Though it doesn't quite live up to Dodge's "grab life by the horns" ad tagline, the Caliber has enough versatility and special features to make it a decent compact hatchback purchase.
The 2007 Dodge Caliber is an all-new compact four-door hatchback. Highlights include a versatile interior design, fuel-efficient engine choices and truck-influenced styling.Read more
Versatile interior, fuel-efficient powertrain choices, availability of all-wheel-drive system.
The new 2007 Dodge Caliber, going on sale in the spring of 2006, is a replacement for the now discontinued Neon and serves as the company's most affordable car. As a bit of a change-up, the Caliber is a hatchback/wagon, and there is no accompanying sedan version. It would seem that Dodge decided a compact hatchback would be a swell idea in light of America's recent and slightly elevated interest in smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Caliber is not a hard-core fuel miser, though, and is instead a pretty normal-sized compact. It features an all-new chassis design, and is being built at DaimlerChrysler's retooled Belvidere, Illinois, plant. Dodge placed a priority on giving the Caliber a high level of versatility, style and safety.
The Dodge Caliber is pretty easy to identify thanks to its distinctive styling cues. Up front, it apes the look of Dodge's big Ram truck with its large headlights, crosshair grille and buff fender flares. Eighteen-inch wheels are available on the Caliber, which is unusually large for this class of car. Inside, one will find the basic hatchback formula of seating for five and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat. There are interesting additions, though, including a chilled bottle cooler in the glovebox, illuminated rings for the front cupholders, an iPod holder and optional liftgate-mounted speakers.
In just about every regard, the 2007 Dodge Caliber is better than the now departed Neon. And for most of the things compact hatchbacks are expected to do, the Caliber suffices well enough. But shoppers in this segment should be aware that there are many other interesting choices, such as the Mazda 3, the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe twins, Volkswagen's Rabbit and even Chrysler's own PT Cruiser. Compared to these models, the Dodge strikes us as being quite mediocre in terms of performance, build quality and interior design. Buyers wanting a hatchback that entertains as well as hauling stuff are advised to check out other competing models or wait until the SRT version arrives later in the model year.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Dodge Caliber is a compact four-door hatchback. Three trim levels are currently offered: SE, SXT and R/T. The SE is weekend newspaper ad fodder; it doesn't cost very much and doesn't come with very much. It has 15-inch wheels and a CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack, but features like air-conditioning or power windows and mirrors are optional. The midgrade SXT is a better choice. It comes with the aforementioned options standard, as well as 17-inch wheels, keyless entry, a 60/40-split rear seat that folds and reclines, a fold-flat front-passenger seat and a 115-volt outlet. The SXT can also be upgraded with options such as alloy wheels, a sunroof, leather seating, heated front seats, color-keyed instrumental panel trim, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control. Dodge also offers upgraded audio choices in the form of a six-disc CD changer, a special MusicGate speaker package and satellite radio. The R/T trim is similar to the SXT in terms of equipment but also has 18-inch alloy wheels, sportier exterior trim pieces and a sport-tuned suspension and steering rack.
Powertrains and Performance
Three four-cylinder engines are available on the 2007 Dodge Caliber. Front-drive SE and SXT models come standard with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 148 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. A 2.0-liter engine is an optional upgrade; it makes 158 hp and 141 lb-ft of torque. The Caliber R/T is distinct in that it comes with a 2.4-liter engine good for 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque, and an optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. In terms of transmissions, the 1.8-liter engine comes paired to a five-speed manual only. The front-wheel-drive R/T also has a five-speed manual transmission. The 2.0 and R/T AWD come standard with a continuously variable transmission, which is typically more fuel-efficient than a traditional four-speed automatic. An SXT with the 2.0-liter engine has an EPA mileage estimate of 26 mpg city/30 mpg highway.
SE and SXT have disc brakes in front and drums in the rear. On these trims, an optional antilock braking system with brake assist comes bundled with the 2.0-liter engine and CVT. R/T models have four-wheel disc brakes and standard ABS. All Dodge Calibers come standard with head-protecting side curtain airbags for all outboard passengers. There's also a standard knee-blocker airbag for the driver. Front-seat-mounted side airbags, stability control and a tire-pressure monitoring system are optional and will be introduced late in the 2006 calendar year.
Interior Design and Special Features
Being a hatchback, the 2007 Dodge Caliber is well suited for most daily tasks. It can seat up to five people, though putting three adults in back will likely result in grumbles about a lack of comfort for the center passenger. The rear seat can be lowered to create a flat load floor, and the rearmost part of the cargo load area is made of vinyl for easy cleaning. With the seats lowered, the Caliber can carry up to 48 cubic feet of cargo. The front seat also folds forward on most models. Dodge is particularly proud of the ChillZone, a special cooled beverage box that's integrated into the glovebox on all Calibers equipped with air-conditioning.
CVTs are rare for this class of car. The CVT in the Dodge Caliber is the latest generation, and we suspect that many drivers won't notice any difference between it and a regular automatic. Only when one pins the throttle does the CVT's lack of distinct upshifts seem a bit odd, and it can make one a bit more aware of the engine's slightly thrashy nature. The Caliber has a smooth ride quality on city streets but rarely generates much excitement for the driver. For now, the most entertaining model is the front-wheel-drive R/T.
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