2009 Dodge Caliber Expert Review:Autoblog
click above image to view high-res gallery of the 2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
Picture the following scene if you will. It's early 2004. A meeting comes to order somewhere deep within the halls of a tower adorned with a five-pointed star just off I-75 in Auburn Hills, MI. A group of engineers and product planners gather to shoot around some ideas for what kind of car they want to create that will top off the upcoming Dodge Caliber line-up. The leader of the team opens the meeting by placing a cup in the middle of the table and declaring that anyone who utters the words 'subtle' or 'subdued' during the discussions must pay a dollar into the cup toward the beer fund. And thus, the Caliber SRT-4 was born.
We have absolutely no idea if it actually went down that way, but there's no doubt that the latest addition to the Chrysler SRT family is in no way subtle or subdued. If you are looking for a Q-ship, move right along because you will not find one here. In many ways the Caliber SRT-4 is the spiritual successor to the original Omni GLH, a rowdy rip-snortin' hot hatch, with too much power for a front-wheel-drive car. Read on after the jump to find out what it's like to live with the latest SRT-4.
All photos ©2007 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
click any image to enlarge
The Omni was a car already way too far along in its life-cycle when the turbocharged GLH (stands for Goes Like Hell) was debuted. The Caliber, however, is still relatively new to the world, and even the base version shares many of its Dodge brothers' aggressive design cues. Unfortunately, it's never been entirely clear what the Caliber was supposed to be: a crossover, economy hatch, wagon-lette or what? The SRT-4 doesn't really do much to answer this question, and actually just confounds it more. The Caliber's closest direct competitors would probably be the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix, although neither of those models can be ordered with anything near the power of the SRT-4.
Whatever this vehicle is supposed to be, it does stand out in a crowd, especially wearing the Inferno Red color of the test unit. Like other Dodge-branded SRT models, it gets the obligatory hood scoop, along with a pair of rear facing vents in the hood. The front clip bristles with openings, allowing plenty of airflow through the mesh grille-work to the inter-cooler and radiator. Unlike some sporty vehicles, all the openings in the SRT-4 are fully functional. Evidently the power-train in this little beast generates some major heat that has to be dissipated. Continuing the theme of aggression are the sharp looking 19-inch five-spoke wheels and 225/45R19 tires that fill out the wheel wells nicely. Thanks to their thin spokes, the bright red painted brake calipers front and rear are clearly visible at all times.
Overall the changes to the SRT complement the butch styling of the Caliber quite nicely. The whole issue of the quality of the interior materials on current Chrysler products has been beaten to death here and elsewhere. Since laying waste to a horse that has already decayed just isn't much fun, we'll just say that the color combination of the darker metallic plastic trim on the console does look better than the brighter trim we've seen on other Calibers.
The interior works fine from a functional standpoint with controls readily accessible and a radio where it belongs at the top of the center stack. At first glance there appear to be no redundant controls for the radio on the steering wheel, an impression that turns out to be incorrect. After driving a couple of blocks, I shifted my hands on the wheel and realized that there were two rockers on the back-side of the "nine" and "three" spokes, one for the volume and the other for the tuner. Although they aren't visible, these buttons are as accessible as a pair of paddle shifters.
Compared to the similarly sized Scion xB, the Caliber has narrower pillars and better overall visibility in spite of its low profile greenhouse. Like other modern compact hatchbacks, the seating position is upright with your butt well off the floor. The SRT seats have lateral bolsters aggressive enough to match both the car's styling and powertrain. Given the amount of rubber this car has on the road, these seats will keep you securely planted in front of the steering wheel so you don't have to search for anything against which to brace yourself. The only other significant interior change to the SRT-4 is a boost gauge mounted at the far left end of the dash. Otherwise, the SRT-4 keeps all the standard features of the Caliber, including the chill-zone above the glove box that can keep up to four bottles or cans cool on a hot day.
The real key to any of Chrysler's SRT models is the powertrain, and the Caliber SRT-4 is no exception. The 2.4L engine produced by the engine partnership between Chrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi has been heavily massaged increasing its power output by almost two-thirds from 172 HP to 285. All that power gets routed to the front wheels only via a six-speed Getrag trans-axle. The problem is the "front wheel" part. While the R/T model has all-wheel-drive available, the SRT just drags its rears like a wounded puppy. We'll be publishing an interview with SRT development supervisor Erich Heuschele soon that contains an explanation of the reasoning behind this. In essence, it comes down to engineering to a price point. The SRT engineers had a limited budget and a target price and they made the best sporting compact they could within those constraints.
