Vital Stats

Engine:
2.0L I4
Power:
158 HP / 141 LB-FT
Transmission:
CVT
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,012 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
18.4 / 47.4 CU-FT
MPG:
23 City / 27 HWY
A Monument To Mediocrity



We didn't exactly get off on the right foot with the Dodge Caliber. As the spiritual successor to the profitable and successful Dodge Neon, this boxy hatch had big expectations to meet when it touched down way back in 2006. Unfortunately, the Caliber never found itself in the same room as those expectations. But it was crafted during the dark days before Chrysler's fall, and the company has recently made great strides in shoring up its product line.

Nearly every vehicle in the Dodge and Chrysler stable, as well as few pieces from the houses of Ram and Jeep, have gone under the knife and come out all the better, but the lowly Caliber has largely escaped revision. Facing new competition from vehicles like the revised Honda Civic, all-new Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze and fresh Ford Focus, the Caliber is awash in a sea of excellent options. We took to the wheel to find out if the compact from Dodge has enough life left to keep its head above water until a replacement arrives.
The Caliber hasn't received many updates in the five years it's been on the market, and so it brings a familiar face to the road. The handsome split-crosshair grille of the Durango and Charger hasn't trickled down to this five-door just yet, so buyers are left with the old single-crosshair design backed by a series of stacked vertical slats. Squared-off headlight housings and a bulky lower fascia cap off the nose, while wide fenders and a raised hood transition into the vehicle's flanks.

2011 Dodge Caliber Heat side view2011 Dodge Caliber Heat front view2011 Dodge Caliber Heat rear view

The Caliber has always had an odd stance thanks to its CUV ride height and minivan-inspired roof line. Those traits continue on for 2011, as do a set of exaggerated fender arches. Our Heat tester came equipped with some stylish standard 18-inch alloy wheels, which did much for the overall appearance. Unfortunately, an awkward C-pillar and the plastic roof rails that span the entire length of the cabin don't do the exterior any favors. Around back, the Caliber is a study in hard edges with protruding tail lamp housings, a recessed hatch and a squared rear valance. The view is certainly beginning to show its age.

Indoors, the cabin has held up well, mostly because it's newer than the rest of the car. While the dash is all hard plastic, the center stack is trimmed with a bias toward the driver's side and controls for the climate system and stereo are easy to access. On the whole, the package looks nice. Unfortunately, the cubby located just north of the shifter gate isn't as deep or large as we'd like. Storing a phone and a music player or a phone and sunglasses is an exercise in figuring out which accessory gets to ride in the cup holder. The small bin wouldn't confront us so much were it not for the unforgivable center arm rest. While the fact this piece can be adjusted front or back is nice, it's hewn from cheap and flimsy-feeling materials and lacks enough storage capacity to be of any use. With its painfully visible mold seems, we'd prefer the piece to be deleted all together.

2011 Dodge Caliber Heat interior2011 Dodge Caliber Heat front seats2011 Dodge Caliber Heat gauges2011 Dodge Caliber Heat shifter

The good news is that there's room for four adults inside the cabin. Up front, occupants enjoy up to 41.8 inches of leg room, which is comparable to the 42 inches served up by the 2012 Honda Civic, though falls well short of the 43 inches available in the 2011 Hyundai Elantra. Meanwhile, with 39.8 inches of front headroom, the Caliber beats out the Civic by 0.8 inches and the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze by half an inch. Things get a bit more cramped for rear riders. At 35.7 inches of rear legroom, the Caliber falls to the Civic but eclipses the Elantra by 2.6 inches and the Cruze by .3 inches. Unfortunately, getting out of the Caliber's rear seats requires ducking the roof rails.

Additionally, the functional hatchback design provides 18.4 cubic feet of cargo area with the seats up. While that handily beats the sedan competition, the five-door 2012 Ford Focus provides an impressive 23.4 cubes behind the second row. Drop the seats in both models, and the Dodge redeems itself with 47.4 cubic feet of space compared to the 44.8 cubic feet in the Ford. Unfortunately, owners are forced to lower the back seats by pulling on a tether at the bottom of the cushion instead of near the headrest, forcing you to walk around the vehicle to lower both seatbacks.

2011 Dodge Caliber Heat rear seats2011 Dodge Caliber Heat rear cargo area

Even so, the Caliber remains fairly competitive on its interior numbers, despite serving five long years in the segment. Unfortunately, any competitive edge the vehicle earned indoors evaporates quickly once you take a peek under the hood. The 2011 Dodge Caliber is technically available with two engines and two transmissions: a 2.0- or 2.4-liter four-cylinder and manual or CVT transmission. Our tester came laden with the less powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 158 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 141 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. Those power figures turn up fairly high in the rev range given that the engine tops out at 6,750 rpm, and as a result, buyers can expect no more than 23 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, those estimates average out to a paltry 24 mpg combined. The CVT is the culprit here, as your efficiency improves to 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway if you opt for the manual transmission.

