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February 13, 2008 > Auto Review: Dodge Caliber

Auto Review: Dodge Caliber

The Caliber came out in 2007 and is the replacement for the Dodge Neon. The hatchback body of the Caliber is much larger than the Neon and gives the rear seat passengers a little more leg room. The Caliber also gives a reasonable amount of "trunk" space behind the rear seats

Four different, 4-cylinder engines are offered by the Caliber line starting with the 1.8-liter that develops 148 HP. The 2-liter (158 HP) and 2.4-liter (173 HP) are also normally aspirated. Top of the line is the turbocharged 2.4-liter which develops an additional 112 HP (285 HP total).

Transmission choices include a 5-speed manual, a 6-speed manual, and a continuously variable automatic transmission. This means that there are no "gears" in the automatic; a system of belts and pulleys transmit power to the drive wheels. Electronics are allowed to make the most efficient use of the engine's power based on speed and road conditions.

Fifteen inch wheels are standard on the base model Caliber. You can choose 17-inch, 18-inch and 19-inch wheels as extra cost options on different models.

Depending on which combination of engine and transmission you pick, the EPA fuel mileage figures vary between 23 city and 29 highway.

The SE (base) model starts with an MSRP of $14,560. The SXT adds a number of features and starts at $17,180. Our test R/T base price was $18,955. Top of the line SRT-4 gets the turbocharged engine and has a base price of $22,955. Four-wheel drive is available on most models for about $2,100 extra.

I liked driving the test R/T Caliber. It is not what you would call peppy, but the 173 HP is certainly adequate for getting around town and down the freeways. The seating position is good, and the seats hold you well. Front visibility is good, but it's marginal out the rear.

On the downside, the controls feel cheap. Closing the doors produces a tinny kind of noise. The shift knob on our test car was not securely connected to the shift lever. This meant that every shift produced a creaking noise from the shift mechanism that was very annoying. If pushed hard, the Caliber's suspension does not do a great job with directional changes. Also, the engine seemed very noisy at high rpms.

One nice feature (called the ChillZone) is found in the three level glove compartment. The flow of cold air from the air-conditioning system is ducted into its middle level. This created a mini-refrigerator that can be used to keep sodas, water, and other drinks cool.

Another feature is that the speakers in the hatchback can be folded down (while the hatch is open) so that you can hear your music better while you are outside the Caliber. Also, the console cup holders light up at night so they are easy to find.

By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists

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