By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 4/1/2011
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 2011 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 commuter car to a well-equipped model featuring such unique items as a flip-down rear speaker bar, built-in iPod holder and a refrigerated beverage cooler, features you won't find on the Volkswagen Golf or MAZDA3. Then again, despite a modest upgrade this year, 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...
Whether you're looking to get some versatility with your economy or some economy with your versatility, the 2011 Dodge Caliber throws in a little attitude as well.You May Not Like This Car If...
While the Dodge Caliber's base sticker price is hard to beat, its interior plastics are still not up to the standards set by Volkswagen and Mazda. Interior sound levels and engine noise are also a bit on the loud side.What's Significant About This Car?
Dodge offers five lifestyle-inspired models of the Caliber: Express, Mainstreet, Uptown, Heat and Rush. For 2011, electronic stability control is standard on all but the Express, there is a new navigation sound system with Sirius Travel Link and the steering has been retuned for improved response. The Uptown model is available with 18-inch chrome-clad alloy wheels, red and blue accent stitching is added to the leather seats with the Rush model, a six-way power driver's seat is standard with the Mainstreet model and there are six new colors.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 the sportiest model, the Rush. With its 172-horsepower engine, sportier suspension and five-speed manual transmission, the Rush is the model we'd choose to take camping – especially if the campgrounds were at the end of a curvy canyon road. While the five-speed manual is not the smoothest we've tested, it works well enough to make the drive somewhat sporting. Most consumers will probably choose the available Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that offers an 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 2011 Dodge Caliber is pleasantly roomy and functional, especially for a vehicle with such a modest price tag. With a fold-flat rear seat and available fold-flat front passenger seat, Caliber's hatchback design accommodates a variety of cargo and passenger configurations. Standard cloth seating can be upgraded to leather (Uptown), while all trims receive more soft-touch padding on the door armrest, center armrest and dash. Overall, the interior is nicely designed and offers a variety of clever features, such as the standard Chill Zone cooling glove box and available flip-out rear speaker bar.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, but not as streamlined as the Toyota Matrix 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 2.0-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission, a base Dodge Caliber Express features front and rear side-curtain airbags, inflatable knee blocker, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Sirius Satellite Radio, power windows, mirrors and locks, cruise control, keyless entry, 115-volt outlet, air conditioning and four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS). The top-of-the-line Uptown trim adds an automatic transmission, leather seating, heated front seats, automatic air conditioning, nine-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system, power driver's seat and steering wheel audio controls. The sporty Rush and Heat models add larger wheel and tire packages, sport suspensions and upgraded interiors, while the Rush alone adds a more powerful 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine.Notable Optional Equipment
Most of the 2011 Dodge Caliber's equipment is bundled into one of its five available trims. The few available features includes a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and the Security Package, which adds remote start, security alarm, front side-impact airbags, daytime running lights, engine oil cooler and trailer tow wiring harness.Under the Hood
The Caliber's two engine choices each have four cylinders and 16 valves. The base engine displaces 2.0 liters and is good for 158 horsepower, while the Rush model gets a 2.4-liter engine rated at 172 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Express, Rush and Heat trims, while the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is standard on the Mainstreet and Uptown trims. The Express can only be ordered with the manual transmission, while the CVT with Auto Stick manual shift mode is available only on the Heat and Rush trim.
2.0-liter in-line 4
158 horsepower @6400 rpm
141 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5000 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 24/32 (manual), 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), 22/27 (automatic)
With a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting under $18,000, the 2011 Dodge Caliber Express is an attractive prospect. The Mainstreet package pushes the price closer to $19,000, while the nicely loaded Uptown and Rush trims push past the $20,000 mark. Our Fair Purchase Prices reflect real-world transaction prices at or near these sticker prices, but, as market fluctuations are ongoing, it's wise to check again before you buy. As for resale value, we expect the Caliber to perform appreciably better than the Chrysler PT Cruiser, remain on par with the Chevrolet HHR but stay well below the Scion xB.