2008 Caliber New Car Test Drive
The Dodge Caliber was launched as a 2007 model. For 2008, the high-performance Dodge Caliber SRT4 joins the lineup.
The Dodge Caliber is classed as a compact car, though it's larger than the Neon it replaced. A five-passenger, five-door, 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 in American garages. 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.
A choice of four-cylinder engines is available, along with a choice of front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive makes the Caliber a capable winter vehicle.
Relatively affordable, Caliber starts below $14,000 retail, and fuel economy is respectable, achieving 24/29 City/Highway miles per gallon in its most frugal form, according to EPA estimates.
At the other end of the scale, the new SRT4 version has a turbocharged engine generating 285 horsepower. With a starting price of $22,435, it is a performance bargain.
The mid-level Caliber SXT model with the 2.0-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission is among the more enjoyable of the standard models, but the Caliber is no sports car. For driving excitement, the SRT4 is the choice.
The front seats are comfortable, with lots of head room, and there's a large amount of cargo space here. 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 more likely, a surfboard. 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.
The 2008 Dodge Caliber offers a choice of four models, all with four-cylinder engines. A 148-horsepower 1.8-liter is standard in SE and SXT, a 158-hp 2.0-liter is optional for SXT, a 172-hp 2.4-liter is standard in R/T, and the SRT4 has a 285-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter. The 1.8 is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 2.0 comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The 2.4 is available with the five-speed manual in the front-drive R/T and the CVT in the all-wheel drive R/T. The SRT4 comes only with a six-speed manual.
The SE ($13,925) comes standard with the 1.8-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission. The 2.0-liter engine is optional ($150) and it must be ordered with the CVT automatic ($1000), which comes with antilock brakes. (All NCTD prices are MSRP, do not include destination charges, and can change at any time without notice.)
The SE 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 hubcapped, 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 ($1050) includes an interior air filter and a Chill Zone inside the glove box that holds four half-liter water bottles. The Power Equipment Group ($595) includes power windows, outside mirrors and keyless remote central locking. The Popular Equipment Group includes the Power Group, plus floor mats, a cargo area tonneau cover and cruise control. An uplevel stereo adds MP3 capability and six-disc CD changer. Sirius Satellite Radio ($195) is offered and it includes a one-year subscription.
The SXT ($16,620) also comes standard with the 1.8-liter engine and five-speed manual, with the 2.0-liter engine and CVT optional, but the list of standard features expands dramatically.
The SXT comes with the features in the SE Popular Equipment Group, air conditioning with the interior air filter and Chill Zone; a tachometer; YES Essentials cloth upholstery that Dodge says is odor, stain and static resistant; Sirius satellite radio; 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 seat heaters for the cloth seats ($250); sunroof ($795); the Driver Convenience Group ($760) 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; the Popular Equipment Group ($200) with fog lights, body side molding, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls; a navigation system with six-disc CD changer ($1395); and the Premium Sound Group ($495) Boston Acoustics sound system with nine speakers, including two articulating liftgate speakers called MusicGate Power. The available Sport Appearance Group ($365) has a body-color grille, color-keyed instrument panel and shifter bezel, fog lamps, Sirius satellite radio, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, and cloth bucket seats with contrasting inserts. When ordered with the 2.0-liter engine, it also has Dodge's Autostick manual shiftgate with six preset gear ratios for the CVT automatic. A Trailer Tow Group ($130) adds an engine oil cooler and a wiring harness.
The R/T ($18,395) comes standard with the 2.4-liter engine, the manual transmission and, new for '08, front-wheel drive. It is also offered with the CVT and all-wheel drive ($20,495).
The R/T comes with the SXT features, plus the Sport Appearance Group, the Premium Sound Group with MusicGate Pow.