Buy/Drive/Burn: Basic American Compacts From 2008

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn basic american compacts from 2008

We continue our 1990s-then-2000s series today, following up the last post that featured compact American two-doors from 1998. By the late 2000s, the Escort, Neon, and Cavalier were all dead. In their place were the Focus, Caliber, and Cobalt, and not all of those had a two-door variant. That means we focus on four-doors today. Let’s go.

Dodge Caliber

The Caliber is in its second model year this year, as the crossover replacement for the Neon. Front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive, the Caliber rides on the Chrysler-Mitsubishi PM platform with things like the Mitsubishi Outlander. The only body style is this four-door with hatch. There are four trims this year, SE, SXT, R/T, and SRT-4. Today’s base SE uses a 1.8-liter inline-four good for 148 horsepower. It’s front-wheel drive, and has a five-speed manual transmission provided by Magna. Yours for $14,965.

Chevrolet Cobalt

The Cobalt is in its fourth model year after it replaced the ancient Cavalier for 2005. Cobalt uses the Delta platform which also sees use in the Saturn Ion and Chevrolet HHR. Unlike the Caliber, all examples are front-wheel drive. With two- or four-doors, there’s always a traditional trunk on the Cobalt. Four different trim levels are available at dealers this year: LS, LT, Sport, and SS, the latter with turbocharging. Base LS models are powered by a 2.2-liter inline-four that wrestles up 148 horses. The five-speed manual here is a Getrag box carried over from the Cavalier. Cobalt asks $14,410.

Ford Focus

The Focus is in its second generation for 2008, and is a car specific to North America. The first generation global Focus was part of Ford’s world car plan, but that idea was dropped. In 2008 customers choose from a two- or four-door Focus with trunk, as the hatchback option is no more. All Focii are front-drive, and all use the same 2.0-liter Duratec inline-four. Customers choose from four trims: S, SE, SES, and SEL. The cheapest S has the same 140 horses as the other models, and uses a five-speed manual. The Focus is in your drive for $14,395.

Three four-doors of Ace of Base persuasion, all wearing fantastic late 2000s styling. Which one’s worth the Buy?

[Images: GM, Ford, Dodge]

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  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Aug 16, 2021

    My Brother and Sister-in-Law had a Caliber that my mother took money out of her 401K to buy for them. I have had the other two as rentals. Burning all of them is simply not enough - nuke them all from orbit, just to be sure.

  • Gsrdude Gsrdude on Aug 26, 2021

    Only ever driven the Turbocharged versions of the GM and FCA examples of Cobalt and Caliber. Driven a couple examples of each from bone stock to big turbo cars Cobalt SS/TC was the better track day car over the Caliber SRT4, handled better, braked better, stock for stock they’d 1/4 mile with right around the same trap speeds and I believe their factory 1/4 mile times were mid 13’s but the Cobalt SS/TC will be the victor assuming no modifications. As it came from the factory with Launch Contol and NLS (No lift shifting). That’s if the stupid gearbox actually found the next gear or the clutch decided not to lock you out of gear my goodness the shifts were extremely notchy and on the street ride was darty and low speed damping was horrendous. Same thing with every Colbalt SS/TC I ever maintenanced, installed parts on, or tuned . They certainly had a nicer interior than the Caliber SRT4, but also had a lot of NVH and interior rattles. The Caliber SRT4 was a much better on road car to daily drive, shifted smoother, wasn’t as darty and twitchy like the Cobalt. The Caliber had tons of space and a better interior than the out going Neon SRT4. Made more power stock and continued to as modifications were added and ecu was calibrated for them and after modifying/upgrading the wastegate and minor tuning the Caliber SRT4 could actually come on boost faster and hold it steady through more of the rev range. Both were quickish cars stock and both had good engines but due to the inherent shortfalls of GDI (LSPI, HPFP flow, need of a proper AOS or Dual OCCs, need for proper 100% synthetic oil designed to combat LSPI events, and without expensive modifications to the fuel system plus tuning) Like for instance: adding port fuel injectors via a intake manifold spacer allowing for a standard injector per port, could do it via 1-2 injectors and a Throttle Body spacer, then you need a driver for those injectors and a trick wiring harness to be able to tune those injectors to come on, a larger flow or dual in tank LPFPs will be needed, some High Flow GDI injectors are now available but you’d also need a High Flow HPFP which only a couple companies are doing right now, and they are not at all cheap. But w/o a modified fuel system to take advantage of the amazing knock resistance that higher Ethanol Blends provide, the Caliber SRT4 has a much higher power potential as it can run E-85 blend or higher where w/o extensive and expensive modifications the Cobalt SS/TC may be able to run at an E-30 blend. *Assuming a properly maintenanced vehicle, no boost leaks, on the correct plug and gap for your level of modifications, Then proper ecu tuning by a very reputable Engine Calibration Specialist with a well established HW/SW Tuning package for said vehicle and having had a lot of experience tuning your platform.* Safe, Reliable, Smooth mapping, and proper maintenance a good turbocharged platform (that doesn’t have a known factory fault like STi Ringlands or old Talon/Laser/Eclipse 4G63 crank walk. There are countless N/A engines with factory faults). Point is a TC engine will last just as long as any N/A engine when maintenanced properly. Anyone that tells you different doesn’t know **** Personally I’ve not owned a N/A vehicle in over 20yrs now all have been Turbocharged all but 1 car I actually traded in I sold to people that are still driving them today. I have never once never once had a TC motor let go, hell I’ve never even had a turbocharger go out on me. To sum up the vehicles in NA form: Buy the Focus Drive the Caliber Burn the Cobalt

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