By on February 23, 2007

dg007_029ca.jpgThe Big 2.5 have always struggled with vehicles of the four-cylinder persuasion. A series of broken nameplates dating back to Omni, Vega, and Pinto highlights Detroit’s longstanding fear and loathing of Thinking Small. Now the 0.5 is attempting to renew its ardor with the Caliber, branding it a “world car” and exporting it to Europe. Unfortunately, the Caliber shows that bad Detroit habits are hard to break, firing blanks in this latest battle of the econobox wars.

The Caliber goes to enormous lengths to distance itself from the smiley-faced four-door that preceded it. Dodge’s designers replaced the Neon’s batted-eyelash visage with their trademark crosshair grille, giving the youngster a mini-me Durango look. The shared lineage continues with the sedan’s steeply raked windshield and pronounced wheel wells, also strongly derivative of El Durangito

dg007_033ca.jpgThe Caliber’s tail is angular and stout, in the great Volvo XC90 tradition. The Dodge’s protruding taillights and loading lip are strangely reminiscent of its sibling, the Jeep Compass. The roofline tapers back behind the C-pillar above side-rear windows and a roof spoiler, offering more than a passing nod to the Lexus RX. 

All these influences are appealing in theory, laughable in fact. Despite the “anything but cute” advertising spin, the Caliber’s faux-bravado pastiche contradicts its maker’s intentions. The SUV-lite’s oversized bits are akin to puppy paws waiting for the attached dog to grow up. The resulting angry compressed truck exterior seems, well, silly.

dg007_019ca.jpgThe Caliber’s cabin is standard issue Chysler: slightly quirky but mostly dull. Perhaps the $16k market demographic has a high tolerance for cheap plastics and oversized gauges, but how did DCX decide that gray is the new black? Choosing between “slate gray” and “pebble beige” is like deciding whether or not to cut the crusts off a piece of white toast. The Caliber SXT Sport attempts to lighten this fug of mediocrity with a red or blue dash bezel and seat inserts (also available on R/T). It's about as sporty as a baseball cap on a bank clerk.

On the positive side, the Caliber’s seats were plenty comfortable. Four days and several hundred miles behind the wheel required no emergency trips to the chiropractor. The Cailber's audio system offers a wikkid flip-out MP3 holder in the center console. And the ChillZone glove box/cooler is a clever idea that shows just how far our culture has evolved on the drinking and driving front. 

dg007_018ca.jpgChillzone in Caliber, heated/cooled cup holders in the Sebring, a dining table in the Caravan…  what is it with Dodge and Chrysler and eating/drinking in their cars? Instead of building vehicles with a high fun factor, they’d rather sell consumers mobile dinettes. They should borrow a bit of finesse from BMW, with a bit less BMI.

The Caliber serves up three engine choices: a 1.8-liter 148hp base unit, a 2.0-liter 158 hp mill, and an allegedly performance-oriented 2.4 liter 172 hp “powerplant.” (Readers with a European address may partake of a VW-sourced turbodiesel.) Our CVT-equipped 2.0-liter tester sounded chronically unhappy with the business of driving. Even modest bouts of acceleration produced cruel and unusual noises. The brutal din may account for the transmission’s hesitation — perhaps it doesn’t want to offend Caliber drivers’ ears.

The Caliber’s handling matches its discontented drivetrain. Despite an independent rear suspension, the car displays all the grace of a sumo wrestler on figure skates. At the risk of inflicting metaphor overload, the tiller provides less feedback than a bumper car, with precisely none of the fun. And when it’s time for the “fun” to stop, the base model’s rear drums sound the death knell for pre-disc technology; though hopefully not for the car’s occupants.

dg007_053ca.jpgTo be fair, the Caliber’s suspension does a reasonable job maintaining its composure on city streets, back roads and Interstates. The car’s handling at two-tenths is competent enough for the typical commute or mall safari. Nonetheless, the front-wheel drive Caliber exhibits the sort of numbness and ride-handling compromises that the transplants cured more than a decade ago. And the poor outward visibility is disgraceful: an insurance deductible ready to happen. 

Taken as a whole (as required), the Caliber does nothing particularly well– unless the ability to schlep chilly drinks takes top priority. If DCX’ ultimate goal was to convince our NATO allies that downsized Yank tanks can be fun and refined, they’ve failed on both fronts.

A top notch refresh of the Caliber’s rental fodder predecessor would have been a better way for the automaker to get back into the small car game. In any case, The Dodge Boys should revisit the Caliber soon, before they lose all credibility in the four-cylinder sweepstakes.

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97 Comments on “Dodge Caliber Review...”


  • avatar
    bfg9k

    My impression from having had a Caliber as a loaner a few weeks ago… The first thing I noticed when getting in it was the hard plastic on every surface you usually touch, such as elbow rests.

    Visibility was terrible, especially when changing lanes on the highway. The roof comes down low on the windshield, giving a distinct bunker-like feeling at night. Quite simply, this is styling over basic safety – being able to see around the car. And to speak of night driving, the backlit gauges ruined my night vision.

    I thought the 2.0 engine and CVT were perfectly adequate, performance-wise, if a bit noisy and unrefined. That was the best part of the car, along with the big trunk.

  • avatar
    tincanman99

    This car is freaking ugly. Just what where they thinking about. Durango for inspiration? Please thats ugly too. The Durango has the front of a tractor trailer.

    This thing reminds of the Pontiac Aztec. Once again they prove that American car companies do not know how to build NICE small cars.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Dodge seems to think that large areas of glass "feminize" a vehicle (perhaps this is DCX's way of fighting the "greenhouse effect"). Although I was intrigued about the vehicle at first, seeing a Caliber in person turned me off, as it seemed to have little more glass area than a '65 VW Beetle. The engine and transmission combos appear to be designed to prevent hoonery (sorry), as each step in engine size must be offset with a required power-sapping drivetrain component (manual tranny with a 2.4 and FWD? No way, Jose! Anyway, with the sloppy suspension, DCX is thinking slow is a "safety feature"). If it seems like I'm ranting, well, I am. I actually was looking forward to a domestic, gas-saving hatchback, and the pre-release info (hype) on this car was high — but alas, another "swing-and-a-miss" for the domestics.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    “This thing reminds of the Pontiac Aztec.”

    Ironically, if GM had built a cheap, Caliber-sized Aztec, it might not have been the Edsel-sized failure it became. A cheap, small Aztec (which is essentially what the Caliber is) would have had the kind of outré styling that this end of the market would have bought.

    Regardless, the Caliber is a far cry from the original, much better looking, nineties’ Neon.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    "the car displays all the grace of a sumo wrestler on figure skates" I loved it. I guess it must have been engineered by Americans (obviously). I've never been in an American engineered smaller car which was capable in any sense of the word, re: handling. I'm old enough that I can actually admit having bought a new Ford Pinto (1975) on my 18th birthday, no less. It was such an awful car, that I hardly touched another ford for, oh, nearly 20 years. The handling was abysmal. I bought a 1984 Pontiac 1000 (nee Chevette) new, too. Hey, I was a newlywed and didn't have a lot of money, okay?! T he handling on that car was actually semi-capable, given it's very evident and prodigious limitations (i.e. wheel and tire size). Guess what? It was an Opel underneath. GM didn't have time to dumb it down before introducing it in 1976. They were in a rush. They did change the aluminum head on the Brazilian designed four bangers over to iron to take into account their ham-fisted Chevrolet mechanics at dealers, presumably. Now I drive Japanese and South Korean cars, which, while not perfect, are a far cry from Detroit(ish) product. Far better!

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    This thing reminds of the Pontiac Aztec. Once again they prove that American car companies do not know how to build NICE small cars.

    Nothing was as ugly as the Aztec. Not the Pacer, not the Gremlin, nothing. It’s obviously not a pretty car, but lumping it in with the Aztec is hitting below the belt.

    It does look way too truckish for my senses, though.

