2009 Caliber New Car Test Drive
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.