The Dodge Caliber falls into the "cute ute" category because it is part SUV, part station wagon and, in Dodge's words, part baby Magnum.
Dodge calls the Caliber a sport tourer. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional.
Power comes from a family of aluminum four-cylinder engines developed jointly by DaimlerChrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi.
Caliber is available in SE, SXT and R/T models, with three engines from which to choose: a 1.8-liter with 148 horsepower, a 2.0-liter with 158 horsepower and a 2.4-liter with 172 horses. All have variable valve timing, four valves per cylinder and chain-driven overhead camshafts. Balance shafts smooth vibrations.
A 300-horsepower, high-performance SRT4 version will be offered in the future.
The smaller engine is offered with a five-speed manual transmission, while the larger two come with a continuously variable transmission.
Prices start at $13,985 for the SE, $15,985 for the SXT and $19,985 for the all-wheel-drive R/T.
Initially, I felt that the R/T was rather sluggish off the line, in large measure because of the CVT. Just as the engine began to pull with some authority, the CVT changed ratios and the engine revs dropped, although forward motion remained fairly constant. Some CVTs are programmed to change ratios in a way that resembles a regular automatic, but this one was less so.
The advantage of a CVT is that the engine stays in its most efficient operating range, providing fuel economy that is almost as good as a manual's.
The Caliber's CVT can be shifted manually in AutoStick mode, and it feels like a six-speed. AutoStick is especially useful when added control is needed for winding roads or slick pavement.
The R/T's ride is firm, and the 18-inch wheels transmitted some harshness into the cabin when the pavement was rough.
The Caliber's tall roofline is similar to that of a compact SUV. The seats are high for good visibility, and getting in and out is easy. The instrument panel has light-faced gauges and brushed-silver or body-color panels on the center stack. The gearshift is mounted on the lower section of the instrument panel. The center armrest has a holder for an iPod or cell phone built into the top section.
Young buyers like affordably priced cars such as the Caliber because they're flexible enough to accommodate active lifestyles and small enough to be easily maneuvered. The all-wheel-drive option makes the Caliber a good choice for winter climates or outdoor adventure seekers who aren't afraid to tackle rough gravel or dirt roads.
The Caliber can be specified with handy options, such as the Chill Zone section of the glove box that keeps water bottles cold when the air conditioning is on and Music Gate, a pair of tailgate speakers that pivot downward to provide music for tailgating. The Music Gate speakers are part of the enhanced audio package so they improve the sound inside the car when the tailgate is closed.
The Caliber has been thoughtfully conceived and executed. There are cubbies throughout the cabin, and the back seats fold easily to create a flat load floor.
The coupelike roofline means the cargo area is not as tall as some compact SUVs, and that restricts what fits inside.
Small crossovers such as the Caliber are gaining popularity because many buyers realize they get decent gas mileage, don't cost a fortune and are easy to maneuver in the city.
The base price of the R/T is $19,985. Options on the test car included leather interior, power sunroof, Sirius satellite radio, tire-pressure monitor and the upgraded audio system that includes two speakers in the tailgate that can be pointed out of the car for parties or tailgating. The sticker price was $23,615.
Three years or 36,000 miles.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Joe Wiesenfelder||Cars.com National||March 9, 2006|
|Joe Wiesenfelder||Cars.com National||February 21, 2006|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||August 12, 2007|
|Kristin Varela||Mother Proof||October 1, 2006|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||September 8, 2006|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||August 16, 2006|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||August 9, 2006|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||July 23, 2006|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||July 21, 2006|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||July 8, 2006|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||June 28, 2006|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||February 10, 2006|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||February 5, 2006|
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