  • avatar
    1984

    Keep in mind that the Caliber is a really cheap ride. The fact that anyone really takes notice of the styling of an entry level car (weather you think it’s ugly or not) makes it somewhat of a success… at least you noticed… right? There are many other econo box cookie cutters you can choose from so why build another one?

    It seems to sell… idunno…

  • avatar
    Zarba

    I don’t think the Caliber is ugly. I actually like the looks of the car. My understanding is that they’re selling well, so the public seems to agree. Not my cup of tea, but whatever…

    Unfortunately, I sat in one. The interior is among the cheapest I’ve ever seen. A Kia Rio puts it to shame. Where were Chrysler’s German nannies when this was designed?

    DCX could have spent another $200 on better interior bits, but they cheaped out. In the end, another piece of junk that will do nothing for DCX.

    Have they not even sat in a Civic or Corolla?

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    Here’s another rental car destined to attract fire-sale shoppers, then be worth nothing in resale value. I predict quality will be all over the place–you roll the dice and hope you get one that doesn’t fall apart.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Just further proof that American makers just don’t give a crap about small cars. But to be fair, there’s a catch-22 vicious cycle with giving the customers what they want, but customers only wanting what they’re given.

    Just another example of selling to the price point, not to the whole market. In other words, this will do well with the “Take what I can afford” crowd and octogenarians in the country’s most boring driving state, Florida. I guess it appeals to the small SUV withdrawal crowd, but I just don’t get the styling at all. My complaint list goes on and on: how about why they put 18″+ wheels on an NA 4-cylinder gas car? The thing needs all the help it can get in ride quality and acceleration, and all that unsprung weight and excess rotational inertia isn’t helping. Oh, I guess I’m not being “manly” with comments like that.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Super article. Jeremy Clarkson, take that!

  • avatar

    No question, the Caliber is selling well. Current dealer inventory sits at 51 days.

    At the risk of becoming the Kirvorkian of Cars, I recommend we wait and see before pronouncing this model a success.

    When a new model comes out– especially a stylish one– there SHOULD be a surge of demand. The real test of the car comes later after A) everyone who really, really wants one really, really has one and B) the owners who have one decide whether or not they want another one.

    The Ford Mustang is a perfect example. BIG HIT! And now sales are beginning to tank. Why? Because Ford has done nothing to improve the basic machine, to maintain and defend the model’s territory.

    Hey, how about the Neon? Good reviews, lots of sales, lots of fans and then… Dodge Caliber!

    Mr. Imonti ends his piece by saying, OK, it’s a start. Now fix it.

    The critical question for the Caliber’s survival (indeed, Chrysler’s survival) is not whether or not the Caliber’s selling now, or even how it stacks up against the current competition.

    It’s simply this: will they fix it?

    Detroit’s ADD dooms them to a constant round of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    All the other reviews I read about the Caliber tried too hard to be nice. This review, in contrast, is accurate, funny and to-the-point. Good job!

    I liked the concept of the Neon (I know, I am weird), since it was at least originally intended to have a good grin-per-dollar ratio. It was underdeveloped and had poor NVH, but I thought it was promising. What promise does the Caliber have, I wonder?

  • avatar
    dolo54

    It is really bizarre that American car companies abandon any model with good reviews and good potential for development, I mean neon, taurus, focus, etc. You’ve got a good thing, it sells, it gets good reviews, and instead of putting effort into making it better like every other car company, you abandon it and push out something like this? It’s almost like they’re running their company like The Producers. Do they have some scam worked out where they will make more money if they go bankrupt? It’s crazy.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Oh yeah… every time I see this car I expect a bunch of clowns to jump out of it.

  • avatar

    The exterior styling works for me. But I’ve been a critic of Chrysler’s love for gray for some time, and recently wrote a blog entry about it:

    http://www.truedelta.com/blog/?p=21

    On the other hand, after a rough start quality seems to be improving. I’m getting good data on this car, as the car has very enthusiastic owners and 60 of them have already joined my panel.

    My price comparison, fuel economy, and reliability site’s page for the Caliber:

    http://www.truedelta.com/models/Caliber.php

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    the bling boys seem to like it here, i’ve seen it with 22 inch wheels with spinners fer chrissakes – they probably cost more than the entire car –

    “the car displays all the grace of a sumo wrestler on figure skates” Indeed.

    all bling, so sting. stupid car.

  • avatar
    rjzinger

    I drove a base model 97 Neon for six years till it died on me with little to no problems until then. And I actually liked driving it. My dad complained once when he drove it about the uncomfortable seats and man where they but I got used to it.

    I don’t think it was smart to get rid of the Neon. The last years (05?) styling was very nice and I was considering getting another. And from what I had seen was pretty popular with tuners. There where whole sites dedicated to Neon tuner parts.

    Though I have to say I kinda like the way the Caliber looks, I liked the Neon better. A recent article in C&D compared to others in the price class and put it sixth out of seven behind the Accent, Yaris, Rio, Versa and Fit. I would buy a Toyota or Honda over a Dodge for the same price every time.

  • avatar
    1984

    The Ford Mustang is a perfect example. BIG HIT! And now sales are beginning to tank. Why? Because Ford has done nothing to improve the basic machine, to maintain and defend the model’s territory.

    If you ever have driven the model prior it’s a stretch to say it has not improved.

    The Mustang does not need to defend anything right now; it’s all locked up on the pony car front. When the Challenger or Camaro roll out the mustang will get an update to GT500 styling and rumored to have chassis upgrades

  • avatar

    but you left out the best part – competing with the similar, but more nimble Scion Xb, you get 600 pounds more car with the Dodge! Imagine that – hauling 25% more weight for a 10% gain in cargo capacity. Ya gotta love those Dodge boys…

  • avatar
    NN

    What about the PT Cruiser? Remember how crazy everyone went for that when it was introduced? It did, and still does have fantastic, American, and original styling. It was a really cool American small car–that Chrysler has let rot on the vine for years now. So they build an awkwardly styled Caliber with an inept powertrain and a 80′s interior, based off of the same basic principles of the PT Cruiser (tall, spacious, 4 cylinder car).

    They should have updated the PT to keep it fresh, maybe a little bigger and more spacious, with a better powertrain and better interior materials. Price it a little higher–Chrysler is supposed to be a higher end brand. And then redone the Neon for Dodge. Instead they effectively kill both the Neon and the PT and replace it with this and two Jeeps that defy the brand.

    Chrysler and Ford worry me the most…sure, GM has it’s bureaucratic problems, but at least they have some promising product coming (current Tahoe/Suburban, new CTS, Outlook/Enclave, Aura, Malibu, Impala, etc.). Ford has nothing coming that looks to save the company…the Edge isn’t edgy enough to carve out the type of market share the Explorer used to. And Chrysler, once the shining star of American companies, has gone back to building 1980′s American cars–albeit in Mexico and Canada with technology from Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    Well if nothing else Dodge seems to sell a fair amount of them.

    Every review I’ve read of the caliber has not been good. You would think Dodge could have done a little better.

  • avatar
    TreyV

    From a pure ‘design’ perspective, I would contend that the exterior is actually something of a small miracle. It really does manage to effectively cram the whole Dodge truck design pathos onto a FWD compact car without looking bulbous or otherwise bizarre. However, what kills the concept (for me at least) is the intense mental dissonance when I consider what the exterior of a Dodge truck crammed onto a compact car means. Truly an executive somewhere had the conscious thought of “Screw you foreigners, and your tiny little cars!” and set out to design a car based on that (and only that?) thought.

    Chrysler interiors are the pits. The absolute wretched worst. After sitting in something like 20-30 cars at the Philly auto show and making myself deliberately assess and rank what I saw, Chrysler vehicles were startlingly bad.

  • avatar
    blautens

    Has anyone at DCX gone on the record trying to justify the interiors of cars like the Caliber, the Compatriot twins, or even the Charger?

    I mean, really, they feel awful…I can get over the color schemes (they’re a little more subjective), but the tactile feedback is really bad.

    Way back in the day I used to spec parts for a computer company. I always spent more for the things people touched – and it paid off – the magazines would review the product and talk about “quality”. Never mind the internals, such as video card and motherboard, were as cheap as they came.

