Chrysler’s Superbowl ad with Clint Eastwood was a nice way to incite faith that the American auto industry will recover. Chrysler has shown much improvement in the last few years, and as soon as I saw the new Dodge Dart I knew they were on the right track. It is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, meaning its European roots should make it much more attractive than the Civic or the Corolla, which are both shamelessly boring at this point. There is however another market segment that exists with cars in that segment, one where engines are turbocharged, suspensions are stiffened, and priority is given to high MPH over high MPG. Dodge has competed here before with their SRT-4 Neon and Caliber, and everyone is eagerly awaiting the Dart SRT-4 in the next few years. Prior SRT-4s were relics of first half America though, the one that had to be bailed out, so the question is now, what should the SRT-4 of the second half be like?
Looking back at the prior SRT-4 models we find more flaws than merits. Yes they offered a good bit of horsepower, around 270hp stock, and had potential for over 400hp with just basic modifications. However, all this power was completely useless because it all went to the front wheels. I would even go so far as to say that no SRT-4 to date could really be considered a real “driver’s car” because of this. They were more like crude, front wheel drive muscle cars for people who wanted a V8 Mustang but couldn’t afford 14mpg. All of this may sound pretty derogatory towards past SRT-4s, and it is because they were terrible when compared to the likes of Subaru WRXs/STIs, Mitsubishi Evos, and even Golf R32s on proper roads. The SRT-4 couldn’t stand a chance against any of them in anything except for a highway pull (which requires no actual driving skill) because they just spin their tires while the others have endless levels of grip. So, clearly the second half SRT-4 needs to be all wheel drive if it is to be competitive on any real level.
This is good because it appears that there has already been plans for an all wheel drive Giulietta, so the chassis of the Dart should be able to do it. Also, Mitsubishi’s recent change in priorities has left the Evo’s future uncertain at best, so there may be a market gap that needs to be filled. These small, turbocharged, all wheel drive cars are hot sellers all over America because they offer arguably the best overall package money can buy. Here on the East Coast I always see at least one other WRX or Evo whenever I leave the house, and they continue to sell out at dealerships quickly. There is so much appeal here, such an opportunity for Chrysler to finally make something really, really, good.
With the Dart SRT-4 I think Dodge should focus on using technology (fancy TC and torque vectoring) to make it carve corners at an astonishing rate like in the Evo X. A turbocharged 2.0-2.5L I4 with 300-330hp would suffice for power in stock form, and there needs to be a sport focused interior as well with nice supportive seats, a crisp shifter, good steering, and clear gauges. They also really need to focus on the fact that most people will want to modify the car. That means they should give it a solidly built motor (forged internals please), a sturdy transmission and drive train, and the potential for around 450bhp from the stock turbocharger. So in a nutshell, the Dart SRT-4 should be mechanically overbuilt. This could make undercutting the price of the STI and Evo a bit tough, but people will pay for it if they know the package is rock solid.
If it sounds like I am saying Dodge needs to make an American Evo, I am. Affordable all wheel drive sport sedans represent one of the largest performance oriented markets out there, and right now America doesn’t have a piece of it. This will also be a car with a lot of European influence in its dynamics that could give it a further advantage against its Japanese rivals. The simple fact is that a front wheel drive Dart SRT-4 is what everyone expects. It would be mundane, and would be just another relic of an American industry that is not intelligent enough to adapt. An all wheel drive Dart SRT-4, on the other hand, would be something spectacular that would surely cause quite a stir. It would show that America really is serious about stepping up their game in an effort to make some world-class products. As an American, I cannot tell you how much I would like to be proud of the cars my country makes, but overall I have not been. This SRT-4 would be something to be proud of though, something that would put real action behind the claims that have been made about our industry stepping up its game to finally take on the rest of the world.