In contrast, the 2012 Honda Civic delivers 140 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque while consuming 28 mpg city and 36 mpg highway in its least efficient form. If you're counting, that's a nine mpg advantage over the Caliber. Things look even worse when the Dodge is pitted against its only other hatchback rival, the Ford Focus five-door. That machine is good for 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque while sipping along at 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.

2011 Dodge Caliber Heat engine

To make matters worse, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the Caliber is bolted to a miserable CVT. There are manufacturers who are capable of engineering an engaging continuously variable transmission. Chrysler is not among them. The gearbox results in uncertain and wavering engine speeds as well as a cabin that sounds more than a little like a Cessna in foul weather.

Still, 158 horsepower is nothing to sneeze at, or at least it shouldn't be. Unfortunately, the Caliber Heat lugs around 3,012 pounds worth of weight – nearly 400 lbs more than the Civic, 300 more than the Elantra and 100 more than the Focus. As a result, acceleration is more feeble than spritely. Check out the Short Cut below to see what we mean.


While achieving highway momentum takes a country mile, once you're at speed, the Caliber is acceptably comfortable. The thick-foam cushions of the front buckets are supportive and adjustable enough, even though the high seating position made us feel like we were riding on a milk crate. Back seat passengers are treated to reclining backs – a nice touch in this segment. Plenty of engine and road noise makes its way indoors, though wind noise is fairly scant. Thanks to a ride height that results in 7.67 inches of ground clearance, there's plenty of body roll should you grow a wild hair and start attacking apexes. For comparison, the Jeep Liberty only offers 7.8 inches of ground clearance at its front axle. This machine is needlessly high off of the ground.

The brakes on the Caliber Heat leave little to be desired, however. With 11.5 inch ventilated discs up front and 10.3-inch solid discs out back mashed by single-piston calipers, the vehicle has no problem shrugging speed, though we would appreciate a slightly firmer pedal feel.

2011 Dodge Caliber Heat

If you're still with us, you may have noticed that with the exception of its drivetrain, the Caliber is a fairly competitive vehicle. In fact, we could even tolerate its Lego-block styling and unacceptable fuel economy if the vehicle carried a low enough price tag. Our tester did not. With a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $21,105 including a $750 destination charge, you would have to be a few strokes short of a four-cycle to park this in your driveway. At that price, any of the Caliber's competitors would be exceedingly superior choices, even in base trim.

If you had your heart set on shelling out over $21,000, you could easily lay claim to a smartly-equipped Hyundai Sonata with a base price of $19,695, a Kia Optima at $19,200 or a Volkswagen Passat at $19,995. All of those vehicles are not only larger, more comfortable to drive and more stylish, but they're also more fuel efficient.

