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Dodge gets back into the small-car game

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2014 Dodge Dart

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Whether it be as a second car to be used for daily commutes, a primary family sedan for the budget-minded, or even a first car for a teenager, the compact car remains a popular choice for savvy shoppers.

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With more than 40 choices, it also is a very competitive automotive segment, one that Dodge was absent from for seven years during its trying financial times.

After ending production of the Neon following the 2005 model year, Dodge got back into the compact field in the summer of 2012 with the introduction of the 2013 Dodge Dart, reviving a model name from the 1970s.

The magazine Car and Driver noted it as “the first child of the Chrysler-Fiat marriage,” charged with — among other things — the responsibility of playing a key role in the company’s comeback efforts.

Critics seemed to like the 2013 Dart overall, but bemoaned the lack of response from the standard 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and its meager 140 horsepower and punchless 158 pound-feet of torque. A turbocharged 1.4-liter was available as an option, offering more torque, but the more powerful 2.4-liter (184 hp, 171 lb.-ft.) was offered only in the top-of-the-line GT version.

The good news then for the 2014 Dodge Dart is the 2.4 engine is now standard on SXT, Limited, and GT models while only the base SE gets the 2.0 power plant. The 1.4-liter turbo is still standard on the Aero trim.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard on all but the Dart Limited, which comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. The automatic is available as an option on the other trims.

Considering the boost in power you get from the 2.4-liter over the 2.0, the cost in fuel economy is negligible. The 2.4 drinks regular unleaded at a rate of 23 miles-per-gallon in the city, 33 on the highway with the manual transmission and 21/30 with the automatic. Numbers for the 2.0 are 25/36 with the manual, 24/34 with the automatic.

The turbo in the Aero models offers the best mileage, 27/39 with the manual, 28/41 with the automatic.

Except for the turbo, those aren’t particularly eye-popping numbers. What makes the Dart worth taking a longer look at are some of the amenities it features.

Dodge has gone past what is usually expected of vehicles in this class when it comes to materials for the interior, adding lots of padding to provide for soft-touch surfaces throughout the cabin. The cabin itself is very roomy, and not just for its class. The Dart can compete with many midsize sedans when it comes to passenger comfort.

The Dart also offers a wide expanse of technological features, and — even more important — many are easily operated off an 8.4-inch touchscreen display at the top of the center stack. A Garmin navigation system is offered as an option on Aero, SXT, and GT trims and is standard on in the Limited versions.

Pricing for the 2014 Dodge Dart starts at $16,990 for the SE (including the $995 destination and delivery charge). MSRP jumps to $19,490 for the SXT, $20,990 for the Aero, $21,990 for the GT, and $23,990 for the Limited.

For more specs and information on some features, check out the accompanying slide show.

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