Given those limitations, Chrysler actually came up with a decent little car that elicits a smile while traversing twisty roads. There are certainly places, however, where the SRT-4 doesn't shine. Launching the car smoothly can be problematic if you don't want a jack rabbit start every time. The limited low end, off-boost torque combined with the sticky tires on dry pavement means the engine wants to bog if you don't give it enough gas. Applying the right pedal with enough enthusiasm to avoid bogging can land you in the lane to your left thanks to torque steer. Given the less-than-subtle appearance of this car, a quiet getaway from a red light when there's a cop sitting next to you can be tough. The other performance problem traceable to front-wheel drive becomes apparent when you try to accelerate out of a tight corner, especially if the road is wet. The SRT-4 will be scrambling desperately for traction until you back off.
Where the SRT-4 shines is running down a winding rural road on a Sunday morning. Keeping the boost gauge up in the positive region provides strong acceleration out of corners (as long as they're not too tight) and the brakes offer great velocity retardation when needed. Using the brake calipers from the Charger police package was important for stopping power, but the larger master cylinder really seals the deal for pedal feel. While the stock Caliber's brake pedal feels spongy, the stiff calipers on the SRT-4 absorb the increased volume of brake fluid from the master and put it straight to work with no wasted effort. The SRT-4 pedal feel is among the best on a mainstream Chrysler product. The shift lever also doesn't like to be rushed, but once you find the rhythm it works nicely. The lowered suspension including the heftier anti-roll bars keeps the body perpendicular to the ground and the rubber planted even on rougher pavement.
One final area where the bottom line engineering of the Caliber becomes apparent is when you close the doors. Unlike the proverbial German bank vault, these sound resoundingly hollow. Once closed however, the structure of the Caliber feels stiff, and in spite of the firm suspension it never exhibited any squeaks or rattles. The only annoying sound was the exhaust note, which lacked the rumble of a big V8 or the high-revving scream of an S2000. It just sounded loud.
The SRT-4 is rated by the EPA at 19/27 mpg, and a week of relatively aggressive driving yielded 20 mpg. Being a top-end model, it's pretty well equipped out of the box with a base MSRP of $22,435 and includes stability control, an alarm system and full complement of air bags. This test car was finished in the aforementioned Inferno Read Crystal Pearl paint for an extra $150 and the MusicGate sound system, which includes a pair of speakers that flip down from the open tailgate.
The bottom line is that for $24,410 you get a decent corner carver that makes its presence felt visually. If you're not looking to blend in and can live with some hard plastic, the 2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4 is probably worth checking out.
All photos ©2007 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
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.
New Car Test Drive
Inexpensive and economical.
The Dodge Caliber is classed as a compact car. A five-passenger, five-door vehicle, the Caliber isn't easily categorized, combining elements from hatchback, wagon and minivan designs. Though very popular in Europe, hatchbacks, especially five-door hatchbacks, have not caught on with American buyers. The five-door hatch is a practical design, but most Americans prefer the styling of a traditional sedan with a separate trunk. Maybe that's changing, however. We certainly like hatchbacks.
With availability depending upon the individual Caliber model, there are four different four-cylinder engines, with manual transmissions or a continuously-variable automatic. Relatively affordable, the Caliber is also fairly fuel-efficient, being EPA-rated at 24/30 City/Highway miles per gallon in its most frugal form.
At the other end of the scale, the SRT4 version has a turbocharged engine generating 285 horsepower. With a starting price of $24,840, it is a performance bargain.
The front seats are comfortable, with lots of head room, and there's a large amount of cargo space. Packaging is functional, with folding rear seats that have an optional reclining adjustment and an optional fold-flat front passenger seat to make room for a ladder or lumber. A couple of innovative options, especially for a car in this price class, are an air conditioned compartment in the glove box to chill water bottles or sodas and a swing-down stereo speaker panel attached to the liftgate that converts the back end to a sound stage for beach parties or tailgating.
For 2009 there are only minimal changes. There are four new colors, a few feature changes -- anti-lock brakes are now standard on the SXT trim level and there have been improvements in reducing interior noise levels -- and the 1.8-liter engine now achieves 30 mpg on the EPA highway cycle. In addition, there are changes to some of the options and packages. Finally, all-wheel drive, which was available on the R/T model, is no longer offered.
The Dodge Caliber is available in four models, all with four-cylinder engines. A 148-horsepower 1.8-liter with a five-speed manual is standard in SE and SXT, a 158-hp 2.0-liter with a continuously variable automatic (CVT) is optional for the SE and SXT, a 172-hp 2.4-liter with either the five-speed or the CVT is standard in R/T, and the SRT4 has a 285-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter engine with a six-speed manual. The 2.0-liter engine is available only with the CVT.
