By KBB.com Editors
Small cars are becoming increasingly more versatile, and few vehicles better epitomize this trend than the Dodge Caliber, a combination hatchback/wagon/SUV that effectively replaces the Neon small sedan as Dodge's most affordable offering. While the Caliber is actually about an inch shorter than the Neon, it's substantially more versatile and brings a much bigger presence to the street and the parking lot.
Whether you're looking to get some versatility with your economy, or some economy with your versatility, the Dodge Caliber throws in a little attitude as well.
While the Dodge Caliber's base sticker price of $13,985 is actually $410 less than the outgoing Neon's, it doesn't include air conditioning and power windows and door locks. A fully loaded Caliber R/T can top $24,000.
While the Chevrolet HHR and Toyota Matrix continue to be sold alongside the Chevrolet Cobalt and Toyota Corolla on which they are respectively based, the five-door Caliber is significant in that it replaces its sedan predecessor altogether.
Driving Impressions While the Caliber's mission in life is decidedly more utilitarian than performance oriented, we managed to have some fun in an all-wheel-drive R/T model. With its 172-horsepower engine, sportier suspension...and continuously variable transmission, the R/T is the model we'd choose to take campingespecially if the campgrounds were at the end of a curvy canyon road. The continuously variable transmission offers a "manual-mode," which allows the driver to select any one of six "ratios" and thus hold onto that gearing step if necessary or desired. As for the more modestly motivated Calibers, we found them as competent around town and on the highway as most of the competition.
As part of the 458-watt Boston Acoustics premium audio system, the Caliber's rearmost speakers flip down from the open liftgate to project outward for tailgate parties, picnics and other outdoor activities.
While the idea of engineering artificial gearing into the Caliber's "gearless" continuously variable transmission might seem counterproductive, the ability to control the transmission with ultra-responsive manual shifts is very useful.
The Dodge Caliber is pleasantly roomy and functional, especially for a sub-$14,000 vehicle and Neon replacement. With a fold-flat rear seat and optional fold-flat front passenger seat, Caliber's hatchback design accommodates a variety of cargo and passenger configurations. Standard cloth seating can be upgraded to stain-resistant cloth or leather. A sport appearance package features a shifter bezel, dash trim and red, yellow, orange or blue seat inserts coordinated with the vehicle's exterior color. Overall, the interior is nicely designed and offers a variety of clever features as either standard or optional equipment.Exterior
With unique proportions, sharp-curve styling and Dodge's signature crosshair grille, the Caliber is perhaps the most distinctive five-door/crossover/wagon offered in the sub-$20,000 arena. It's bigger than the Mazda3 and Focus ZX5, not as streamlined as the Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe and has none of the retro vibe of the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR. Up-level Calibers are distinguished by chrome door handles and side moldings, a chrome grille, fog lights and bigger, aluminum wheels.
Along with a 1.8-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission, a base Dodge Caliber SE features front and side-curtain airbags, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/AUX sound system, sliding armrest with cellphone/MP3 player holder, tilt steering, illuminated cup holders, rear-window defroster and wiper, 15-inch covered steel wheels and non-power windows, door locks and mirrors.
Dodge Caliber's powertrain options include 2.0- and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and all-wheel drive. Typical optional equipment includes leather seating, a sunroof and audio system upgrades that include a six-CD changer and premium speakers. Unique extras include flip-down tailgate speakers, a chilled glove box, 115-volt wall-style electrical outlet, UConnect Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and a removable and rechargeable flashlight. Optional items that some competitors include as standard equipment include power windows, door locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry, air conditioning and Antilock Braking System (ABS).
There are three engine choices, each having four cylinders and 16 valves. The base engine displaces 1.8 liters, makes 148 horsepower and is matched with a five-speed manual transmission. Up from there is a 2.0-liter version of 158 horsepower, and then a 2.4-liter version rated at 172 horsepower. Both of the larger engines are matched with the continuously variable transmission (CVT). On all-wheel-drive models, the CVT can be manually "shifted" through six simulated gears. With an optional trailer package, the 2.4-liter R/T model is rated to pull up to 1,000 pounds.
