2008 Dodge Caliber

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Review: 2007 Dodge Caliber

This 2007 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2012.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 6.75
Pros:
  • Likable, flexible hatchback design
  • Some nifty features, including all-wheel drive
  • Even a performance model offered
Cons:
  • Road noise
  • So-so fit and finish
  • Dodge's quality reputation

Consumers don't like cheap-feeling small cars, so automakers are trying hard to offer new, small-car alternatives.

Dodge's entry, the 2007 Caliber, is unusual in many ways. It's offered only as a 5-door hatchback, not the more traditional sedan.

The Caliber is classified as a compact, not a smaller subcompact.

And, despite its size, it received top government crash test ratings.

The Caliber also is big on features and offers illuminated cupholder rings, all-wheel drive, a layer-it-on audio system, choice of four engines and even a glove box area shaped and cooled to hold water and soda bottles and cans.

Not the lowest-priced small car
Unlike its predecessor in the lineup—the Neon—the new-for-2007 Caliber doesn't compete at the bargain-basement end of the small car segment.

Rather, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $13,000 for a base Caliber SE puts it in the company of the 2007 Toyota Corolla sedan and Ford Focus.

But it's most likely that a buyer will wind up spending at least $16,000 on a Caliber, because air conditioning and a continuously variable transmission, which a driver operates like an automatic, add some $2,000 in options to the base Caliber SE.

Other Caliber trim levels—the SXT and R/T—are more generously equipped than the base model, wear larger, more attractive wheels and are likely to account for the lion's share of sales.

And a fourth version—high-performance, 300-horsepower Caliber SRT model—takes the driving to a whole new level.

Two-continent plans
The 5-passenger Caliber is noteworthy because it's the first Dodge planned from the outset to be sold in Europe and dozens of other countries, not just the U.S.

As such, the Caliber's front styling isn't quite as bold as on other Dodges (think the Magnum and Ram). Yet, there are enough Dodge styling cues on the outside that the Caliber has some good on-road presence.

Of course, it didn't hurt that the test Caliber was a bright burnt orange color—Sunburst Orange Pearl—that was a $150 option.

I especially liked that the seating position in the Caliber is nicely raised some 4 inches above that in a normal car. So passengers don't feel like they're resting on the pavement.

Yet, despite the car's higher center of gravity, the Caliber tester with all-wheel drive held its line in curves and corners without feeling unsettled or tippy. Save for a 37.2-foot turning circle, the car looked bigger than it handled.

Indeed, the test car, an R/T model with standard CVT and sizable 18-inch tires, felt competent and comfortable in both city and highway travel.

Plentiful engine power
I didn't lack for power.

The R/T's up-level gasoline engine, a 2.4-liter double overhead cam 4 cylinder, can put out 172 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm, which is easily more sprightly than the Corolla's 126 horses and 122 lb-ft of torque.

It's also more than the 151 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of torque in a Ford Focus with top 2.4-liter 4 cylinder.

Caliber drivers hear the engine when this powerplant is accelerating, but in regular driving, there was much more road noise than engine noise.

Just don't look to this engine for fuel economy. Even with the more fuel-conscious CVT mated to it, this 2.4-liter Caliber engine was rated at just 23 miles a gallon in city driving. A four-cylinder-powered bigger car like the Toyota Camry had a higher government rating than that.

Highway fuel economy wasn't much better. A Caliber R/T was rated at 26 mpg for 2007, which was equal to the government rating for a two-wheel-drive Hyundai Santa Fe sport-utility vehicle.

Buyers more concerned with fuel economy might want to test drive Calibers with the base, 148-horsepower 1.8-liter double overhead cam four-cylinder engine. It was rated at 28/32 mpg by the federal government.

The mid-level engine—a 158-horsepower 2.0-liter double overhead cam four cylinder—was rated at 26/30 mpg.

All Calibers using these three engines burn regular unleaded gasoline. A turbodiesel is in European Calibers but not in the United States.

Odds and ends
The nifty features of the Caliber add the fun factor.

How many times in the summer did you want a cool bottle of water as you drove? You can have it any time in the Caliber with its aptly named "Chill Zone" glove box that holds up to four 20-ounce beverage bottles or cans.

Seat upholstery in the tester was an eye-catching mix of gray with bright orange inserts and, if you can believe, is odor-, fade- and stain-resistant. The material is a new fabric being rolled out into several DaimlerChrysler vehicles.

Another thoughtful touch: A Caliber center storage lid that slides forward and back 3 inches to provide better comfort for short-stature drivers.

And depending on the stereo system you want, you can add optional satellite radio, along with Boston Acoustics premium audio with new MusicGate that provides speakers that can be pulled outward from the rear liftgate to better direct the sound at tailgate parties.

I just wish the fit and finish of some trim pieces on the test Caliber was up to snuff.

In fact, Dodge hasn't done well in recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Studies. Since at least 2002, Dodge has been consistently below average in the rankings. Dodge also has been consistently below average since at least 2002 in J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures owner problems over a longer period—the first few years.

My other quibble is that the Caliber doesn't include stability control and side-mounted airbags as standard equipment, the way some other small cars do.

But cargo space tops out at a decent 48 cubic feet with rear seats folded.

Note that it can be difficult to see what's directly below and behind the Caliber.

Lastly, the rearmost metal pillar around the rear window can block some views as a driver backs up.

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BB02 - 8/29/2014 5:44:07 PM