The Caliber may have never been on the top of compact buyers' shopping lists, but the last five years haven't been even less kind to the vehicle. While its engine, transmission and exterior styling have all grown to show their age, the competition has risen to fighting form. With a new driveline, a little attention to the interior, a lower ride height and a more palatable MSRP, the Caliber could easily carve out a niche for itself in the compact food chain. Until a replacement arrives from Fiat, the Mopar hatch is just chum in the water.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 99 Comments
      Gorgenapper
      • 3 Years Ago
      >> Things look even worse when the Dodge is pitted against its only other hatchback rival, the Ford Focus five-door. Really? Mazda 3 Matrix Golf Soul Probably a couple others
      john
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ahh the Caliber...the finest that DaimlerBenz brought to Auburn Hills, MI. I don't think I can think of a better car to sum up the dark days of rape and mutilation Daimler did to Chrysler than the production of the Caliber. A fantastic "idea" car....but terribly executed. I'm so glad this car's life is nearing an end. Then we can finally close the chapter on that dark decade in Mopar history. Bob Eaton, the CEO scoundrel that was mostly respoinsible for selling out the greatly successful Chrysler of the 90s, should be buried in a Caliber when his time comes to meet the reaper. Poetic justice.
      illegalmachine2
      • 3 Years Ago
      I remember when this vehicle was leaked, I had an SRT-4. On every forum I was a member of, everyone was SCREAMING that eliminating their only small car for (essentially) a crossover SUV was a gigantic mistake. The fact that there still hasn't been a compact/sub compact vehicle by Chrysler to hit the market after the several gas price spikes we've had is absolutely astonishing to me. By the time the Hornet comes out, the Focus and Fiesta will be on 2nd generations.
        MintzBuck
        • 3 Years Ago
        @illegalmachine2
        Yes because designing, validating and building a new car is so easy and cheap especially when your parent (Diamler or Cerberus) isn't giving you any money or when you're going through bankruptcy. Ford really lucked out in the US with what their European office can put out. Even then the new Focus (technically 3rd generation) and Fiesta (which has been around in EU for some time) just came out in North America. Chrysler's working very hard to catch up right now and with what's in the pipeline they're probably going to blow past some companies.
          mathiaswegner
          • 3 Years Ago
          @MintzBuck
          But if you have nothing in the pipeline, you should probably hang on to what you have. I mean, if they didn't have the next Ram ready, would they kill off the current one and leave a giant gap in their truck division while they figured out what to do next?
          illegalmachine2
          • 3 Years Ago
          @MintzBuck
          You see That there have been 3 generations of Elantras since the Caliber went into production? Daimler gave them the $$ to make the Caliber. It should have never gone that far to begin with. As for the new Hornet/Guilietta, I shouldn't be seeing revamped Jeeps, Durangos, Chargers, 300's or 200's before I see a single small car come out of Chrysler's doors with a Chrysler/Dodge badge on it. I'm a HUGE Chrysler honk. I've had 3 SRT Vehicles (4,6,8). But the fact that they don't have a decent, fuel efficient compact car in the their lineup is completely insane.
      NissanGTR
      • 3 Years Ago
      I cant understand how people can stand that droning noise from the engine when connected to a CVT.
        Elmo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @NissanGTR
        I can't understand how people buy the GT-R knowing the transmission is going to let go at any time.
          NissanGTR
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          The GTR can handle its power just fine. As long as people like you stay away.
          NightFlight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          Another moronic and clueless Elmo comment.... You are full of them today!
      cashsixeight
      • 3 Years Ago
      Would rather have used Neon SRT4.
        Elmo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @cashsixeight
        Except the Caliber SRT/4 is much faster and there's still some out there that aren't as abused as a Neon SRT/4. Every SRT/4 I've shopped for is either heavily modified or the previous driver has driven the car like it was stolen every day of its life.
          Xedicon
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          Slight problem with that - the Caliber flavor torque steers so bad it's horrible to drive.
          baconpocket
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          the caliber srt/4 had more power, but it was severely torque managed in lower gears because the axle geometry was horrible for putting down the power.
          axiomatik
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          The Neon SRT-4 wan't exactly pretty.
          cashsixeight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          It's heavier which means it doesn't turn. Then again I don't expect WT like yourself to understand. You obviously think drinking coors at the dragstrip is the epitome of cool.
          Rotation
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          No matter how fast, you can't outrun ugly. So I'll take the SRT-4 (Neon) over the Caliber SRT/4. I agree a lot of people modded their SRT-4s, it's a bummer. But I'd just have to live with it. At least it shows a passion, a passion that's difficult (at least for me) to develop for the Caliber.
      Mark_H
      • 3 Years Ago
      "The Caliber may have never been on the top of compact buyers' shopping lists, but the last five years haven't been even less kind to the vehicle." That is one awkward sentence.
      tenspeeder
      • 3 Years Ago
      I actually found this to be a decent rental. I knew going in not to expect much so that may have helped. As a low cost lease it might make sense to quite a few people who just need to get from point A to B and have some decent cargo capacity.
      Dan
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great Review! It's always nice to read an article that gives an honest opinion!
      Ross
      • 3 Years Ago
      I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the planning stages of this vehicle 6/7 or so years ago. What exactly were they thinking? Bring back the Neon. That is all...
        Frank
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ross
        I can tell you. It went like this... 2004 (or thereabouts) Mopar designers & engineers - "Here are our designs and engineering studies for the Neon replacement. We want to build on the good points of that car and address some of it's shortcomings. If you look at the first Powerpoint slide... Daimler overlords - "Vait a minute! Vee haf already decided vat to do! Here, look at this! Mopar designers & engineers - "Uh, this is the specs for a Mitsubishi platform". Daimler overlords - "Ja! Unt vat ist your point!?" One Mopar engineer - "This platform is substandard, we can't possibly build a class leading vehicle from this platform and..." Daimler overlords - "You! You are done working for the great DAIMLER *cough* (chrysler) Corporation! Go to you desk unt clean out your tings, immediately!" [engineer bows his head and leaves to clean out his desk] Daimler overlords - "Zo, anymore questions!?. Gut! I knew you vould zee the wisdom of our ideas!"
        cashsixeight
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ross
        Neon > Caliber.
        axiomatik
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ross
        People were moving to small CUVs in droves. It wasn't a bad idea, it offered more interior space than most of its contemporary competitors and had the higher ride-height that people seem to find so desirous. I think the styling is what kept most people from coming to the showroom.
        reattadudes
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ross
        it wasn't what the folks in Auburn Hills were thinking; it was what the Daimler folks were thinking. do you think a company that was used to designing $40,000 cars could design a $12,000 car? in case you don't remember, the Neon had it's own set of detractors as well.
      CarCrazy24
      • 3 Years Ago
      in desperate need of replacement...it doesn't fall at all in line with the great new products coming out of Mopar these days
      drewbiewhan
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wait, I'm confused... Why does it have the RAM badge???
        Jim
        • 3 Years Ago
        @drewbiewhan
        Chrysler doesn't think this car is worth even changing the badges, obviously :p
      Alex
      • 3 Years Ago
      I've driven a rental 2010 Caliber - the ride quality and seat comfort were surprisingly good, but I disliked the mileage and excessive steering play.
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