    But again, I’d like someone to look me in the eye and defend the quality of the interiors…it would take Tony Snow to do that.

  • avatar
    Adrian Imonti

    ash78:Just further proof that American makers just don’t give a crap about small cars.

    The part that scares me that they actually do seem to care, yet this is the result. DCX’s intent is to export this car to almost 100 countries — they intend to expand Dodge sales abroad with this car. Perhaps our European readers who have seen one on the street can comment (in my opinion, it actually photographs better than it looks in the flesh), but I’d say that it must look God-awful when parked next to Fords, Vauxhall-Opels, Peugeots, etc. I can’t see Europeans going for this car at all, but that’s supposedly the goal.

    Robert Farago: No question, the Caliber is selling well. Current dealer inventory sits at 51 days.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts, but I suspect that this car will suffer the same fate as other cars that have quirky styling, such as the New Beetle and PT Cruiser — they generate decent retail sales at first, but those sales fall off quickly once virtually everyone who wanted one has already bought one. They aren’t exactly scarce in the rental market now (I’ll bet that Budget and Dollar have more than a few of these in their fleets), and I expect that percentage of fleet ownership to increase over time.

  • avatar
    NN

    I had heard a report that they were selling well in Europe. anyone got access to figures and what the expected sales rate is? And are they coming out of the US plant? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the most successful American car exported out of the US right now…not counting the Honda’s/Toyotas sent back to Japan

  • avatar

    I had the dubious pleasure of renting a Caliber 1.8l CVT for a drive through Alberta, Canada (would that be “Calibre” then).

    It had a small and probably good 1.8L if the car had been 500lbs lighter; the same went for gas enconomy, a small engine only gets you good fuel economy if the car it is connected to is small, and this isn’t.

    The CVT was humour in a stick where you put your foot down and the car actually went slower for a second (the infamous “rubber band” effect) and then all hell broke loose. While it would never snap your neck, once you’re above 5 grand it pulls almost like an actual engine. Same as before, would be great in a smaller car.

    The interior was revolting, but it *IS* a combination that retails for only $12 Grand so I can understand. I still hate it, but I understand. It was clever, though, there were half-a-million cubbyholes and comparments for everything, the shifter on the consolt was not a bad idea and the instrument cluster wasn’t bad at all.

    What surprised me, though, was the handling. It actually handled WELL. Understandably it was top-heavy, but the suspension was taut, it had a lot of grip and and it transmitted road feel without bumpiness and road noise. The steeting was a tad numb from what I assume was electrical power steering.

    This is a car I want to like, I really do. I think it _looks_ great; it’s a love-it-or-hate-it looking car, but at least it’s like someone bothered to try. With a better engine and a 6M tranny it could be great, but then it would cost $15 and at that price I would have a hard time justifying it over a new VW Rabbit, Civic or Mazda 3.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    It’s really sad that this sells. The execs who pushed this out will pat each other on the back and say “good job”.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Nothing was as ugly as the Aztec. Not the Pacer, not the Gremlin, nothing. It’s obviously not a pretty car, but lumping it in with the Aztec is hitting below the belt.

    I present for your consideration: Subaru Baja

    Anyway, the Caliber is a decent car, but it certainly needs some serious upgrading on the interior.

    Concerning the Mustang, just because its in a party of one doesn’t mean Ford should get away with skimping – for another $200-300 the interior parts could have been brought to a whole new level. As well, waiting for the “re-freshing” to do so is ridiculous – do it ASAP….you only get one chance to impress the casual observer.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    I present for your consideration: Subaru Baja

    Not even that car was as ugly as the Aztec. It was weird for sure, like somebody took a sawzall to a Legacy, but it did evoke memories of the BRAT, which I liked in a funky sort of way.

    You won’t convince me that there’s a car out there that can match up to the outright revulsion I had when I first laid eyes on the Aztec.

    how did DCX decide that gray is the new black?

    It beats the blood red interiors that Ford used to have in their cars back in the 80′s. Besides, it’s not like they’re trying to trick you with faux wood/aluminum trim pieces. That would’ve been an even worse offense.

  • avatar

    I had heard a report that they were selling well in Europe. anyone got access to figures and what the expected sales rate is?

    The Caliber is Chrysler Group’s best selling model outside of North America. In January they sold 2,566 Calibers out of a total of about 15K sales outside North America.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I still think the $65k Lexus SC430 is uglier than the Aztek. I’d also put the Honda Pilot right up there with it.

    I think Chrysler vehicles only sell well in Europe because they have the decent diesel option (tdi or cdi, depending on model) and because they have a certain “Americanness” about them that you don’t find in the home brands–namely the Grand Cherokee, T&C van, 300C, and possibly the Caliber, too. I’m sure Daimler has a strong hand in this, though–everything from market access to currency hedges.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    First of all, congrats to Adrian. This is the best review I’ve read in a long time, and provides reassurance that TTAC’s post-Lieberman era will be prosperous.

    When I first saw the “2.0″ in the title, I was excited, because I thought this represented a new and improved Caliber. Wow, maybe DCX finally gets it and improved the vehicle. But no, 2.0 refers to engine size. At least Dodge is honest about engine size, unlike BMW who puts a 3.0 in the 328, 335, 525 and 530.

    Anyhoo, I completely agree with Adrian and Robert’s assertion that DCX needs to fix this puppy. The platform is fine, as evidenced by the well received Outlander and Lancer, but Dodge’ execution was poor.

    It costs a few bucks, but improving the quality of interior parts, adding some insulation, and refining the suspension and transmission calibrations isn’t that hard. The Caliber could be a vehicle far superior to the Cobalt, Focus and Elantra, which would be sufficient to retain sales at current levels for the next 5 years.

  • avatar
    kkop

    The windshield doesn’t look ‘steeply raked’ at all… In fact, most SUV/CUV windshields look to be much more upright (and thus ‘more ‘steeply raked’) than the one on the Caliber.

  • avatar
    SuperAROD

    The buying public completely disagrees with this review. Otherwise nearly 100,000 wouldn’t have flown out the door in 10 months, the first 2 or 3 of those being limited availability.

    It is also Dodge’s biggest hit overseas in forever.

    The styling is bold and stands out, love it or hate it. The car has world class standard safety features. The interior is full of clever amenties. The only complaint can be the inexpensive materials used in some of the interior components.

    For 13K, it is a great combination of value, styling, and functionality. People on this board may zing it, but the buying public loves it. Proof is in the pudding.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    I’ll second SherbornSean’s vote. Terrific review.

  • avatar

    >>All these influences are appealing in theory, laughable in fact. Despite the “anything but cute” advertising spin, the Caliber’s faux-bravado pastiche contradicts its maker’s intentions. The SUV-lite’s oversized bits are akin to puppy paws waiting for the attached dog to grow up. The resulting angry compressed truck exterior seems, well, silly.

    Very well said.

  • avatar

    I hated the Neon, but the Caliber makes me nostalgic for it. The same way Bush makes me nostalgic for Nixon.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I would have a lot less trouble with it visually if the rear end were cleaned up a bit more. It’s like they had previously designed a decent looking car, took a step back and said “Whoops, we just built a scale model of the Lexus RX!”

    So welded the back of the Malibu Maxx on there and called it a day.

  • avatar
    shaker

    What no one seems to be mentioning is that the base model is decidedly that; base. The cheapest AWD that I’ve seen available locally is $22k ($800 sunroof included). There are $26k models — now you’re in Patriot territory…

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Robert hit it right. 51 days inventory NOW. But wait 6 months.

    The car is falvor of the month right now. But when that fades, the actual CAR has to stand on its own. And the Caliber can’t.

    Mustang is a perfect example. As Robert said, NOW FIX IT! Ford’s had plenty of time to hear what’s wrong with the car, now they need to be honing it to be a long-term winner.

