The regular Caliber's interior feels substandard to compact competitors such as the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Rabbit. It features more square edges and plastic than a LegoLand display and has interior noise levels on par with preschoolers on Red Bull. The edgy and exaggerated exterior makes the four-door hatchback look more like something G.I. Joe would cruise to Malibu Barbie's townhouse than something I'd want to drive to work every day.
But then I hopped into the SRT version of the Caliber and realized I might need my own Kung Fu grip to handle this car around corners.
Interior noise may not have dropped, but all of the sounds you hear now are good car noises -- the click of the six-speed manual transmission, the growl of the turbo-charged engine, the squeal of the 19-inch cast aluminum wheels -- a mechanical symphony.
Like most good toys, the 2008 Caliber SRT4 slips and slides in all the right places. For $23,000, you can pick up one set of Hot Wheels (and the battery is included).
Driving response is quick and easy
Perhaps the 10-year-old boy in me came out when test-driving the SRT4 on a race track outside of Indianapolis. Drive it fast and hard, push it like a Matchbox on the Thundershift 500 -- the SRT4 responds quickly and with ease. It presses down on tight turns, with only slight body roll and sway. The rack-and-pinion power steering is precise and well-weighted.
The suspension, completely revised by the Street and Racing Technology team, eliminates the regular Caliber's soft road manners. It also comes with independent MacPherson struts in the front with ZF twin-tube dampers. The rear suspension has a multilink system with ZF Sachs twin-tube coilover dampers and 240-pounds per inch springs. All that means the SRT4 can handle itself on the road and track. Even the electronic stability control is specially tuned to avoid being overly aggressive; it doesn't kick in at the slightest understeer or oversteer.
There are some problems with the power the SRT4 packs for a front-wheel drive vehicle, on heavy acceleration, the torque steer is noticeable.
The power for the SRT4 comes from the same place as the regular model: Dundee, Mich. Built by the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance, a co-development partnership between Hyundai Motors Co., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, the turbo-charged aluminum 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine pushes 285 horses and 265 pound-feet of torque.
Those may be just numbers to some, but believe me, that's a lot of Pretty Ponies under the hood. Here's some perspective. The regular Caliber, with a 2.4-liter I-4, manages 172 horsepower. Even among the competition, the SRT4 holds its own. The VW GTI hits 200 horsepower and the Honda Civic Si, with a 2-liter in-line four cylinder engine, reaches 197 horsepower.
The SRT4's engine is machined to allow more water flow and has an array of advancements to produce so much power, including variable valve timing, an oil cooler and an engine management system to monitor everything from the fuel injectors to the intercooled turbocharger. Even the gas mileage is bearable -- 26 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg around town.
Adding brawn to match muscle
While lots of technology lies beneath this car's sheet metal, the exterior still remains a recognizable Caliber. There are still slabs of flat-sided metal and heavy angular lines.
It looks better though. The hood scoop and new front fascia with larger air intakes for the brakes and bigger grille give it a more aggressive face. It fits well into the SRT family. Even the rear spoiler looks appropriate. It's still a Caliber, but with some brawn to match its muscle.
Interior needs refinement
Sadly, the interior still feels too much like the low-end Caliber.
It comes with the SRT racing seats, which are snug, but comfortable. The dash still looks like it was designed on an Etch-O-Sketch, with lots of flat surfaces and straight lines. The door's arm rest is hard, which leaves your elbow sore on long cruises. It's just too busy and harsh to enjoy, not giving your anywhere to focus or appreciate. There are some little add-ons, such as the chrome foot pedals and the dash mounted gear shifter. That last feature, by the way, does make changing gears cumbersome, especially when down-shifting. Too often I would go from fifth to second.
My test model also came with Chrysler's older navigation system, the one with the micro joystick on the right hand side instead of the newer My Gig system.
However, it hit the mark perfectly with its white-faced instrument panel. The tachometer sits in the middle and is bigger than the other instruments, as it should be on any proper sports car.
I liked the interior much more at night, with the soft blue glow of the instruments and green rings around the cup holders. The amenities were easy to reach and use without groping in the dark for them.
Another bonus with this car is its hatchback. While Detroit's automakers shy away from the fifth door, hatchbacks have vogue once again -- for good reason. They provide the utility to carry more things than a traditional sedan. With the comfortable second row easy to fold, the SRT4 can transform from people hauler to just hauler with 48 cubic feet of space.
There's no doubting this car's capabilities on the road: it's quick, agile and powerful.
However, its interior still needs some improving, when held up against competitors such as the Civic Si sedan and MazdaSpeed3, which are similarly priced and more refined.
I still may not want to drive this car to work every day. But if I did, it would be one heck of a ride.
Exterior : Good: Strong lines and aggressive face add to the car's character. It's distinctive and stands out.
Interior: Fair: Still needs work. Too much plastic and angles make the interior feel cheap and disorganized.
Performance: Excellent: Powerful engine, great brakes and overhauled suspension give this heavy car lots of ability on the road.
Safety: Excellent: An array of standard airbags and electronic stability control.
Pros : Good handling and powerful compact gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
Cons: Interior falls short when measured against similarly priced competitors.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Mike Hanley||Cars.com National||December 14, 2007|
|Joe Wiesenfelder||Cars.com National||September 28, 2007|
|Joe Wiesenfelder||Cars.com National||August 30, 2007|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||July 12, 2008|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||November 30, 2007|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||November 3, 2007|
|Scott Burgess||The Detroit Newspapers||October 24, 2007|
Closest Dealers Listing this Car
Featured Services for the Dodge Caliber
- Sell your current car quickly and easily on Cars.com.