By KBB.com Editors
Small cars are becoming increasingly more versatile, and few vehicles better epitomize this trend than the 2008 Dodge Caliber, a combination hatchback, wagon and SUV. Although Dodge's most affordable offering, the Caliber is no bargain-basement car. Models range from a fuel-efficient economy car to a powerful all-wheel-drive variant and include such appealing options as a flip-down rear speaker bar, built-in iPod holder and a refrigerated beverage cooler, features you won't find on the Volkswagen Rabbit or Mazda3. Then again, the plastics used to form the interior are not as sophisticated or handsome as those inside the VW and Mazda, an important issue for many savvy young buyers.
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 is hard to beat, it doesn't include air conditioning and power windows and door locks. A fully-loaded Caliber R/T can top $24,000.
Chrome trim is added to the interior door handles, locks and ventilation knobs, while the R/T receives heated front seats as standard equipment.
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 camping---especially 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 vehicle close to $14,500. With a fold-flat rear seat and fold-flat front passenger seat (SXT and R/T), 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 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 Volkswagen Rabbit, 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 side moldings and 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 sun roof 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, traction control and antilock brakes (ABS).
The three engine choices each have 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 2,000 pounds.
1.8-liter in-line 4
148 horsepower @ 6500 rpm
125 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5200 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 24/29
2.0-liter in-line 4
158 horsepower @6400 rpm
141 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5000 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 23/27 (automatic)
2.4-liter in-line 4
172 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
165 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 23/28 (manual), 21/25 (automatic), 20/24 (AWD)
By Beckie (VA) on Thursday, November 14, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "reasonable price, bells and whistles and comfort"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I love my caliber! It is comfortable, reasonable on fuel, and I love the remote key start. Another plus is the heated seats and satelite radio. I am very pleased with my purchase."
By jb_0211 (CA) on Tuesday, November 05, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 90,000overall rating 1 of 10rating details
Pros: "Decent gas mileage"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"I bought a 2009 Dodge Caliber (used) in September 2012. It started giving me minor issues in October 2012, again in January 2013 and now, November 2013. I wish I would've read more reviews about this car... Granted, it hasn't left me stranded on the side of the road (yet), but I think that's where it's headed. For the amount this car is actually worth, it'd be stupid for me to dump a whole lot of $$ into it. Therefore, almost exactly one year later, I'll be getting rid of this car!"
By Alfiejay (MI) on Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 160,000overall rating 2 of 10rating details
Pros: "MP3 auxillary slot"
Cons: "transmission, gas milage, blind spots"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"I bought this car in 2010 with 90000 miles. This car has been a nightmare. Because we bought it in fall we didn't notice this problem until the next summer. If the temprature is above 35 degrees, the transmission fluid heats up and the car starts to whine and slows down. At one point it went so slow that I was afraid. I live near freeways that averages 75 MPH (not what we are supposed to do but you will get run over if you go slower). In the summer, I can't drop my children off at school and then make it to work in this car. When I reported this to Dodge, I haven't heard back from them yet. DON'T BUY THIS CAR! YOU WILL BE SORRY! This also made your gas milage go down."
By caliber owner (IL) on Tuesday, October 01, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 120,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "great mpg"
Cons: "needs a better interior"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I bought this car in 2006 straight off the truck from the plant. My father worked for Chrysler, so I was able to get a decent discount on the overall price. If it wasn't for that, I don't think that I would have bought the car at the time. I have the SXT and ended up with a $23,000 car loan at the time. The car does run great, though. In the 7 years that I have owned the car I have only had two issues with it. One was pretty major. I was going down the highway and it essentially blew up. Had to get the compressor, alternator, battery and something else (cant remember) replaced. The dealer called it a complete failure of the system. The other issue were brakes and that was my fault. I have only changed the brakes once in the cars life. I went longer than I should have, but they still lasted a very long time and was very pleased with it. the interior of the car is ok. It's some kind of weird plastic. Very hard to clean since it is molded with a design. Still it is pretty durable stuff. I got and still get great gas mileage from the car. I usually average around 28mpg. Not too bad for the time I bought it and still not bad for the price you will pay. Even with the things I listed as being on the downside, I love the car. It has served me extremely well and would recommend it."
By mclovin (IN) on Monday, September 23, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 71,100overall rating 6 of 10rating details
Pros: "Price, storage, cargo room"
Cons: "repairs, poor suspension&basic int. &blind spots"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 3
"I bought this car used for 12K in 2011 with 36,000 miles on it... i thought that i was getting a good deal. However, it is now starting to have problems. I've had many mechanics tell me it is a terrible designed car. There are many blind spots while driving. The interior is all hard plastic. The CVT transmission is made by Japco, a company that supplies transmissions for Nissan, and the 2.0 liter with very little horsepower is made by Mitsubishi. The base model, the SE, only comes with crank windows and manual locks, but has an MP3 jack? Recently, ive had to replace the right front Strut mount, the left front is starting to go out, and last week my car was in the shop for 4 days because the sway bar and both sway bar links had to be replaced. Advice- do not get the CVT, it is really jumpy, especially when it is hot outside. Yes, the car is priced very low, but it comes with the baggage. Be prepared for repair costs, and things like the Strut mount has to come from dodge itsself, not from your local Napa or advance auto. One good thing about the car- storage. we fit an elecric dryer on its side in the back with the seats down."
By dubba (CA) on Sunday, September 15, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 56,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "great on gas, ice cold ac, refrigerator"
Cons: "none and ive hand the car 2 years"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought my 2010 caliber in the beginning of 2012. I love this car. Rides smooth and get great gas millage. 20 bucks will last me all week and with a 26 mile round trip for work. Once I started reading threw the manual I learned that glove box had a switch that flips and bam. U virtually have a refrigerator in your car. Once the switch is flipped the ac blows into the top part of the glove box where there are slots for your bottles or cans. The ice cold ac, the household plug in the center consul, and the back dome light that pops out and turns into a flash light all come in handy along with the back seats the recline and fold down behind the front seats for cargo storage. Love the car. I would recommend this car to anyone who wants something suv like with out the gas bill and added digits to the price tag"