    Honda and Toyota make small incremental changes every year or two to their existing cars to keep them up to date and fresh. The Big 2.5 rarely do. So if you buy from them, you are oftem buying a 5 year old design that hasn’t changed, except for the number of chrome bars on the grille.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    Partially why they have a hit:

    Hatches are USEFUL. I had my sister get a Fit over a Yaris because it was a 4-door hatch. I have a Mazda6 “5 door” (aka hatchback).

    And there is NO domestic competition to speak of.
    PT Luzer? Out of date. Mee Too cruiser? Bah. It suffers from actually being regarded as “Thats the new PT cruiser, right?”

    The only one of note is the Vibe, but why not save your money and get the less hideous Toyota version?

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    While I think this car is supremely fugly, I actually think styling it this way was a good idea. As mentioned earlier, why make another vanilla econobox? And as SUV owners start thinking small it makes sense to offer them some familiar cues. If DCX stick with this model and refines it the sales could stay strong. But, we all know that aint gonna happen.

  • avatar
    ash78

    nweaver
    I don’t think anyone is disputing the usefulness of hatches, more so questioning “why this one?”

    At least it might be a way to get people warmed up to hatches and wagons more, which in the long run is a good thing. If it requires some gratuitous truck/SUV styling to accomplish that along the way, so be it.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    the car displays all the grace of a sumo wrestler on figure skates. At the risk of inflicting metaphor overload, the tiller provides less feedback than a bumper car, with precisely none of the fun

    If you work on the wheel house of Exoon Valdez you would really appreciate this kind of handling.
    Some say an Oil tanker takes 7 miles to turn.
    A friend used to run power barge from Seattle to I’ll ask her ( Alaska) says they had 2 radar systems for different scanning, everything you do now will be affected 4 hrs later.

  • avatar
    webebob

    The first Caliber commercials caught my eye, and even now I do a double take when I see one on the street. It looks good to me. cool.

    I think a tip of the hat needs to be given to current automotive designers; sub-compact used to be designed for sub-humans. no frills and a pain, literally, to drive if you couldn’t afford the makers premier offerings.

    Now you get cool boxes, fold down stereo blaster speakers and any option you want on the mfrs “starter” cars.

    Now if I have a choice between which rental I’d rather be seen in, Cobalt or Caliber, gimme the Dodge anytime.

    we’ve come a long way baby.

  • avatar
    NN

    I believe the Neon was originally a quick flash in the pan success in Europe also, until people caught onto it’s build quality and overall cheap nastiness. With the current exchange rate, these things are probably cheaper than Protons or Peroduas. And we still build better cars than the Malaysians!

    Frank, thanks for the figures–I find that interesting. I do hope the Caliber proves naysayers wrong and turns out to be reliable–it’s amazing to think that if the overseas sales rates keep up, the Caliber alone could be a 1/2 billion dollar per year export from the US.

  • avatar

    Adrian Imonti: The SUV-lite’s oversized bits are akin to puppy paws waiting for the attached dog to grow up.

    Well done. :-)
    - – - – - – - – - – -

    Michael Karesh: I’m getting good data on this car, as the car has very enthusiastic owners…

    Michael,
    Interesting. I keep reading how we don’t like hatch backs, though useful, and others here say the thing gets bad reviews. Yet you say owners are “very enthusiastic” about this car that looks like it’s trying to be a truck.

    Do you have any feeling as to why there’s so much owner enthusiasim? The bang for the (low-budget) buck, perhaps?

  • avatar

    Count me as another Neon fan – I had a 2000 version – quite fun to drive with the 5spd. Interior wasn’t bad at all if you didn’t have the base model. I liked it a lot more than the 1998 Civic I had previously. Shame to see DCX drop it for this wannabe truck thing.

  • avatar
    fahrvergnugen11

    the base model’s rear drums sound the death knell for pre-disc technology;

    Ah, there’s something to be said about the “tried and true” (or is it “tired and true”) old technology brake drums. Unfortunately the 21st Century isn’t the time to say it…

    This technology should have been RETIRED years ago…

  • avatar
    steve2112

    When is the SRT version coming out? I remember that it was supposed to be a “STi killer” with 300hp & AWD. Is that still in the plans or already released?

    http://www.autoblog.com/2006/02/08/aye-carumba-dodge-unloads-the-300-hp-caliber-srt-4/

  • avatar
    chaparral

    The real USP of this car comes with the SRT-4. A 110-mile trap speed will make up for a variety of sins, and they’ll probably be pretty good in the corners. Don’t forget that the Neon SRT-4 was eighth in One Lap one year.

    Base Calibers aren’t enthusiasts’ cars. They are mass-market, and competing in a price class where they are by fare the largest and best equipped of any vehicle there. The SRT won’t be too much more, but it will have most of the $1000 worth of improvements that this article mentioned, plus 300 horsepower.

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    I still think the $65k Lexus SC430 is uglier than the Aztek. I’d also put the Honda Pilot right up there with it.

    I pretty much agree with the Lexus, but you mean the Ridgeline, right? The Pilot’s inoffensive and unnoticeable. And the Ridgeline seems to be the butt of a lot more ugly jokes than the Caliber.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    ash: Why make it look like a SUV rather than a hatch?

    Simple. Because the people who want hatches don’t care what it looks like. But there are a lot of people who remember that their parents drove station wagons and don’t wanna be like their parents.

    so build it like a station wagon (for those who care) but don’t make it LOOK like a station wagon.

    Anyway, I kinda like the exterior. Its got that “pit bull/dashhund mix puppy” look, like it wants to be all badass but has this cute factor going for it.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Like Adrian said, this car photographs a lot better than it looks in person. There’s one on my block. It’s super cheap looking. It really looks like a cartoon of a car.

  • avatar
    rottenbob

    I don’t think the car looks bad. At least it doesn’t look a carbon copy of everything else on the road (that may be the Aztec’s one redeeming quality). I think the point here was that Chrysler was trying to create a small car that macho men would not be embarassed to be seen in. The interior is a step above the Rio and Accent, although that’s not saying much. And it beats the Neon for the simple reason that it is a hatchback.

    What really grabbed me was the poor visibility. I remember sitting in it and thinking “How did this get green-lighted for production?! I can’t see anything!”

    But the worst feature about this car is the warranty; a lousy 3/36 term. If American car companies want to close the perception gap and get people believing that their products are of good quality then they ought to put their money where their mouth is and offer a warranty that at least matches the Koreans (10/100). I wouldn’t even consider a domestic car without at least a 7/70 warranty.

  • avatar
    kjc117

    Caliber is typical Dodge product. Dodge is the performance and entry level of Chrysler group.
    Targeted at the male market the real surprise or maybe not is the quality is still not up to the Japanese competition.
    The real question with all the LaSorda and Dr. Z PR turnaround crap is why isn’t this car any better?
    The Caliber satisfies the current Dodge customer base but does nothing to attract the lose market share the Chrysler group has lost.
    Wait, this part of their master plan of using old MB platforms as upmarket Chrysler products to chase the lost market share from the Japanese manufacturers and using Dodge to keep their existing market share.

    God, those Germans are brilliant.

  • avatar
    adehus

    While I’ve always appreciated TTAC’s reviews (and they are some of the best on the web), I’m almost uniformally disappointed in the writing as it relates to automotive styling. In general, it seems as though most of the styling critiques are a means of generating cheap entertainment, either through slagging the styling with the most outrageous metaphors the writers could dream up or by drooling over them shamelessly.

    With respect to the Caliber, it’s hard to argue seriously that it doesn’t look good compared to it’s competitors- it certainly stands out in their midst. While most of the Urkelmobiles of this class seem to put off a visual vibe that screams, “don’t hit me!”, the Caliber comes off as poised and assured… strong, even. It’s visual cues serve to make it look and feel larger than it really is when viewed from the exterior. And while it’s certainly no CUV, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

  • avatar
    kablamo

    Part of the Caliber’s appeal is that it’s the only option for a 4 cylinder economy car for Mopar fans. If you like Chrysler and want to stick with it and want a cheap everyday car, you have no other choice. If they sold the Neon alongside this thing, sales would be cut by two thirds.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I think the review, although a bit entertaining, was a bit off target.

