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Have you driven a Dodge Caliber? Did you buy one? If you answered yes, there's no need to read this post. You'll either go crazy wondering why anyone in their right mind would want 280 hp in such a sweet, useful crossover, or you'll become suicidally jealous of what you could have bought if you'd only waited a few months.

The SRT4 is a monster. We mean that in a rabid Cookie Monster kinda way -- not that cute little potty-mouthed Binky seen in early Caliber commercials. This car is mean. It does away with an inch of suspension travel, with stiffer springs, dampers and stabilizer bars front and rear and gets dropped onto 19-inch, low-profile 225/45 Goodyears for a ride that is anything but cuddly.

We got to play around with an Inferno Red SRT4 for a few miles of twisty, southwest Georgian roads recently and can't think of a better color. Unless it's the Sunburst Orange. Either hellishly-vibrant hue with contrasting black air intakes in the hood and rear wing advertises to anyone with working corneas that this is not a normal car. Special front and rear fascias and a 3-inch exhaust outlet complete the bad-boy look.

Continued after the jump.


All photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.


Inside, those mushy econo-car seats in the wallflower Caliber get traded for deeply-bolstered chairs covered in "performance fabric" with red stitching which is repeated in the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. Guages are special to the SRT4 and include a boost-o-meter to the left of the wheel. The wheel felt great to the touch, but right where our thumbs like to hook at 9 and 3 on the wheel is right where someone thought would be a great place for the audio controls. Uh, no. Very bad idea that almost (almost) ruined the whole SRT experience for us. Move the buttons, Dodge. Other than that, all the interior upgrades make the SRT4 feel more German than Fisher-Price.

Ours did not have the optional reconfigurable display that can show g-forces, and 1/4 mile and 0-60 times. Didn't matter. We were too busy mentally navigating the next curve to ponder the gizmos.

And that gets us to the even more exciting upgrade. Driving. Stuff yourself into the tight-fitting driver's seat, insert key, clutch in, wake up all those underhood horses with a rumble, and with hand on the chrome-capped shifter, ease the clutch out and... stall out. Seriously. Totally flat parking lot, fresh car in front of a group of automotive journalists and, I stall it out. Second try I manage to get the car into first and moving, but dang, that "fully-synchronized, cable-operated, four-plane shifted" clutch is ornery. Twitchy might be a good adjective. Spiteful even. It's either engaged, or it isn't. Nothing in between. If you're lifting that left foot, you better be sure the revs are there to meet Getrag transmission's demand.

Second, third, fourth and fifth gears go by very fast, much like the blurred scenery in sixth gear. If you make it that far. Keep it geared lower is what 9 out of 10 Autobloggers recommend for wringing out all the fun. A spooled-up turbo on semi-mountainous rural roads with a super-tight suspension and 19-inch wheels? There are few better ways we can think of to spend 30 minutes on an October morning. Truly awesome Boston Acoustics sound system with Sirius, Dodge's trademarked MusicGate and the obligatory sunroof are just whipped cream on the caffeine-enriched, Dodge double-latte SRT4.

Unfortunately, all this power has corrupted the Caliber's utilitarian demeanor somewhat. More than one driver stepped out of the unnaturally-quick crossover smiling madly, for sure, but also with the wisdom that this cute little hatchback with the manic-Muppet personality would never do for a grown-up's daily driver. That clutch alone should be enough to keep out the old guys, but if not, the tighter suspension should do it. The SRT's ride isn't teeth-rattling but it could play nicer with the potholes like mere "regular" Calibers. Another downer? Warranty. Get the SRT version, give up the lifetime powertrain coverage. Ouch.

But for less than $25,000 we'd sure be willing to see what daily life with the SRT-4 is like.

Hopefully Autoblog will soon have an SRT4 for much more than 30 minutes of fun, so keep an eye out for a full review.

Chrysler provided the vehicle and and SEAMO the location for testing. Autoblog does not accept travel or lodging from automakers when attending media events.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.


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  • 50 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      i'll take a mazdaspeed3 thank you very much
      • 7 Years Ago
      talk about you can't please everyone these days lol

      Call it for what it is a good fun affordable car with a starting price of 22k plus last time i checked that engine is bullet proof and easiiy able to get higher boost with mopar upgrades...

      I'm an oldschool tuner unlike the new kids these days which drop 100k on ecoboxes that still dont equall 100K cars straight out of the dealership, but this class its about having a eco pakcge with performance equal to higher end cars which is what its all about....You want a car that does XYZ that cost 50K shop around cuz this car is not for you!....
      • 7 Years Ago
      I meant to point out that this was four years ago...
      • 7 Years Ago
      Every generation cannot handle it. That is why the death toll among the younger set is always such a high percentage as a cause of death. As someone so eloquently said, "Learn from history, or you are doomed to repeat it."
        • 7 Years Ago
        Eh, natural selection. I got the keys to a brand new Neon SRT-4 the day I turned 16, and not only am I accident free, but am ticket free, too.
      • 7 Years Ago
      why cant they make it rear wheel drive?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Because it's built on a predominately front drive platform. Being able to offer AWD does not mean it can make a good RWD vehicle.

        What I want to know is why hasn't Chrysler gotten a real Neon replacement. No compact bread-and-butter car at all. They've become the largest niche manufacturer in the world.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I wonder if this comes with the unlimited power train warranty.
      If so then this seems like a pretty good vehicle even if its not much look at from the inside.
      I can't wait to see comparison test between this and the Speed3.
        • 7 Years Ago
        RTFA.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Woops my bad.
        I usually do read the articles, but this vehicle didn't interest me at all.
      • 7 Years Ago
      #1 looks horrible on the inside..like all doges

      #2 Fuel economy sucks for its size
        • 7 Years Ago
        way to spell
        • 7 Years Ago
        #1... cant argue with

        #2 you cannot have your cake and eat it too... tuebocharged-intercooled-cammed-performance cars can't match the economy of the prius obviously
      • 7 Years Ago
      What's the disclaimer about? To try and portray that you're more fair when judging?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Sherief I'm not syaing the Caliber isn't a poseur but the Neon SRT-4 had dual pipes and it looked pretty raw..... it was still a Neon but it looked and was a pocket rocket...... all I'm saying is that all SRT's should have dual's..... but yea I agree that the SUV's shouldnt be SRT's......
        • 7 Years Ago
        Are you serious? Please explain to me the advantage of a dual exhaust on an inline 4. Either you like the added weight of the superfluous equipment or you're one of those people who think giant spoilers and neon wheel-well lights are really, really cool.

        Please be quiet.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What I'm tyring to figure out that the ugly @ss Avenger has dual pipes but not he Caliber SRT-4 I know its minor but still...
        • 7 Years Ago
        So...the Avenger is a poseur and the SRT-4 isn't. Is there a problem with that?
      • 7 Years Ago
      GM should come up with a Pontiac Vibe GXP to put this car in it's place.
      • 7 Years Ago
      hmm, I kinda like it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The lifetime warranty doesn't cover SRT vehicles or diesel vehicles.
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