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Chrysler, Italian style

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

Fiat became the controlling owner of Chrysler Group in Chrysler's bankruptcy, bailout and restructuring in 2009, giving the Detroiters an intriguing Italian accent.

And with the new Dodge Dart, we get a sedan based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta in Europe, which should be pretty decent DNA.

So I had high hopes for the metallic blue-gray Dart Limited. It seemed to possess some of the same one-world charm as the new Ford Focus — a sedan that could tackle curvy European back roads with grace and still be comfortable at an American backyard barbecue.

With its long wheelbase and short front and rear overhangs, the Dart looked as contemporary as your average Gen Y Zippie attached to this week's version of the iPhone.

Its long hood abutted a curved grille and large, aggressive headlamps. A blacked-out grille with Dodge's quasi-menacing crosshair center gave the sedan some sporting flair.

The car's large doors looked efficient, promising more space in back than the Dart could actually deliver, and highly polished 10-spoke wheels carried substantial 225/45-17 tires.

But the exterior, while crisp and well-proportioned, was overshadowed by the gray-and-white interior — whose bold color scheme looked like something you might find in a 1959 Olds 88.

A gray dashboard had a stitched hood over the instrument panel and a prominent center stack trimmed in piano black.

Gray leather covered the steering wheel, and the seats were wrapped in luxurious-looking pleated white leather in gray shells.

I was less impressed with the legroom in back, which was reasonable but not as generous as I had expected.

In fact, that close-but-no-cigar theme prevailed beneath the hood as well.

My Dart Limited was equipped with the standard 2-liter “Tigershark” four-cylinder kicking out 160 horsepower.

That power is identical to the Ford Focus SE. But here's the deal: The Focus is nearly 400 pounds lighter than the Dart — 2,907, according to Edmunds.com, compared with 3,295 for the Dart, says Motor Trend.

Even a fairly good six-speed automatic can't do much to move that bulk, which is close to the weight of some midsize sedans.

Though the engine is smooth and refined with a rich exhaust note, it needs a mediocre 9.9 seconds to propel the husky Dart to 60, according to Motor Trend.

The Focus, incidentally, is nearly two seconds quicker to 60, the magazine calculated.

I suggest you choose the optional turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, which also has 160 horsepower but generates 40 more pound-feet of torque and is considerably quicker in tests.

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