Dodge brings back the Dart, with an Italian flair

Dodge’s newest small car replacing the woebegone Caliber next year will carry the name “Dart” — the first time Dodge has used that name on these shores in 36 years. This is not grandma’s Slant-Six lead sled.

Based on the European-only Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the new compact hatch is the first true mechanical combination born of the Fiat-Chrysler merger. Chrysler says the 2013 Dodge Dart will arrive with a choice of three engines, two of which are updated Chrysler four-cylinders suddenly renamed “Tigershark,” because it’s cool to get nicknames in middle age. To be competitive with the all-new fleet of compact cars in America, at least one model will need to hit 40 mpg on the highway.

For those unfamiliar with the proud history of the name, the first Dodge Dart arrived in 1960 as a nod to the Space Age, and persevered as a stoic, low-cost compact car until 1976, often powered by the ancient but bulletproof Chrysler straight-six engine tilted at a 30-degree angle. True Dart fans pay respect to the GTS muscle version of the late ’60s, but thanks to its low cost and ubiquity in TV shows of the late ’70s — and even “That ’70s Show” — it became known as grandma’s car. For the new Dart, Dodge plans to skip ahead at least a couple of generations.

We’ll see the real thing at the Detroit Auto Show in January

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