    First off, the Big 3 actually have a very good record of selling subcompact four cylinders. In fact, the only Japanese companies that have performed decently in this area over the past 15 years have been Honda and (Ford owned) Mazda. GM has been the best seller, Ford has been extremely successful with the Escort/Focus, and the 1st gen Chrysler (nein Daimler) Neon is arguably one of the most enthusiast oriented vehicles todayin the used car market. On the flip side, the Civic and Protege/3 have been perennial leaders while the Tercel/Echo, Sentra/Versa and Colt/Lancer have been perennial losers.

    The 1st generation SE-R is a noteable exception to the list.

    As far as the Caliber is concerned, the exterior was extremely well done. I believe if you had put a Toyota or Honda badge on it, most folks would have assumed that it would sell in the low to mid 20′s (until they opened the doors). While most vehicles tend to emphasize their compactness with slender aerodynamic lines, the Caliber is much more of a masculine and strong design. It’s the Neon concept given a complete 180…. and apparetly it’s working quite well.

    Unfortunately there are three problems with the car that will keep it from gaining any more ground. The interior materials are unacceptably cheap, the engine choices are unexceptional (given the vehicle’s weight), and the driver ergonomics are just plain terrible.

    When the Neon came out, ALL of the subcompact interiors were cheap. Today the only model that really stands out in it’s cheapness is the soon-to-be extinct Saturn Ion. Unfortuately for the Germericans, virtually all the interiors of today would have been perfectly acceptable in a mid-1990′s midsized vehicle and as a result, the Caliber can’t turn the trick as well as the Neon did in it’s day.

    The need for a diesel is obvious… this model is a gas guzzler compared to most of it’s competitors and Chrysler is losing a lot of sales as a result. It’s understandable why we’re not getting it… yet (government logic)… but I hope that the executives at Chrysler (nein Daimler) are given the means to finally bring one out. I can certainly see this vehicle becoming a very worthwhile alternative to others if it’s given enough low end torque and 30+ mpg on the highway. In fact, I think diesel tuners could actually make the Caliber an enduring success story if the Germans would just float this option out to Auburn Hills by 2008.

    Finally, I understand where Dodge was coming from with their interior design. Many Americans leave an awful lot of garbage and doo-dads in their cars. The cubby hole and storage designs are actually quite good given the fact that 100+ countries can lay claim to hundreds of millions of certified slobs.

    The driving ergonomics though are only good for those looking for a minivan-esque level of detachment. Believe it or not, this car feels a lot like the Dodge Caravans of 10 years ago. It was a good thing then, for a minivan mom, but definitely not in a driver oriented segment like the subcompact market.

    Overall, I think the Caliber is a much better car than what’s been stated here. However, I’m also one of those who thinks that the dashboard of the Civic was the worst interior design since Toyota moved all the dashboard components to the center with the Echo. Still, the Civic sells and I’m willing to bet that if Daimler (nein Chrysler) decides to support the Caliber with excellent powertrain compenents, and interior improvements, it may prove to be an enduring model.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Steve,
    I don’t think the SRT4 will be AWD. Mitsubishi didn’t go to all the trouble of developing this platform to allow Dodge to compete with the EVO X.

  • avatar
    Adrian Imonti

    SherbornSean: This…provides reassurance that TTAC’s post-Lieberman era will be prosperous.

    That’s nice of you, thanks. Those are pretty big shoes to fill, I hope that I can find a way to increase the size of my feet…

    But no, 2.0 refers to engine size. At least Dodge is honest about engine size, unlike BMW who puts a 3.0 in the 328, 335, 525 and 530.

    To clarify, the car isn’t badged as a 2.0 liter, at least in the US. I was just distinguishing this one from the 1.8 liter base engine and the 2.4 liter in the R/T. Incidentally, TCAC’s Lesley Wimbush previously reviewed the R/T. If his critique means anything, then he is obviously a much nicer (or at least more charitable) person than I am: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=2108

    Frank Williams: The Caliber is Chrysler Group’s best selling model outside of North America. In January they sold 2,566 Calibers out of a total of about 15K sales outside North America.

    Thanks for the data. To put that in perspective, Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep had total combined sales of about 156,000 vehicles in January. So it seems that about 90% of the cars made stayed in North America.

    Also, I couldn’t find current numbers, but through the first half of the 2006 model year (October 2005-April 2006), 36% of Caliber’s sales went to fleets, with almost all of those going to rental. At that point, the car had only been out for a short time, so that data may be highly skewed, but I find it curious that so much of the initial allotment went immediately to rental.

    guyincognito: I actually think styling it this way was a good idea. As mentioned earlier, why make another vanilla econobox? And as SUV owners start thinking small it makes sense to offer them some familiar cues.

    Your point is well taken. To be fair to Dodge for a moment, the dominance of the aggressive truck body styles in its lineup effectively puts a box around the type of stying cues that can find their way into future models. But while I can appreciate the desire for continuity among the cars, I don’t think that this was the way to do it.

    As others have said, I see this as a being a flash-in-the-pan redesign, which will make their long-term problems even worse. If the SUVette style created here ultimately falls flat, DCX may be forced to change the concept and the name yet again, and building name recognition for a new nameplate would cost a fortune.

    NN: I do hope the Caliber proves naysayers wrong and turns out to be reliable…

    Honestly, this naysayer hopes to be wrong, too. Prior to its release when all I knew about this car was its core concept (“aggressive small car” that didn’t imitate Toyota or Honda), I was impressed by the attempt. But the actual execution is weak — it’s not the worst set of wheels on the road, but it’s far from great, and I can’t see why they couldn’t or shouldn’t have done better.

  • avatar

    Yes, yes, yes and yes!
    I just had to drive a Caliber SXT for 28 days. Your review is dead-on!
    CVT might keep the engine in the right RPM range, but there’s alot of noise and not alot of extra propulsion as a result. Seats are acceptable. Dash is bland, and identical Compass / Patriot (which is t i n y by the way).

  • avatar
    chanman

    I’m fairly certain Lesley is a she – I think I’ve read some of her articles at Canadiandriver.com

    Caliber seems kinda tubby weight-wise.

  • avatar
    Aussie Shaun

    Very nice article. This is one of the recent ‘new US arrivals’ that hit Australia recently, and retails here new for about the US equivalent of $19k to $24k ($AUS 23 – 30k). We get all but the diesel option however from memory there are plans to get that here as well in the near future.

    Dodge aren’t selling many, though. I’ve not driven one, but local reviews are critical of handling, build quality and NVH. But do also note and praise some innovative features.

    I saw one sitting in traffic the other day next to a new Honda CRV. Sure, they are (sorta) different markets but as far as panel fit, styling, and overall ‘cohesiveness’ go, it was like looking at Scarlett Johanssen sitting next to Cyndi Lauper (from the 80′s.) That said, I ‘googled’ Pontiac Aztec and whhooaaa – what was that all about ?!

    Can anyone tell me why Dodge might have thought Caliber was an ideal vehicle to export to Australia as the first new model in the Dodge brand re-introduction here? It appears that there are much better offerings in the US that don’t ever seem to appear on the Australian radar?

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Kind? Charitable?
    Ooooh, Adrian, here’s hoping you don’t get the volume of hate mail that I got from Caliber enthusiasts (oxymoronic as that sounds, they are out there).

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Nice piece, Adrian. I especially liked the “as sporting as a baseball cap on a bank clerk” line.

    It’s too bad that what one sees from inside is so little that this rig is unsafe at most speeds. Form should follow function, after all, eh?

    It sounds as if they need to make four-wheel disc brakes standard, throw a turbo on the engine and tune it for same (new timing, different pistons and crank to start) and do some work on the suspension (Bilsteins and anti-sway bars); so short of starting from scratch, there’s a lot to do.

    I just hope Chrysler can do it in time to save the company.

  • avatar
    chanman

    With the straignt lines and sharp corners, that full frontal shot reminds me of a jacked-up K-car. Back to the ’80′s?

