Published on May 7th, 2014 | by Jo Borras0
2014 Dodge Dart: The Neon ACR, The Way You Remember It
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when Dodge dropped a bright red, 2014 Dodge Dart GT Redline on my doorstep. Whatever I expected, though, I certainly didn’t expect to fall in love with the little sedan the way I did … which, now that I think about it, should have been a given. As to why my Dart love should have been a given, you’ll have to set your way-back machine to 1998 and come ride along in the blue 1998 Dodge Neon ACR that was, briefly, mine.
Do you remember the ACR? Not many people do, these days, but between 1995 and 1999 the humble Dodge Neon could be had in “ACR” trim, which meant it had thick front and rear sway bars, adjustable shocks, four-wheel disc brakes without any of that namby-pamby ABS bulls***. Best of all, the Dodge Neon ACR came with a sporty, close-ratio gearbox. Fresh off the showroom floor, the little Neon ACR was a credible autocross and road racing machine, and- more than that- it was an absolute, balls-to-the-wall gas to drive.
That’s how I remember it, anyway.
The last time I drove a race-prepped, first-gen Neon at Mid-Ohio, back in 2010, it was a pretty underwhelming experience. Granted, I’d driven to the track in a pretty serious, Switzer-tuned Nissan GTR, but I didn’t feel any of the zippy fun joy I felt in that first blue ’98 Neon I owned. Or that second red ’99 Neon, for that matter.
The 2014 Dodge Dart GT, though? It drove exactly the way I fondly remember those racy first-gen Neons driving, if not the underwhelming way they actually drove. It went and stopped and turned and barked and played and wagged its tail exactly the way my rose-tinged memories tell me that ’98 ACR did, and the 2014 Dodge Dart did something else that very, very few cars inspire me to do: it made me smile.
So, enough cruising memory lane. Here’s the rundown on this 2014 Dodge Dart GT Redline- aka the Dodge Neon ACR you remember.
2014 Dodge Dart GT | the Redline Interior
I want to temper some of my Dodge Dart love, a bit, by starting out with “the bad stuff”- and, when you’re looking at the 2014 Dodge Dart GT Redline, it doesn’t get any worse than the interior. From the cheap leather to the “trying way too hard” perforated seats to the weird rubber door handles to the hideous, douche-y red accents everywhere, this interior positively screams Jersey Shore. That’s not a good thing- and, somewhere, deep inside the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles design complex, a high school baseball player who says “bro” a lot while lying about his sexual conquests is looking at this interior and saying “Bro, that’s sikk.”
Adding more strangeness to the Dart’s interior are the heated seating and steering surfaces which, while nice, seem totally out of place in what is, ostensibly, an entry-level car. If you’re going to buy a Dart (and there are plenty of reasons to), you can safely skip the Redline interior. The SXT interior, in black/light frost, is cheaper, looks significantly more upscale, and manages to retain a similarly sporty, driver-oriented feel. Buy that.
2014 Dodge Dart GT | the Engine
My tester came equipped with Fiat Chrysler’s 2.4 L “Tigershark” engine. One of the most advanced 4 cyl. engines in the world, the Tigershark MultiAir 2 does away with the traditional mechanical cam lobe and operates the intake valve with an electrically-controlled hydraulic system. If that sounds like crazy racecar tech, that’s because it is, and the setup allows for more freedom in tuning the engine’s breathing for maximum power and efficiency across the RPM range.
If the Tigershark engine has a flaw, it’s that it wants to be flogged. Constantly. Even with that constant, merciless flogging, however, I managed to do better than the EPA’s 24 combined MPG rating by scoring an indicated 25+ MPG across a few hundred miles of needlessly aggressive, ACR-inspired driving.
That 25 real-world MPG result from the Dodge Dart may not seem all that impressive. Considering that DeMorro didn’t do much better in the smaller, slower, and more expensive Mazda 3 when he drove it hard a few weeks back, however, it seems pretty good to me.
2014 Dodge Dart GT | Practical Stuff
Despite its sporty ride and douche-tastic Redline interior, my tester had plenty of rear seat legroom, happily accepted the rear-facing baby seat, and had plenty of room in the trunk for Chicco’s finest (and, as far as I can tell) largest baby transport system. Plenty of everything required, in other words, to justify a Dodge Dart as a car for a young family. In addition to covering those family-friendly basics, the 2014 Dodge Dart GT I drove also featured an easy-to-setup HomeLink system, USB/Bluetooth smartphone integration, and a very welcome CD/DVD player in the center console.
The Dart’s nav system- like the Jeep Cherokee‘s- was totally useless. Maybe I have some kind of accent that I’m unaware of, but the nav kept trying to send me to Maine. That’s nothing against the great state of Maine, of course. It’s just that I don’t want to go to Maine, I didn’t ask to go to Maine, and nothing I said could convince the voice-recognition software of the fact that the frogurt place nearest to Oak Park, IL was not, in fact, in Maine.
2014 Dodge Dart GT | Final Thoughts
If you had a Neon in the 90s, and liked it, the Dodge Dart should definitely be on your shopping list. Yeah, I know- you’re older now. You have a real job. You have a family. You have- like me- developed a bit of a hard-on for turbocharged Buicks, that entry-level Lexus, and big, practical Toyotas. The Dart, though, will remind you of how much fun you had driving like a jackwagon in your late teens/early twenties. The look is properly Dodge Neon meets Dodge Stealth meets reptile house at the zoo, and the big, 5-spoke wheels set the mood precisely.
Still, there is that whole “I’m an adult now” thing that needs addressed. To that, I say skip the GT/Redline Dart, and go for the SXT + some good, aftermarket wheels. You’ll get all the fun bits, a classier interior, and save several thousand dollars- which, come to think of it, you’ll be able to put towards the kids’ college fund, making a 2014 Dodge Dart a very sensible, sporty young family dude option.