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.