  • avatar
    confused1096

    I haven’t driven one of these yet, but I may since I’m in the market for a new daily driver. I did look over one and sit in it while we were minivan shopping a few months ago. Before being interrupted by a “Honey, get AWAY from that, we’re shopping for ME!” I had two positive impressions, even with the happy meal toy plastic.

    1. I like how the little beast looks. It is rare for a little car to have much in the way of personality. This one does. Dodge has had several like it or hate it looks in the last 10 years so no surprise there.

    2. It has head room! This and the xB are the only small cars I am reasonably comfortable in. A tall guy car shopping often has to just walk past all the fuel effecient cars because he knows he won’t fit. The Caliber at least gives you an option.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    Why does everything with a Ram on the hood need to look like maccho BS ?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    “It’s too bad that what one sees from inside is so little that this rig is unsafe at most speeds. Form should follow function, after all, eh?”

    Aahhh…. I think we may me drinking a little bit too much of that special Kool-Aid there. Even Ralph Nader would know how to drive the Caliber… come to think of it, that would be quite a sight.

    It sounds as if they need to make four-wheel disc brakes standard, throw a turbo on the engine and tune it for same (new timing, different pistons and crank to start) and do some work on the suspension (Bilsteins and anti-sway bars); so short of starting from scratch, there’s a lot to do.

    Terry, this is still an entry level economy car. If you’re going to be playing around the 12′s and 13′s you need to keep the design and features in the ballpark as well.

    “I just hope Chrysler can do it in time to save the company.”

    I can imagine it now. A group of nuns praying in the Chrysler HQ parking lot in Auburn Hills on a Monday morning… “Our Father who Art in Heaven, please provide your divine guidance to these men and enlighten them on the automotive glory that comes with 4 wheel disc brakes and Bilstein shocks.”

    I can also imagine a 20′s something chick saying, “Well, I like the room, and the power, and the style, and the storage for my water bottles, and the 17″ wheels… but if you don’t get Bilstein shocks on that thing, it’s gonna be too wack for me.”

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Why do they insist on putting 17″ and 18″ wheels on these so called “entry level” cars? It makes the ride terrible and you’ll be paying upwards of $1000 for replacement tires because you can’t get that size at Walmart, where I suspect most of these buyers are employed.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    Confused 1096,

    Sadly, that’s the only way to sample a Caliber and walk away impressed: not drive it.

    FWIW, the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Spectra, Nissan Sentra, Nissan Versa, Pontiac Vibe, Saturn ION, and Toyota Matrix all have as much or more headroom than the Caliber (as measured by ConsumerGuide). In fact, the Caliber only has 0.6 inches more space overhead than a Honda Civic.

    Steven Lang,

    Tactile qualities sell cars as much as feature content. The Caliber’s stuff-per-dollar ratio is fine, but it’s a train wreck to drive (acceleration, steering feel and accuracy, NVH, and freeway stability all make a Suzuki Forenza look pretty good).

    Regarding the Bilstein comment, even if consumers don’t know exactly *why* a car doesn’t feel good to drive, they’ll notice *that* it doesn’t feel good to drive. Flavor-of-the-month styling and gee-whiz cupholders will sustain the Caliber for another year or so, but once it’s no longer the newest model on the market, it’s rental fodder.

    In all honesty, the outgoing Neon was a better car.

  • avatar
    NickR

    the outgoing Neon was a better car.

    Yes, change is not always a good thing. I think that the latest iteration of the Neon was reasonably attractive for what it was, and had at least some character compared to it’s competitors. I can’t help but wonder what a great new interior and some refinements would have done for the car…and how much DM might have saved in the process.

  • avatar
    balance

    Contrary to what Allpar and others say the Neon never made a profit… even though it used a hand-me-down Kcar engine block and was relegated the Dynasty/New Yorker wheelbase to minimize production changeover costs. (And yes that’s one of the reasons why it handled better.)

    The Caliber, however, does make DCX a profit because it follows the rule that a new model be cheaper to build than the one it replaces.
    – One factory running 3 shifts building 3 different nameplates.
    – Shared “World Engine” production and engineering costs.
    – Global acceptance offering RHD, AWD, diesel, etc… including the 2.4l/FWD/5sp. combo for over a month. Check it out.

    It may be heavy and have a cheap interior but like the Neon it is much more solid than it’s import competitors – the new Versa feels like a tin can … very disappointing from Renault-Nissan. And at least the 17″ & 18″ wheel/tire packages don’t require a mandatory $$$ upgrade before you take delivery.

  • avatar
    bill borsheim

    I paid for my Caliber. Don’t have a case of free flapjaw like so many here. Bought it for the CVT which I’ve been waiting 16 years to be perfected. Stuff the rest of the auto trannies. First up, my 2liter SE Caliber with A/C (yeah, the base model you free flappers are having a jolly good time debasing), is running sweet…smooth as a magic carpet, transporting people without jerking people like the belly shaking machines in health spas. All you tech heads can’t figure that wheels no longer have to disconnect from engines to shift. The CVTs reliability problems have been solved, & I got it…but seemingly not the rest of you. Second, my Caliber is steering away from repair shops. & from initial reports, many other Calibers are steering well clear of the shops. Some of the wonderful data Michael Karesh is compiling on cars saying the Caliber is initially reliable, you free breeze types overlook so you can flap at the Caliber some more. Alrighty Michael. Yeah, I’m one of the hundred thousand Caliber has won over. Not only is my Caliber reliable, it is solid, free of squeaks, rattles & irritants. Third, my Caliber is also passing up gas stations. I’m averaging 28.5MPG, with a high of 34.9MPG…32MPG over 4000 foot mountain passes. Sure, it ain’t my 50+MPG econobox pollution savers, but its beating the 14MPG trucks you keep saying the Caliber is emulating. So all your little pot shots are just that…little fluff & missing the target, much less the bullseye. Ya’ better reload your flappers.

  • avatar
    DJP

    Yeah, I think you guys are really being harsh for entertainment sake. You want to talk about small, vanilla, econo tin-box sewing machines and bash the Caliber as a non-competitor. Then you flip the gun the other way and try to compare it to a sports car with a tuned race suspension. Get some perspective! I am currently driving my wife’s Toyota Echo. It is a bare-boned sheet metal box that gets 40 mpg with a plastique lunch box interior. You have to be careful not to dent it when you polish it! It is in the same price category as the Caliber. The Caliber is at least a real car with real styling (I like it) that does not look like an emasculated cartoon like the Versa, Matrix, Yaris and Fit. I have test driven several Calibers and thought it was a nice solid driving car for everyday life with great safety features and still gets 30 mpg on the highway. My same priced Echo drives like a buzz saw, blows in the wind, looks offensive and is borderline crude. In the true econo market, I think the Caliber is a lot of car for the money. I am also interested in the Patriot as a former Cherokee owner.

    DJP

  • avatar
    Shammie

    Checked out the Jeep Compass 5 speed and loved it…quick, easy to drive and comfortable. Liked the power package for only $995 and the Jeep look. Priced well below CRV and with 2.4 & 5 speed it actually moves.

    Caliber was bad news. A pure rental…bet it will be a cheapie buy in 1 year from rental agencies and those who buy new will see their depreciation hit bottom. Car was smaller, darker, slower and cheaper feeling than the Jeep. I drove that CVT and though a great idea as being simpler and cheaper than a traditional automatic it just does not compare.

    It was so slowwwww merging into expressway traffic from a stop (AZ freeways have stop lights before you can enter at rush-hour) that I had to floor it. All that did was put the RPM at the 6000 RED LINE and lots of engine noise. Nothing changed…I could not accelerate to traffic speed without waiting and waiting and waiting.

    Funny thing. I asked the salesman if they sold any of these…he said about 1 a month. The one I drove was build in Sept 2006 and still on the lot as of March. Even he said most people hated driving it…wow honesty… :)

  • avatar
    Mcloud1

    As far as I know, the Omni was the first time that Detroit was successful in creating an economy car.

