By KBB.com Editors
As fuel costs continue to fluctuate, small cars are increasingly required to be more than just frugal commuters. Few vehicles better epitomize this trend than the 2009 Dodge Caliber, a combination hatchback, wagon and SUV. 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.You'll Like This Car If...
Changes for 2009 are minor, adding body-colored door handles to SXT models and improvements in interior sound reduction across the line. Anti-lock brakes are now standard on the SXT, while uconnect gps navigation is made available for the first time.You May Not Like This Car If...
Whether you're looking to get some versatility with your economy or some economy with your versatility, the 2009 Dodge Caliber throws in a little attitude as well.What's New for 2009
Changes for 2009 are minor, adding body-colored door handles to SXT models and improvements in interior sound reduction across the line. Anti-lock brakes are now standard on the SXT, while uconnect gps navigation is made available for the first time.Driving It 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 the Auto Stick "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.Favorite Features
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.
CVT2 Auto Stick
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 2009 Dodge Caliber is pleasantly roomy and functional, especially for a vehicle with such a modest price tag. 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.Notable Standard Equipment
Along with a 1.8-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission, a base Dodge Caliber SE features front and rear side-curtain airbags, inflatable knee blocker, 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 manual windows, door locks and mirrors. The SXT adds anti-lock brakes (ABS), air conditioning with Chill Zone storage compartment, split folding rear seats, cruise control, Stain Repel stain resistant seat fabric, 115-volt outlet, 17-inch aluminum wheels, removable cargo light, and power functions for the windows, door locks and mirrors.Notable Optional Equipment
Dodge Caliber's powertrain options include 2.0- and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines, a continuously variable transmission (CVT2) with Auto Stick and all-wheel drive (R/T). Typical optional equipment includes leather seating, a power sun roof, front-seat side-impact airbags, uconnect tunes audio system with 30-gigabyte hard drive and uconnect gps with real-time traffic updates. Unique extras include a chilled glove box, uconnect Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and a Boston Acoustics nine-speaker audio upgrade with flip-down tailgate speakers.Under the Hood
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: 24/30
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: 23/29 (manual), 21/25 (automatic)
With a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $17,000, the 2009 Dodge Caliber is an attractive prospect. The SXT pushes the price closer to the $18,000 mark, while a fully-loaded R/T model with all-wheel drive can top $28,000. Our Fair Purchase Prices have reflected real-world transaction prices at or near these sticker prices. The Caliber's wide price range allows it to vie with everything from the well-equipped Hyundai Elantra to the sporty Volkswagen GTI and still be somewhat competitive. As for resale value, we expect the Caliber to perform appreciably better than the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR but well below the Scion xB.