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Detroit show: RHD may be off the Dart board

Question marks: The all-new Dodge Dart may not be produced in right-hand drive, making its Australian future murky.

Left-drive-only Dart means Dodge’s long-awaited Mazda3 rival may never come to Oz

Dodge logo11 Jan 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

CHRYSLER’S chances of hitting the volume big time again in Australia have been dealt a blow with news that the Detroit show-debuting Dart small car may never be made in right-hand drive.

Reports out of the North American International Auto Show suggest that the Fiat-controlled brand has had neither the time nor the resources to engineer the Alfa Romeo Giulietta-derived Dart for markets such as Australia and the United Kingdom.

Even if RHD does get the go-ahead, Australia may have to wait until at least 2014 to get the Caliber-replacing Dart.

Chrysler Australia Group boss Clyde Campbell is understood to be teaming up with other RHD market chiefs to present a business case based on unified specification and other efficiencies in order to ensure supply of the small Dodge.

Heavily based on the Fiat Group’s ‘Compact Wide’ small-car architecture that is expected to underpin a complete generation of C/D segment vehicles, including the Giulietta that was released in 2010 and the 159-replacing Giulia due in about two years.

41 center imageThe Dart sits on a longer and wider version of the platform known as ‘Compact US Wide’, which provides more interior space to appease the American market.

Sitting on a 2703mm wheelbase, the Dart is 4671mm long, 1829mm wide and 1466mm high.

Introduced in a single three-box four-door sedan body shape that is reminiscent of the marque’s successful Neon, the Dart will be manufactured at Chrysler’s Belvedere plant in Illinois, with sales commencing Stateside later in the year.

Three four-cylinder petrol engines driving the front wheels only will initially be offered – a 120kW/200Nm 2.0-litre naturally aspirated base unit known as Tigershark, a 137kW/232Nm 2.4-litre version and a range-topping 120kW/250Nm 1.4-litre Turbo MultiAir.

Reflecting America’s growing concern for fuel-efficient vehicles, Dodge claims the newcomer will return around 5.9 litres per 100km.

Six-speed transmissions rule the roost – there’s a manual and automatic for the larger-engined models, while the 1.4T embraces dual-clutch technology – reflecting the car’s European origins.

Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne has said that a nine-speed automatic is also in the pipeline.

As with its Alfa Romeo sibling, the Dart uses electric rack-and-pinion steering and the suspension is by MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link independent rear end.

Among the innovations are different interior lighting packages and a large touchscreen interface that allows the driver to reconfigure the instrument gauges.

A long list of standard features include 10 airbags and climate control air-conditioning, as well as big-car options like satellite-navigation, a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring devices and a heated steering wheel.

Small cars now account for 15 per cent of the US new-car market, making this one of the most important vehicles Dodge will release over the next few years.

As well as replacing the Caliber – generally regarded as a misguided small-car/crossover with ungainly styling and a bargain-basement interior – the Dart revives a name familiar to Dodge fans from 1960 to 1976.

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