The SE ($16,460) has cloth seats; tilt steering column; an AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers and an auxiliary input jack; a 60/40-split folding rear seat; removable and washable vinyl cargo mat; and P205/70R15 tires on steel wheels. Air conditioning is not standard, nor are power windows. The SE comes with manual roll-up windows and manual outside mirrors. Options for the SE are as extensive as the standard equipment is basic. The air conditioning system ($1250) includes an interior air filter and a Chill Zone inside the glove box that holds four half-liter water bottles. An uplevel stereo adds MP3 capability and a six-disc CD changer.
The SXT ($17,850) comes standard with air conditioning with the interior air filter and Chill Zone; Sirius satellite radio; anti-lock brakes; power windows, mirrors and door locks; floor mats; cruise control; stain-resistant seat fabric; remote keyless entry; 115-volt AC power outlet; a flashlight-like removable lamp that stows and charges in a receptacle in the rear headliner; height-adjustable driver's seat; fold-flat front passenger seat; a reclining 60/40-split rear seat; and all-season P215/60R17 touring tires on aluminum wheels.
SXT options include a sunroof ($795); the Driver Convenience Group ($795) with Dodge's uconnect hands-free cell-phone link, HomeLink universal garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, vehicle information center and a tire pressure monitor; and the Premium Sound Group ($495) with Boston Acoustics sound system with nine speakers, including two articulating liftgate speakers called MusicGate Power.
The R/T ($20,295) comes with the SXT items, plus a variety of other features, including a sport suspension with performance steering, and P215/55R18 all-season performance tires on aluminum wheels. Options exclusive to R/T are the Leather Interior Group ($595) with leather seating surfaces and a manual lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, and chromed 18-inch wheels ($700).
The SRT4 ($24,840) has a turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter engine pumping out 285 horsepower through a Getrag six-speed manual transmission. Suspension, brakes and steering are beefed up to handle the increased performance, and aluminum wheels wear W-rated, P225/45R19 all-season tires. The SRT4 has unique body aero add-ons, including a large rear spoiler.
The SRT4 gets sport bucket seats, a carbon fiber and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a reconfigurable display, a boost gauge, a six-disc CD changer, and aluminum pedals. The only options are a Kicker audio system ($675), a sunroof ($795), polished aluminum wheels ($400), and summer performance tires.
There are actually many more options than there is space to list here, so any potential buyers are advised to consult with their local Dodge dealers to determine those features which are most important for their needs.
Safety features that come standard on all Calibers include multi-stage front airbags and full-coverage side-curtain airbags. Optional on SXT and R/T area a couple of Security Groups ($695 for the SXT, $1,875 for the more comprehensive package on the R/T), which include a variety of safety and security items.
Picture a Dodge Magnum as it might appear in a theme park's House of Mirrors, and you'll have a good idea of what the Dodge Caliber looks like. Yes, it's shorter and narrower and taller (the latter by two inches), but it's still a station wagon with four doors, five counting the rear liftgate, and it wears all the styling cues of the Magnum.
The trademark crosshair grille dominates the front end; depending on model, this is either body color or trimmed in chrome. Massive headlights are notched into the leading corners of the front fenders. A pouting lower lip-like bumper separates the grille and headlights from a slimmer, lower air intake and (uplevel) fog lamps.
The side view shows strongly blistered fenders front and rear beneath a wedge-shaped beltline. Tires mostly fill the wheel wells, but we expect aftermarket hardware will be popular amongst younger buyers. The lower portions of the doors wear longitudinal moldings, again, body color or chrome highlighted, that look like a bi-level rocker panel but aren't, but that nevertheless minimize the Caliber's height. Full-round door handles, either chrome-trimmed or body color, bridge scooped-out grip spaces.
The roofline arcs cleanly from its junction with the hood just aft of the front wheel wells over the side door windows to pinch off at the tail end of the rear quarter glass. Topping this arc but stopping at the top of the backlight (rear windscreen) is an unbroken, thick strip of black molding the Caliber's designers say is supposed to work with the arc and the truncated back end to impart a coupe look. We're not sure why that was important or that it necessarily succeeds, but it does buff up the Caliber's side aspect.
The back end pulls from the Magnum, too, with a steeply raked backlight beneath a roof-mounted spoiler and above a mostly upright lower liftgate, employing a hatchback style arguing against any comparisons with a traditional station wagon. A relatively short rear overhang and oversize taillight housings add credence to the argument.
