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Detroit show: Chrysler Dodges Dart

Artful Dodger: All-new 2013 Dart is a good chance for Australia.

Dodge previews new Giulietta-based Dart small sedan Oz confirms interest in Caliber

8 Dec 2011

DODGE will dust off its Dart nameplate for the brand’s first all-new global small car since the Caliber, and the first Fiat-based Chrysler Group model is odds-on for release Down Under in 2013.

Two official teaser images of the Chrysler brand’s next rival for the Toyota Corolla, Holden Cruze, Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf have been revealed a month before its global debut at the Detroit motor show on January 9.

They show the 2013 Dodge Dart will be a radical departure from the Caliber hatchback both in terms of exterior design, and the fact it will emerge first as a sedan, although a hatch version is expected to follow for markets outside the US.

The Dart will play a crucial sales role in North America for Dodge, but Chrysler Group Australia general manager of marketing Sam Tabart told GoAuto he understood the vehicle was also developed for right-hand drive markets such as Australia.

“We’re looking at it at 100 miles an hour,” he said. “It’s obviously a fantastic-looking product, but I have no news other than we’re looking at it and we’re trying to put a business case to it.

“We haven’t got firm numbers yet. At the moment it’s 12 months away – it’s a 2013 model – so we’ve got other priorities, and we literally haven’t put the business case together yet, so we’ll be doing that over the coming weeks.

“I think fantastic product works anywhere, so if you’ve got a good-looking car and there’s a business case for it – and if we believe it’s going to work well – then we’ll bring the car in. But we are a long way from that decision as yet.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The Chrysler Group’s local “priorities” for next year include a high-performance SRT-8 version of Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee, to be released in the first quarter of 2012, ahead of Chrysler’s biggest launch for 2012 – the mid-year arrival of the long-awaited new-generation 300C large sedan.

GoAuto also understands that Dodge’s facelifted Journey people-mover will arrive here early next year, while the Chrysler Group is also holding out for right-hand drive supplies of the new Durango seven-seat SUV, facelifted Dodge Avenger sedan and new Chrysler 200C medium sedan, plus Dodge's later Charger sedan and Challenger coupe.

Dodge says the Dart four-door is not a direct replacement for the Caliber five-door, but rather the Chrysler Neon sedan sold in the US between 1995 and 2005 – and in Australia between 1996 and 2002.

Like the Caliber, which was launched here in 2006 and remains available in a single 2.0-litre petrol SXT auto specification priced from $23,500 before production ceases in 2012, the Neon never achieved more than a miniscule market presence here.

Caliber sales are up almost 10-fold in Australia following the latest model repositioning, however, with 1133 examples sold to November this year representing a 0.5 per cent share of Australia’s largest vehicle segment.

Kyboshing rumours that the completely redesigned Alfa Romeo Giulietta-based compact sedan would be called the Hornet, Duster or Camber, the Dart will resurrect a model name seen in North American showrooms for 16 years between 1960 and ’81.

Few details have been announced for the front-wheel drive Dart, which enters production in the first half of 2012 at Chrysler's Belvidere plant in Illinois, following a $US600 million investment.

However, Dodge has confirmed the car will be the first Chrysler Group vehicle to be based on a platform from its Italian industrial partner Fiat, although it points out the Dart is underpinned by a longer and wider version of the Giulietta’s chassis, dubbed Compact US Wide (CUSW), which will also spawn a replacement for Jeep’s Cherokee.

Apart from featuring independent front and rear suspension and the option of 18-inch wheels, the Dart will be available with the choice of three four-cylinder engines, potentially matched to up to three transmissions, including a manual, a Fiat six-speed dual-clutch automatic and even a nine-speed ZF torque-converter automatic.

Dart engines will include Alfa’s excellent 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo-petrol unit, plus new ‘Tigershark’ 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre ‘World Gas (petrol) Engines’ – the latter fitted with Fiat’s MultiAir induction system – leading Chrysler to claim its new entry-level passenger car “blends Alfa Romeo DNA with Dodge’s passion for performance”.

No performance or consumption figures have been revealed, but the Dart will be the smallest, most efficient Dodge model ever when it is launched, before an ‘eco’ model that returns fuel consumption of at least 40mpg (5.9L/100km) joins the range.

At that point, Fiat will receive the final five per cent of Chrysler Group stock under the agreement that allowed the company to emerge from bankruptcy in 2009.

Looking more like a sleek Italian sedan than the Caliber or Neon, Dodge says it will be the most aerodynamic model in its class.

First images of the Dart reveal a premium R/T model featuring the US brand’s trademark crosshair grille, which melds with a pair of black-bezeled headlights.

While there is no chrome in sight, a prominent red LED lighting feature extends full-width across the rear in a design highlight that Dodge says was inspired by the Charger, above a pair of large chromed outboard exhaust outlets.

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