While it's taken a fair amount of time to finally make an appearance in the lineup, the 2013 Dodge Dart GT has now begun rolling off the production line and will arrive in showrooms later this month. We recently had a chance to take a brief but reasonably enlightening drive in the GT during an event at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan. Although the experience was hardly a definitive performance wring out, even under less than flat-out flogging, this newest and hottest Dart variant did show a good deal of spirited character.

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A de facto replacement for the much-anticipated -- and still possible -- R/T model that was slated to launch in late 2012, the Dart GT features a good deal of the cosmetic and functional enhancements that would have appeared on that vehicle. First presented at the Detroit Auto Show in January, the 2013 Dart GT sports unique exterior bits including a more aggressive front fascia with a Hyper Black grille, black accents, chrome tips on its functional dual exhaust system and the phantom R/T's "racetrack" LED perimeter taillamp. That enthusiast flair carries over to the GT's upgraded cabin, which features premium Black Nappa perforated-leather seats with Ruby Red contrast stitching or a two-tone Black/Ruby Red combo, class-exclusive heated steering wheel, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic temperature control, an 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen and remote start on autoshifted models.

Underhood the Dart GT packs the automaker's naturally aspirated 2.4-liter "Tigershark" 4-cylinder engine with MultiAir2 variable valve timing. Originally intended for R/T duty, it continues to make 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque whether backed by the standard 6-speed manual transmission or optional 6-speed automatic. Rounding out the performance side of the equation, the new GT benefits from a tauter sport suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels that mount 225/40 all-season tires.

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As for changes to its dynamic character, those GT-specific hardware mods do kick things up a tangible notch in comparison to any lesser Dart variant. The additional 24 horses bring more intensity to the acceleration with either transmission, but it's the GT's chassis tweaks that made more of an impression on us during this initial encounter. The upgrade does a commendable job of improving control and sharpening response to various driver inputs without destroying ride compliance. Somewhere along the line, Dodge execs decided a true "R/T" version of the Dart needed to have even more of an overt performance edge. However, until they see fit to pull the trigger on that entity, the GT's level of fast-tracker charm could well be all that some buyers who like the overall look and feel of this compact sedan may really want or need.

Pricing for the 2013 Dodge Dart GT opens at a very reasonable $21,790 and an autoshifted Dart GT starts at $22,890. Key options on this well-appointed model consist of HID headlamps, a 10-speaker/506-watt Alpine Premium Sound system, Garmin Navigation with SiriusXM Travel Link, Technology Group (push-button start, keyless Enter 'N Go, rain-sensing wipers, smart beam headlamps, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection) and a power sunroof.

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