The SRT4 can be distinguished by several exterior features aimed at both form and function. The ride height is lowered. The front end features a functional hood scoop, dual hood vents, a unique front fascia with brake cooling ducts next to the fog lights, and a lower air dam. Aero moldings run along the side and at the rear are a large high-mounted rear spoiler, a four-inch exhaust tip, and a rear fascia with lower strakes to direct underbody airflow.
Step inside the Caliber and the Dodge legacy is loud and clear. If function tops your list of must-haves, this is good. If glitz is your thing, this is less good.
The instrument cluster and center stack are the picture of efficiency. Gauges are large, round and legible with black markings on white backgrounds. In the SRT4, the central gauge is the tachometer instead of the speedometer, a change Dodge says it made because the SRT4 is a driver's car. To the left of the steering wheel in the SRT4 is a turbo boost gauge; this area serves as a small cubby in other models.
The SRT4 also has a reconfigurable display with what dodge calls Performance Pages. This feature can provide readouts of lateral and longitudinal g forges, 1/8 and 1/4-mile time and speed, 0-60-mph time, and braking distance. It's quite a little toy for performance enthusiasts, somewhat similar to a system Porsche offers.
The center stack presents the stereo face and climate control panel in stark relief with functional knobs, buttons and switches and trimmed in matte metallic plastic or not-very-convincing wood grain. All of these controls are easy to reach, but the materials are cheaply rendered and lacking in quality. You get the feeling the Caliber is built to a price when you first close the door and hear a metallic clang worthy of an empty beer can.
The shift lever extends from the base of the stack; the notched gate on the CVT makes ratio selections intuitive. In cars equipped with a manual transmission, the shifter falls easily to hand. The power point serves neither the cell phone holder nor a radar detector well; located at the extreme base of the center stack, it leaves cords either draped over the center console's cup holders or dangling down the dash between the instrument cluster and the center stack.
An MP3 player/cell phone holder flips up out of the front of the center console armrest and, while properly sized for an iPod or similarly shaped MP3 device, adapts best to candy bar-style cell phones. Also, the sliding armrest covers a range of three inches, which is helpful for drivers of shorter stature, but, when all the way forward, it blocks the rear-most of the two cup holders.
As the Caliber is relatively tall, the seats are closer to chairs than cushions bolted to the floor. This eases climbing in and out.
The front seats that come standard are comfortable, but far from plush, with decently bolstered back cushions. Bottom cushions are more flat than sculpted and a bit short on thigh support. The SRT4's seats are thickly bolstered and have grippy cloth inserts to hold occupants in place in fast turns.
Front-seat headroom is impressive in all Calibers, topping the five-door Mazda3 hatchback, but falling short of the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix. Leg room up front is adequate, roughly equal to the Mazda3, Vibe and Matrix. A cautionary note about the driver's seat-height adjustment, however: It pivots at the front, which means trading leg room for height.
The rear seat is a bench and leg room is somewhat cramped, trailing most competitors. Rear-seat head room tops the Mazda3, but loses to the Vibe and the Matrix.
Cargo capacity is one of the Caliber's big advantages. The rear seats fold down 60/40 to provide quite generous cargo space. The available folding front passenger seat expands room further and allows for loading of long objects. The Caliber bests the Mazda3 in cargo room, but falls short of the Matrix and Vibe. The Caliber's rear load floor is plastic and removable, which means your stuff will slide around if not secured, but dirty cargo won't make a mess. The rear hatch is an easy-opening liftgate and the floor height is low enough to allow for easy loading and unloading.
Cubby storage scores mixed ratings. The bi-level glove box, with a compartment on the top of the dash in addition to one in the traditional location, earns high marks, especially the innovative Chill Zone. But front door map pockets will hold maybe a paperback and a map, there are no map pockets in the rear doors, and the front seatbacks are bare of any magazine pouches. Illuminating the cup holders (there are only two, and they're in the front console) helps at night.
Visibility out front is good. Like many other modern designs, the hood drops away so quickly it disappears from sight; you may want to learn where the fenders are before you have to navigate a parking garage. The large backlight frames a good picture of what's behind, but the sloping rear-most windows create a blind spot over the driver's right shoulder.
The stereos generate quality sounds, with the top-level Boston Acoustic setup and the SRT4's Kicker outfit rivaling home systems of only a few years ago. Called MusicGate, the Boston Acoustics system features nine speakers, including 3.5-inch tweeters, a subwoofer and a pair of speakers in a boom box attached to the inside of the rear liftgate. When the liftgate is open, this assembly swings down so you can listen to tunes while tailgating. It's capable of entertaining the neighborhood.
