Tech Review: 2007 Dodge Caliber
This 2007 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2012.
By Doug Newcomb of MSN Autos
When the 2007 Dodge Caliber was introduced last year, the aspect of the new CUV that received the most attention wasn't its unique styling or even its relatively low price.
Most of it focused on the vehicle's unique gadgets: a beverage cooler in the glove box, illuminated cupholders in the center console, a hatch dome light that pops out to become a flashlight. And the Caliber also debuted a couple of novel audio features, such as a boom box that swings down from the liftgate and an MP3 player/cell phone holder that pops out of the top of the center console.
These features were all included on the Caliber R/T AWD model I test drove, with a sticker price of $21,300. And all but the liftgate boom box, known as the MusicGate Power Sound System (a $400 option) are standard on this model.
The Caliber R/T AWD also had an upgraded stereo with an in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer (a $320 option) and SIRIUS Satellite Radio with a 1-year subscription (another $195) in addition to the MusicGate Power Sound System. So beyond whether the Caliber's gizmos add value to the vehicle—and they do—this review really boils down to whether or not the extra audio is worth the added expense.
No Aux In
Even more bizarre is that the base AM/FM single-CD version of the audio system does have an aux-in jack. Even with the premium audio system I was forced to use an FM modulator to pipe music from my iPod into the FM tuner, which means the tunes take a big hit in sound quality.
The MusicGate Power Sound System includes nine Boston Acoustics speakers, including an 8-inch dual-voicecoil subwoofer, powered by 458 watts. The MusicGate designation refers to the boom box-shaped enclosure at the bottom inside edge of the liftgate that houses a pair of noticeable 3.5-inch full-range speakers.
In the closed position the speakers face the front on the vehicle and provide extra audio output for rear-seat passengers. But when the hatch is opened, the enclosure can be unsnapped so that it swings down and the speakers face outward to provide music for tailgating and such.
It's a great concept and a neat niche selling point, but I didn't notice a huge difference in sound when standing about 10 yards behind the vehicle with the MusicGate in the open or closed position.
While there was a slightly noticeable increase in volume with the MusicGate open, it wasn't very significant and I actually noticed a much bigger difference when the Caliber's four doors were opened and each of their 6 x 9-inch speakers added their output. Plus, the output of the 8-inch subwoofer could barely be heard outside the car.
But I also detected an annoying resonance coming from the driver's doors with certain bass notes. And though the audio system exhibited good low-frequency performance with almost any music I threw at it, the highs were often either too bright or muted and the music often lacked important tonal detail and the frequency response wasn't consistently cohesive and smooth.
The system was easy to operate, with controls that are logically arranged and mostly intuitive to use. But when listening to SIRIUS I'd have to press the INFO button to find out artist and song-title information. And while playing discs with MP3 and WMA audio files, the ID3 tag info would remain on the display for only about five seconds when the INFO button was pushed before reverting to the default display.
The display was bright and easy to read and I liked that the audio-system info—the CD and track numbers, for example—was also displayed in the instrument cluster. A pair of rocker-style switches on the back of the steering wheel—for volume up/down on one side and track or tuning up/down on the other—were also convenient.
This Caliber didn't come with Dodge's U-Connect Bluetooth hands-free phone system or a navigation system. But the two-prong, 115-volt outlet in the center console that's standard on the R/T and SXT models is a nice touch. And with its Inferno Red paint, 18-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels and chrome-accented exhaust tip and door handles, the Caliber got plenty of looks and comments.
While the Caliber's gadgets are designed to appeal to the tech-savvy younger buyer, they also add rather steep options charges unless you go with a step-up model. And though I have some qualms with the sound quality of the optional audio system and the controls have a few quirks, at $720 (not including SIRIUS) it is still a good value.
Doug Newcomb has been writing about car electronics since 1988, as editor of Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, Mobile Entertainment, Road & Track Road Gear and as a freelance writer. His new book, Car Audio for Dummies, is available from Wiley Publications. He lives in Hood River, Oregon.