. There are no gleaming office parks or fancy skyscrapers here – this is an industrial zone. My short commute sometimes steers me to grab breakfast before showing up in the quiet office at 7:00AM. Luckily, I leave by 4:00PM – unluckily, I end up staying because of some issue that flares up there.
When I leave, my second line of work begins – the automotive writing. The transition may be tough most days, but it has to be done. It could be getting the laptop open and working on my assignments, reviews and other features. It could be taking the vehicle in review for a drive to collect data and impressions on the streets and highways in the Twin Cities.
This is where the Dart needs to perform. It needs to make necessary moves to relieve the stress of the Day Job. While I am gathering impressions and data, I need to be in a relaxed state with a clearer head. The Dart does the trick, though I would like more torque from the 2.0litre Tigershark, please? That way, I could truly kick out the throttle with ease for ultimate stress relief.
Just like any city, Minneapolis offers varying degrees of road surfaces. There are some parts where the suspension would get a serious test, while some offer a divine experience over pristine tarmac. Now, this job gets scientific. A seating position must be comfortable enough for me to command the road – including a position where my head would not impact the roof liner. I am quite tall – six-foot-one, to be exact. If a piece of road turns out to be just a pile of broken asphalt without much supporting it, I should be in a position to manage the shock through the cabin.
This is just a small part of my methodology in reviewing vehicles. The hypothesis is the same every time: How will this vehicle live with me? Not just in commuting to the Day Job, but for other things life throws at me. If it means attending professional soccer matches in Blaine, seeing some of the first same-gender couples to be wed in Minnesota prior to their moment of legality, or just letting my curiosity get the best of me, then the job of "living with it" shall be fulfilled.
Is the Dart livable? Perhaps…but, there are a few caveats to explain…
HOW TO IMPROVE UPON A GOOD THING: This is a good question to ask. Having driven enough Darts since May of 2012, there are a few things to work on – if I was, say, Chrysler’s Vice President of Design Ralph Gilles or anyone on the Dart design team.
For example, the instrument panel design is fantastic. In the Limited, the changeable TFT screen inside the instrument cluster began a revolution across Chrysler. Yet, any model below the Limited will make do with two big gauges, two smaller gauges, a bank of warning lights and a LCD screen with poor graphics. In all, I found the overall instrument cluster in the SXT unattractive.
My solution to the instrument cluster on sub-Limited Darts is to replace the digital display screen with a small TFT one – similar to the Dodge Journey and Charger. You can still scroll through it for various settings and bits of information, however it will give the Dart an upscale and modern look inside.
About the graphics of the instrument binnacle, I do not like the pseudo-sci-fi graphics of them at all. Find something more cleaner, modern in a white-and-red-on-black scheme that is easier to read and quicker to understand.
Understanding that the ZF nine-speed automatic for front-drive applications may be earmarked for the Dart, there is one little suggestion on the driveline. I understand the need for the 2.0-liter Tigershark, but it could benefit from some better breathing and a spunkier low end. Perhaps a 2.0-liter version of Fiat's Multiair engine would work – retaining the 160 horsepower but upping the torque to the 155-pound-feet range. This base engine could use some serious power if it wants to become the best in its class.
Otherwise, the Dart is a great package. No matter which trim level you choose, it has plenty of promise to go along with its looks and ambition.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT CAR: If you take the soon-to-show-up-eventually GT model out of the equation, Dart customers still have five trim levels to choose from. If you are lucky, you might be one of 500 who will own a very special Dart – the glossy black and blue striped Mopar '13. A Dart SE starts off at $16,990 with plenty of options upward.
There are some conclusions to glean between the five Darts I have driven since May of 2012. I prefer the 1.4-liter Multiair turbocharged engine over the 2.0-liter Tigershark that came with this SXT. I would choose the Limited as my trim package, though I would not rule out the SXT as long as I get the Special Edition package.
Yet, there is a problem. When you start pricing out a Dart, the sticker shock becomes real. One SXT Special Edition configuration with the Multiair turbo/DDCT transmission ran the bill up to $22,270. Somehow, selecting the Multiair turbo on the sportier Rallye prevents me from getting it with the DDCT. The solution would be to upgrade to the Limited – jumping the price to $24,570.
However, compacts of similar equipment levels are actually being priced around the same level. If I chose a Honda Civic EX-L with navigation, my sticker would climb to a few dollars from the turbocharged Dart Limited. Instead of a turbocharger, the Civic would provide me with a moonroof. If I chose the big 2.5litre MZR hammer under the Mazda3 s Grand Touring, then I would see my sticker grow further by another grand. The Dart does get better fuel economy than the big 2.5litre MZR, however.
You see my quandary? Maybe it proves one thing: The Dart was the right choice for Vehicle of The Year after all!
HOW TO ENJOY A GLOBAL PASTTIME WITH IT: Soccer – er, futbol – is growing in North America. If it is not Major League Soccer committing to a 24-club roster, it is the North American Soccer League’s want of expanding as the first division of the beautiful game here.
I have been a fan of the club now called Minnesota United FC for several years. The changes they have gone through to today's new management, new look and want of continuing a winning tradition have been well documented. After winning the NASL's Soccer Bowl in 2011, they fell in last year's Championship Series to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The league has split the season, as Minnesota United FC (whom after this reference shall be called the Loons – as in their logo) has split venues – starting inside Mall of America Field (sometimes called the Metrodome) and moving onward to the National Sports Center in suburban Blaine. I was fortunate to witness their victory inside Mall of America Field against FC Edmonton in April.
I returned to The Nessie (the term of affection for NSC's main stadium) to see the Loons take on NASL's first half winner, the Atlanta Silverbacks. It is an outing the Dart has no problem undertaking. It is a chance to see old friends, some recent ones and enjoy the Loons in their home grays.
Which brings up something here: Would you take the Dart tailgating? It is a sedan, which is not exactly conducive to tailgating in a traditional fashion. Sure, you could put a cooler full of beverages in the trunk, run to the nearest store for emergency supplies or bring everything else needed for a few hours in the parking lot. You might even bring some friends along in the Dart.
The color seems appropriate – True Blue being the darkest shade of that hue that mixes the black, gray and light blue of the Loons. It is compact and global to be a proper fan vehicle – even in America.
If you were wondering, Minnesota lost 1-0 to Atlanta.
HOW DO YOU END THIS ARTICLE: In a few months, the process of finding a new Vehicle of The Year will begin. There will be changes in some of the mechanisms in the process, while retaining some of the best from last year and before. For the winner, it is a lonely existence. They often show up after the award was handed off – or, at least that has been the tradition in the past couple of years.
However, the Dart is not eligible for this year's #VOTY. Though it was driven for a full review in one of my outlets, the rule states that any vehicle that is a previous winner and reviewed in its current generation is ineligible for another #VOTY. Sorry, folks, but rules are rules…
For the Dodge Dart, it has been a journey of finding acceptance in the marketplace. Though Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne expressed concern about the Dart's sales performance, the 6000-plus customers each month are finding the new compact just fine.
V&R believes it is still a winner – worthy of the accolade it was voted on back in November of last year. It was worth the effort to give the award to Mr. Bigland, though he is running Ram Trucks these days, along with his duties to Chrysler's Canadian operations. Ask yourself – can you think of a compact that comes close to the Dart in terms of design, driving dynamics and the effort to get it to market?
Let the debates begin – for the upcoming #VOTY.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Chrysler Group LLC.
All photos by Randy Stern