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 Jessica on Monday, September 15, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 94,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great price, fun to drive, lots of space"
Cons: "not a commuter car at ALL"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"Well, I traded my 2007 Chevy Cobalt in for this car, initially went in to look at the Z's but ended up walking away with this because it still met everything I wanted for a great price but when it came to gas......I regret getting this car :( What I love about this car: 0-60 in 10 secs, the look, turbo, rims, GREAT sound system, so comfy, HUGE back that folds down (slept in this thing for 4 nights while on a road trip to Cali), when you want to go fast...you go fast in seconds! We went from 65 to 97 in 3 or 4 seconds I LOVE this car BUT i also have an hour and a half commute one way (only 30 miles one way) but still, sitting in stop and go traffic is not what this car is made for. If you live somewhere you can go fast or want a toy to take out on the town then this is your car but for commuting....NO WAY. I spend roughly 80-100 a week in gas :( But it has a plug in for auxiliary, the rear view mirror dims at night so it's not blinding you it like, goes greenish so helps your eyes. It's a manual which I do enjoy, but again in stop n go traffic every day it just is not pleasant, my knee is always killing me from shifting. Really, there's nothing bad at all about this car, I've had no mechanical issues with it at all, just keep up with everything and you're GOLDEN!"
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By Joslin on Saturday, September 06, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 120,000overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "Looks nice"
Cons: "Suspension parts need replaced more than tires do"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"My family purchased the vehicle in 2008 because the price was reasonable and it was good on gas. We also liked the design of the vehicle. The body and interior of the vehicle are in very good condition today - no exterior rust, no visible wear on seats, etc. - but the suspension and drive train of the vehicle are shot. We have replaced front end suspension parts numerous times since 2008. The garage said we would need a bumper-to-bumper repair of the suspension which would cost approximately $3000. Blue Book value is approximately $3500. I am not a mechanic or engineer, but it seems that the design of the front end suspension system is faulty. Currently the car is parked. The front cross member is rusted through, and it's only a matter of time before it snaps completely. I would not recommend purchasing this vehicle. It's a nice looking car, but there are too many engineering issues with the suspension, in particular."
4 people out of 6 found this review helpful
By mac on Thursday, September 04, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 72,000overall rating 3 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 2
"Subframe rotted within first 5 years. Replaced all tied rods, more than once. Spent over $7000 in repairs not including normal maintanence."
1 person out of 2 found this review helpful
By Shadowgirl on Tuesday, August 26, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 61,050overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "price the way it drives and handles turns"
Cons: "no power seats"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I love my Caliber Heat! My husband and I shopped for about 6 months for a car for me and test drove many different cars and this is the one I kept coming back too. It had plenty of room and comfortable seats. It was priced right and well worth what we paid. I have had it for about almost 2 years and have not had any problems with it whatsoever!! It gets great gas mileage and I love the cooler in the glove compartment it works great!!I definitely would by another."
5 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By Beth on Tuesday, August 26, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 36,000overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "nice design"
Cons: "not reliable"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"Manual Transmission completely rebuilt at 35k. Like this car, like hatchback design and interior is nice, but not exactly confident that it will last or be reliable when tranny replaced at 35k! :("
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By Daniel on Tuesday, July 22, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 90,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Underated and efficient"
Cons: "Plastic parts wear out."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I purchased my 2009 caliber with 69k miles in Feb. 2013. I've put on it already 30K miles and I've no issues at all. Of course I service it every 3K miles and it has payed off. Good gas mileage ~28 mpg. I use it to commute to work and I enjoy it very much. There is good space also in the back sit for my daughter's car sit. Overall I've been impressed with the caliber's performance, comfort and efficiency."
5 people out of 6 found this review helpful