  • avatar
    Kath_

    I think dodge blew it. I have a 2004 Dodge Neon RT, I bought it used, and I have been watching the used and new car market for a while now. Ever since the Neon was replaced by the Calibre, the price of used Neons has gone up up up. I mean up to such a degree that even with taxes a person could have made money just buying neons and selling them a year later. Suply and demand… Chrysler has driven potential new car buyers into the used car market to get what they want. I speak as one of these people.

    The Neon, as it existed in the last several years of its production, was a nice car. It had grown up into a refined car with nice features, thoughtfull engineering, superior in class passenger comfort (even for the very tall), pleasant handling, sporty feel, and decent gas mileage. Personally I think it could have looked better, the minivan grille wasn’t such a good idea, and the tail end was still just somehow ‘off’… but it didn’t stand out as bad looking. And the RT & SRT4 looked pretty good actually.

    Why did I pay top dollar for a used neon instead of a new calibre? I test drove the calibre, and the neon…
    A) the neon is more comfortable
    B) the neon handles much better
    C) the neon is faster compared to all but the 2.4L calibre
    D) the neon gets better gas mileage ($3.29 a gallon?? yeesh)
    E) some americans actually like CARS still
    F) the calibre looks horrible. It looks bad in the promo pictures, and in person its much worse.

    And for all that, i sacraficed the ‘small stationwagon’ sized hauling capacity of the calibre.

    The neon’s greatest weakness, ever since it was born, was drivetrain quality. Granted by ’98 they had head gaskets that *worked*, but still, it was a fairly low tech engine when it was brand new, in late ’94. (well that and the first few years had peeling paint too).

    Which brings me to my point… the neon was a superior platform to the calibre in my opinion. So much so that I still preffer the neon over the calibre in spite of the technology and features put into the calibre. Now what if they had introduced the world engine, standard side airbags, and all the other nifty odds & ends into the Neon?

    At the top end a neon that gets 175hp with no turbo and the flat torque curve of VVT?

    At the bottom end a 148hp (better still detuned a bit for better gas mileage) engine that *should*, in a neon, get better gas mileage than the base 132hp 2.0 it would replace?

    Standard safety features, comfort, and power, all better than any other small car in its class or price range, with the drivetrain potential for civic/corolla gas mileage?

    Would that have been so bad Dodge?

    Anyway… the most important question I have is this :
    Does anyone know if the world engine will mate to a Neon’s engine mounts & transmission?
    I plan to keep it a while.

  • avatar
    old_dude

    I have had Calibers as rentals on several occasions
    The interior does need soft touch plastics.
    The acceleration and noise get better with some miles and the CVT takes getting used to

    The cars I had were SXTs with the height adjustable seats so I was able to get quite comfortable.
    I like the higher seating position and if you are sitting tall you must expect less then zippy/crisp handling, although I found it to be competent and predictable. Adding lowering springs, urethane bushings would probably tighten it uo considerably
    I did find the rear vision compromised, I quickly learned to use the mirrors more. (I think the Compass has more glass in the hatch)
    In short being someone who likes cheap and cheerful I would buy one (probably used).

    Ideal version: SXT with the 2.4L, manual tranny, the usual power bits and a sun roof, colour Fire Red with some after market chrome accents.

    One thing I noticed was a fair amount of wind buffeting/thumping while driving on the highway with the windows open wide

  • avatar
    Scott73

    I actually own a Caliber, and therefore am qualified to disagree with much of what the author of review has to say, if the Editor will allow it. I want to know what other cars in this price range (I paid $16,500 for my SXT) he thinks would be so much better? Compared to a BMW 330i, yes, the Caliber is lacking in nearly every area. But compared to a Cobalt, Focus, Civic, or heaven forbid a Corolla? Please! The Caliber wins hands down! No contest! It even looks bold and powerful. The handling is not far behind my BMW X3, and that is one precise machine. It is not quite as composed, of course, but it's far ahead of the other cars in its class for handling and ease of operation. It maneuvers far better than adequate. It's also surprisingly easy to maintain, and cheap even if you take it to the dealer. There's no timing belt to replace as a wear item for a $500 bill every 75,000 miles. I can buy the spark plugs at Walmart for $8 and change them myself in 20 minutes. Other cars in this class probably want $250 for a "Tune Up". This car has character, too. Can't say that about much else in this price range. Finally there is an American-made alternative to the boring, mundane cars from Asia, and the other American econoboxes. You don't have to settle for those cars any more just to drive something engineered well. You deserve a Caliber!

  • avatar
    Nemphre

    Scott, I don’t think you realize that you’re hurting your own cause. So far we have homophobia, vehement misplaced patriotism, and claims about a vehicle that just seem delusional to those of us who have switched over from driving “American” cars. I hear this kind of rhetoric semi-often from fans of the Big 3, and it really just pushes the import buyers (who are the majority) further away.

    I thought about making some points on the performance of some of the competitors you listed, and refuting the maintenance claims, but it’s just academic at this point. The lines have been drawn. The only thing I’m curious about is why you bought a BMW X3.

  • avatar
    calrt

    I cannot believe the writer of this story even mentions a BMW in this piece! What is wrong with people that they want/expect BMW performance/refinement in a base model vehicle?

    My 2 year lease was up on my Nissan Titan LE 4×4 crew cab earlier this year, and I wanted something cheaper and more economical. I went and looked at a Dodge Nitro and although it was a nice vehicle, I just didnt like the way it drove. So I test drove a Caliber R/T AWD and I ended up buying one. My first few months of ownership were mixed. For the 2.4 in the RT I thought it felt a little underpowered. Fortunately not to long after I bought my car, DCX came out with a TSB flash that addressed this lack of performace issue which completely took care of it. The CVT transmission is a different character to try to get use to, but I finally have become quite fond of it.

    The caliber’s styling is not for everyone. I personally think its a very neat looking car, and my Inferno Red Caliber with factory chrome 18′s gets alot of looks.

    Could the interior be less plasticy? Yes it could, but the price could also be higher. I bought my car with beige leather which in my opinion doesnt look as cheap as the grey.

    I read one reply to the effect that quality is not there and its a hit or miss on the car you get. To that person, Belvidere Assembly Plant where the Caliber, Compass, and Patriot are produced is Chrysler’s most up to date and premier plant. I should know because I am there everyday.

    I for one like the caliber and really like mine with AWD…just wait all you honda owneres when the 285hp srt4 comes out next month

  • avatar
    Nemphre

    “just wait all you honda owneres when the 285hp srt4 comes out next month”

    Owning a Honda has never been about the power.

  • avatar
    Scott73

    ^ You’ve got that right! And Honda’s handling is reminiscent of a Coleman cooler being dragged across a gravel parking lot.

    Hey, that’s pretty good! Maybe I should apply for a job as a writer for this site.

  • avatar
    Scott73

    Everyone keeps complaining about the plastic interior. Why? It looks very contemporary. Plastic technology has come so far in the last 20 years, why not apply it to the dashboard? If a Caliber is on the road 20 years from now, at least the plastic interior will still look like new. And why is fake leather made out of vinyl like you find in other cars any better? I’m sick of seeing 10-12 year old cars with cracked vinyl dash pads. The Caliber’s will never crack unless you smack it with a hammer.

    People are comparing this car to the Neon. That’s a joke. This car is in a completely different class than the Neon. It’s much larger and has tons of cargo space. Just because it’s Dodge’s least expensive car doesn’t make it a compact.

    Lots of cars are regarded as ugly when they first appear. Look at the Murano. That thing needs to sneak up on a gas pump it’s so fugly. But it sells, and doesn’t look as ugly now that we are used to it. I thought the Caliber looked good the 1st time I saw it.

    The problem here is that everyone is comparing the Caliber to cars in higher classes while forgetting what it costs. Like I said before, for $16,500, what better car can you buy that has style, engineering, and decent options?