Dodge seemingly wants people to consider the Caliber as a downsized Magnum, and to believe this makes it essentially a sporty mini-minivan-cum-compact station wagon. Nice idea, but the package doesn't quite do this. Everything it does, it does well, but aside from the SRT4 model, it doesn't quite achieve the sporty part.
The 2.4-liter engine's 172 horsepower arguably does a better job of motivating this one-and-one-half ton hatchback, but the CVT was neither as comfortable nor as precise in its selection of gear ratios as we hoped, or as Dodge promises. Left in Drive, it sounds and feels like an automatic that needs to have its bands tightened, or like a manual gearbox with a slipping clutch. Even in AutoStick mode, which involves imposing an electronically managed shift pattern on a transmission designed not to shift gears, engine speed wandered noticeably within the selected ratio. The 2.4-liter with five-speed manual is EPA-rated at 23 mpg City and 29 Highway, compared to 21/25 with the CVT.
The 1.8-liter base engine is EPA-rated at 24 mpg City and 30 Highway, while the 2.0 comes in at 23/27. But with less torque, the 1.8 is also the least responsive to the gas pedal when you need it the most.
All three base engines deliver their power smoothly, with no disruptive surges or flat spots. Pedal layout is decent, while not quite ideal for heel-and-toe downshifts, and there's a dead pedal where a driver can rest the left foot on long trips.
The SRT4's engine is a different beast altogether. With 285 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, it can motivate the SRT4 from 0 to 60 mph in about six seconds. The SRT4's engine exhibits some turbo lag, but it's mercifully short and the car is more than willing to get up and go from a stop. Passing power is prodigious, provided the transmission is in the correct gear. If you let the rpm run too high, the engine will run out of breath; too low and you'll have to wait for the turbo to spool up. Deft shifting can avoid these problems. Speaking of shifting, the manual gearbox has fairly short throws and positive engagement, making it fun to operate.
Driving and handling dynamics for SE, SXT and R/T models are mostly consistent, about on a par with the Vibe and the Matrix but not quite in the same league as the more tautly sprung Mazda3. There's not as much body lean in corners as we expected in a car this tall. Under hard acceleration there is some torque steer, with tugs at the steering wheel, a shortcoming shared with every front-wheel-drive car we can remember in this class. This problem is compounded by the SRT4's greater power.
The SRT4 leans less in turns than the other models and its steering is sharper and more direct. Instead of a limited-slip front differential, the SRT4 utilizes the traction control system to detect wheelspin and apply brake pressure to the affected wheel, thus transferring power to the side that isn't slipping. It prevents laying down long strips of rubber, but isn't as effective as a mechanical limited-slip system. In short, a limited-slip is a performance-enhancing technology, while traction control is a performance-limiting technology.
The disc/drum brakes standard on the SE and in the SXT are competent, and the SXT has standard anti-lock brakes. The R/T gets standard anti-lock discs at all four corners.
All Calibers have little wind whistle at everyday highway speeds. Road noise increases with the size of the tire's footprint, meaning it is more persistent in the R/T and SRT4. The added grip from the larger footprint more than compensates for this intrusion, however. In all but the SRT4, conversation can be carried on at normal tones even at extra-legal rates of travel. Be aware, however, that the SRT4 has a boy racer exhaust note, which means the engine emits a constant background drone and screams under heavy throttle.
The 2009 Dodge Caliber is at the same time innovative and retro, a hatchback that's more like a station wagon but with hints of the utility of a minivan. The Caliber makes a good case when it comes to packaging, but falls short on materials quality. Though all Calibers show signs of cost-cutting, the SE, SXT and R/T offer good, basic transportation, and the SRT4 is a performance bargain.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported on the Caliber from Scottsdale, Arizona, with Kirk Bell reporting on the SRT4 from Indianapolis.
Dodge Caliber SE ($16,460); SXT ($17,850); R/T AWD ($20,295); SRT4 ($24,840).
Options As Tested
158-hp 2.0-liter engine ($150); CVT ($1000); Premium Sound Group ($595) Boston Acoustics sound system with nine speakers, including two articulating liftgate speakers; AM/FM/MP3 stereo with six-CD in-dash changer with auxiliary input jack ($350); Driver Convenience Group ($795) with Dodge's uconnect hands-free cell phone link, HomeLink universal garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, vehicle information center and tire pressure monitor; power sunroof ($795).
Dodge Caliber SXT ($17,850).
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