1.8-liter in-line 4
148 horsepower @ 6500 rpm
125 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5200 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 28/32
2.0-liter in-line 4
158 horsepower @6400 rpm
141 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5000 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 26/30
2.4-liter in-line 4
172 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
165 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 23/26
By K.C. on Wednesday, February 19, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 150,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "extremely comfortable ride, fun to drive, reliable"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I just bought this car a week or so ago and it is very easy to drive and extremely comfortable on long drives. It's interior design is clean and stylish. I feel safe driving with my kids in it, also. It's an overall great vehicle. I'm really enjoying owning this vehicle!"
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By Remik on Tuesday, February 18, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 87,000overall rating 2 of 10rating details
Pros: "Warms up nice, Roomy. Nice fold down rear seats!"
Cons: "HUGE BLIND SPOTS, BAD SUSPENTION, NO parts!"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"We bought this car in 2008 and it begin to have SUSPENSION TROUBLE about a year later, and it has been NON STOP! It is a good thing we bought the extended warranty! I highly recommend it if you are gonna buy this car! We basically have replaced the entire suspension. Now we are starting to have trouble with the THROTTLE ASSEMBLY AND ACTUATOR...We just found out that it COULD BE AS MUCH AS 6 MONTHS BEFORE WE CAN GET IT REPLACED, because there are NONE! Yup that is right!!! 1,500 THROTTLE ASSEMBLIES ON BACK ORDER!!!! AND THE COMPANY HAS NO PLANS TO MAKE THE PART AT THE MOMENT. There are NONE to be found in the United States new or used! So we are just out of luck! Also the car has HUGE blind spots in the rear sides. We owe more then it is worth at this point, can't wait to get rid of it!!!"
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By Bruce on Monday, February 10, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 48,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"We've had this car for three years and have done lots of long distance driving. This car is great for long distance driving because of the very comfortable front seats. We've had no leg fatigue, which I can't say didn't happen in some of our other cars. It has had a mostly quiet ride ever since we replaced the original tires with quieter radials. The engine is quiet. I like the cargo space in the hatchback trunk, and the versatility with flattening the seats. The worst aspect of this car is the lack of pep when starting from a stop. The fuel economy is OK and averages 25mpg city driving and 29 mpg highway."
By Ann on Sunday, February 02, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 87,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "fun to drive, great sound system"
Cons: "gas mileage could be better"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Great compact car with an excellent sound system. Sporty looking in the sunburst orange color with black leather interior. I have never had any issues with this car. I bought it brand new (single owner), high mileage is all from freeway miles (work to home radius is 110 miles). Added window rain guards and chrome door handles which look great with the big chrome rims."
3 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By pommom on Monday, January 20, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 88,000overall rating 4 of 10rating details
Pros: "rides nice easier to get in&out than regular car."
Cons: "built very cheaply!!!!!!!not durable"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"Have this car for 4 years and have already stuck almost $5,000 into it. They are built way to cheap. None of the driving suspension holds up. Replaced both front rocker arms, strutts, bearings, links in front, rear latteral links and thermostats just to name a few.STAY AWAY FROM THESE CARS.You just wind up throwing your money away."
6 people out of 9 found this review helpful
By daughn19 on Sunday, January 05, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 48,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great price, fun to drive, light up cup holders"
Cons: "no hatch release on key fob"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My husband is a wheelchair bound paraplegic so we were looking for a vehicle that didn't sit too high he could not transfer into it from his wheelchair, but that also offered enough room for our family and his wheelchair. I bought my Caliber in 2011 (almost new) with 17,000 because it had been the dealer's car. I fell in love with the outside design online, and after simply sitting behind the wheel for my test drive I knew this was my car. Everything is well laid out inside for the driver, and I loved all of the upgrades that were included in the price. I have had this car for almost 3 years now and it is still as fun to drive as my initial test drive. The engine has some spunk (enough to beat other drivers off the line at red lights, which my husband loves) and the car has enough room for all of our needs. My only gripes about this vehicle (which are very minor) is that the headlights come on whenever the car is unlocked, and there is no button on the key fob to open the hatch. Both are very minor issues though and do not hinder my daily activity. I love this car, the gas mileage, and it's overall performance. I would highly recommend this vehicle to anyone looking for the crossover without the high price tag."
5 people out of 5 found this review helpful