  • avatar
    reallynow

    I had the misfortune of driving a Caliber when I rented a car through Enterprise just yesterday. I should have known something was up when they apologized right off the bat for having nothing else available at the time and said I could bring it back sometime that day for another car. Now why would I need to do that? It was only a rental and as long as it got me to where I needed to go for the next few days I’d be ok with anything I guess.

    Well, after getting over the ugly as he11 looks, I sat in it and was immediately turned off by the interior, which they obviously cloned from the equally, aesthetically poor Avenger and somehow managed to make it even cheaper and more sterile feeling. But again, it was a rental, so whatever I guess.

    Driving it was where I had the biggest issues. As mentioned here many times, the suspension and handling is god awful, like someone nailed plastic wheels to a wooden crate and rolled it onto a sheet of ice. My 1980 Chevy Monza had better handling and road feedback. Again, it was very similar to the Avenger I rented previously but even more lacking in everything you’d expect in a car produced after say, 1960. Vision was bad and blind spots were everywhere, especially if you’re taller than 5′-5″ and look to the left and see nothing but a-pillar. There was an overall uneasiness about driving the car that had me glad it was as pig slow as it was, even though merging off of ramps was no fun at all. I’m amazed that they actually do offer this car with a bigger motor. Just picture a drunk offensive linemen in roller skates and you’ll get the idea about that.

    At the end of the day, I took the car back and had them give me anything else…anything, as I couldn’t stand driving it a second longer. Not ironically, the guy I spoke to there told me he too couldn’t stand the car and he moved me into a Nissan Versa which was actually a step down in size class. Now, after driving the Caliber for a day, the Versa felt and drove like a BMW, even though I bet it’s as cheap to buy as the Caliber.

    I can’t understand how anyone would purposely build this car (or even the Avenger for that matter), let alone buy it. I guess you have to be one serious die-hard, Mopar/American car freak to wear blinders that tight. Scary thing is, there must be plenty of them out there as Chrysler is still making cars. Actually, my wife had a ’96 Sebring that we had to dump after only 60k miles because of never ending drivetrain problems but at least it felt and drove like a real car when it was running.

    Only a fool would buy a Caliber and if you’re one of them, Dodge/Chrysler should send you a fruitcake for Christmas.

  • avatar
    reallynow

    Wow, lots of Caliber defenders here trying to pointlessly justify a car they can only sell to rental companies…well, and you.

    Don’t feel bad though, there are people like you who defended every bad car that was ever made and car companies love your naïveté’s. If it wasn’t for you, all cars would have to be good. Heck, my brother still thinks they should bring back the Granada. Damn fine car he says.

    I hope you all like fruitcake.

  • avatar
    reallynow

    Scott,

    The Civic? You really think the Caliber, any version, stacks up to the polished refinement of the Civic, whether it’s interior fit an finish, handling, drivetrain performance, or just overall quality? Even if you can buy a Caliber that’s quicker than a Civic, what does that prove? There’s other cheap turdbox cars that are quicker than a Civic too, but they’re still turdboxes.

    We’re talking about if the car is a good car or not, not whether it has little accessories and features that would might make a 16-year old playstation addict gush. If the Caliber was a purse it would be a fine one for the money I’m sure.

    Not really trying to flame but you scare me. Do you prefer hot dogs over steak too? You can cook those suckers up in like 30 seconds in the microwave, that’s got to make ‘em better right?

  • avatar
    exakta

    I just rented a Dodge Caliber. The car was brand new. The digital odometer display was non-functional. As I was parking into a tight spot, I gently bumped the car in front and in back as I parked. When I got out, I noticed the front and rear bumpers were both craked. Neither of the other cars suffered any damage whatsoever, not even a scratch. Very poor car. Fortunately I did not buy it.

  • avatar
    Rodentman

    I am a Caliber owner and I find the car to be smooth, relatively quiet, stable, and having adequate performance considering its power/weight ratio. The CVT is a great advancement over conventional automatics.

    Is it fast? No.
    Is it plush? No.

    It is an entry level vehicle which draws a much needed line in the sand against the cookie-cutter curvy imports.

    My Caliber is comfortable and fun to drive. I am pleased with my purchase, and prefer it to the Civic, so many of which I see lined up at the service bay, owners with credit cards in hand and tears on their cheeks.

  • avatar
    synesthesia

    Sorry I can’t join the “love to hate” Caliber party…

    Thrifty rental used to give me neon’s for years, and I loved them. Wouldn’t dream of ever buying one though. The neon looked like it had been excreted out of the terminal end of some giant automotive alimentary canal with all those rounded/tapered contours. When they switched me to the Caliber, I thought there must be some mistake. “I want a cheap rental” I told the agent, not an SUV! “This IS our cheap rental sir”… OK. As I drove off the first time I remember thinking this is something I might like to buy some day.

    I LIKE sitting up a bit higher off the road, even if it means I can’t corner like speed racer… I LIKE the roof overhang and long/low windows that shade me from the sun, even if it means I must use my mirrors backing up… I LIKE the extra steel and solid build of the Caliber, even if it means a couple less MPG. And, I prefer a simpler more reliable drive train, even if it means I can’t smoke the tires (as if I ever wanted to). What I like most of all, is that I’ve gotten my first new car for only 15K, and with the money I’ve saved, go out in style and eat good food!

    I think this car is getting poor reviews because most I see reviewing it are either automotive enthusiasts (go speed racer!) or over utilitarian (what was wrong with neon/jelly bean cars).

    The exterior look of this car is eye-catching, and such a refreshing change from the rounded blobs you see everywhere (reminiscent of the cars in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper”). The broad pillars and long/low windows give me the feel of looking out of an aircraft cockpit when I drive.

    Note to owners/reviewers of Calibers made before May of ’07… The PCM/computer reflash (TSB 18-020-06) is said to greatly improve performance and economy. Perhaps the original configuration was much worse. Those who have gotten this upgrade were most impressed.

    No, the CVT tranny doesn’t “downshift” when you stomp the gas, giving that “lurch of power” feeling we’re used to from multi-speed transmissions, but I’ve found it does accelerate briskly, giving a lovely throaty roar I’ve never heard coming from a small economy car.

    Now that I’m driving a Caliber, I’ve been looking for something I might have liked better, but no buyers remorse here. For the money, looks, and (hopefully) durability… I drive Caliber, and live well! My payments are only 208 a month!

  • avatar
    Renter

    This car is misrepresented here. I rent cars long term for work. This car is one of the better ones. I would take it over the Toyota Prius any day! Maybe even the Nissan Versa! The interior, the handling, and the visability are all exceptional for this class. I thought the car was uninteresting at first in the rental lot, but 2 weeks driving it and I think it looks great! Never felt that way about the Prius. Don’t even care if I’m spelling it wrong. That car is souless. Drive the caliber a couple of weeks before you trash it.

  • avatar
    MoeMan1

    My wife and I were looking for a new small car a while back. I somewhat embarrassingly admit that we liked the stlying at first, but that’s a pretty standard reaction to Chrysler products. The press release photo’s look good, then you get up close and see how bad the fit and finish is, the poor materials, and the styling loses its luster very quickly. And I completely agree with some of the comments above about the lack of visibility – I feel like I’m looking out of a WWII bunker. Anyway, after walking around it for a bit and kicking the tires we started to become a little disenchanted but took it for a test drive anyway. As soon as we started the engine, we looked at each other and said “nuh uh, ain’t happening.” We got out of the parking lot, made a u-turn in the middle of the street, returned the keys and bought ourselves a Civic Si sedan.

  • avatar
    jaxtheax

    One year ago, i saw a brand spanking new dodge caliber for sale at the dealer by my house. It seemed pretty cool, it had gps,leather seats and a 5 speed stick. I came back to the same dealer yesterday and saw that exact same car (Same color,features,vin number, everything!). I had my suspicions that it could have been a diffrent car but one of the salespeople there told me that it has been there for 1 year and 2 months!! They even knocked off $4000 from the price tag and they still cant get rid of this car!! At the local toyota dealer, they sell corolla’s as soon as they get them! the only thing that would make me buy that caliber is if it were thrown in with the purchase of another car.


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