When I received word that I'd be test-driving a 2010 Dodge Caliber, I didn't get excited about it. The Caliber is like vanilla ice cream. It's good, and I like it and buy it regularly. However, I don't get excited over vanilla ice cream. Would spending a week in the Caliber change my initial lack of enthusiasm about this car? Yes and no.
For 2010, the Caliber has a new interior. It was comfortable, less boxy than I'd anticipated and filled with some great features. My test car was a Caliber R/T with several feature packages and cost $26,730. Dodge has since renamed its trim levels, and the Rush is the closest trim to my test car. The automaker has also lowered its prices; the Rush starts at $19,995 and the base Express costs $16,880.
The Caliber's drive wasn't terribly exciting. The four-cylinder engine ambles up to speed without much pickup. The optional continuously variable automatic transmission ($1,000) makes for a smooth – if not sort of bland – ride. The standard five-speed manual transmission probably would have added a little fun to the drive. As a commuter car or in the carpool lane, the Caliber does just fine. It's easy to park and the visibility is great. I liked driving a car that didn't make me do back flips just to figure out how to turn up the stereo's volume. Please pass the vanilla ice cream!
There's nothing vanilla about the Caliber's exterior. It has a chunky look that reminds me of rocky road ice cream. The angular exterior will get lots of comments from people. During my test drive, just as many people thought it looked cool as those who thought it was "funky," which is the word people use when they really want to say ugly. This hatchback stays within Dodge's design aesthetic, with the same grille and headlights that are found on the Nitro and Grand Caravan.
Functionally, the Caliber is great. The doors were easy for my kids to open and close. The rear hatch opened easily and didn't extend so high that I couldn't easily reach it. Watch those doorjambs, though. I expected it to be higher than it was and hit my head on the doorjamb the first time I got in the car.
With a 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder, the Caliber is a good grocery getter. It gets an EPA-estimated 21/25 mpg city/highway and takes regular gas.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair-Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
Before I even saw it, my first concern about the Caliber was whether the interior would wear on me over time. I'd been in Dodge cars that continued the exterior's angular look into the cabin, with rectangular edges across the interior, and I'd grown tired of the look quickly. Not so with the 2010 incarnation. The interior – while definitely less distinct – looked like a Dodge without pummeling me with angles. Edges have been rounded and some chrome details have shown up on the instrument cluster; it feels and looks nicer.
The heated front seats are comfortable and look sporty with the leather trim and contrast stitching. Even better, the rear seats are roomy. The second-row's cupholders are on the floor behind the front row's center console. This isn't ideal for younger kids who are strapped into child-safety seats, but it's not the end of the world if you have older kids.
While the Caliber is on the smaller side, I was impressed with all of its storage options. There's a good-sized bin in the center console, which is topped with an accessory tray (an MP3 player or iGadget will fit there nicely). There's a glove box, which is a decent size, but on top of that is the refrigerated Chill Zone compartment for cans of your favorite beverage (just don't consume the adult kind while driving, please). I also liked the cubby below the climate controls that has a grippy liner for stashing items without them rattling or sliding around.
The rear seats are split 60/40 and more than double the cargo area space when they're folded flat. Even with the backseat up, the cargo area can hold a huge grocery run without batting an eyelash.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The Caliber's Latch system is frustrating. There are two sets of lower Latch anchors and the inner anchor in both seating positions sits behind seat belt buckles. This makes the Latch anchors hard to use.
Once you've struggled to use the Latch anchors, a forward-facing convertible child-safety seat fits well in the Caliber. To fit a rear-facing convertible seat properly in the backseat, the front passenger seat has to be moved so far forward that the passenger ends up with their knees touching the glove box. A rear-facing infant-safety seat fits a little better in the backseat than the rear-facing convertible. I still had to move the front passenger seat forward, but not as far as with the rear-facing convertible.
My daughter's booster seat fit well in the Caliber. While the seat belt buckles are floppy in the outboard seating positions, she didn't complain about problems buckling up.
There are some safety features that aren't standard in the Caliber, and that's bothersome. I don't want to have stability control as an option, especially if I have a teen driver using the car. The Caliber comes with standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, front-impact airbags for the front row, side curtain airbags for both rows and a driver's knee airbag. Optional safety features include brake assist, side-impact airbags for the front row, stability control and traction control, which can all be had in a Security package for $940.
Get more safety information about the 2010 Dodge Caliber Rush here.