A replacement for the original Dodge Neon, the Dodge Caliber certainly had promise when it was introduced, boasting an innovative, space-efficient hatchback body and unique features like flip-down tailgate speakers and a dedicated iPod holder. Unfortunately, those good ideas were spoiled by sloppy execution.
Compared to rival economy cars, the Dodge Caliber was down on quality, refinement and appeal. Even with an interior update halfway through its life, the Caliber was simply not competitive with other compact sedans and hatchbacks. If you're shopping for a used hatchback or wagon, models such as the Mazda 3, Scion xB or Volkswagen Golf would be much better choices overall.
Most Recent Dodge Caliber
Built on a global platform also used for the Jeep Compass SUV and midsize Dodge Avenger sedan, the tall-bodied Dodge Caliber was produced from 2007-'12. It came only as a compact hatchback/wagon.
The rear seats folded in a 60/40 split, increasing cargo space to a maximum of 48 cubic feet. The front passenger seat also folded forward to make room for longer items. The Caliber had decent headroom and legroom in the front and back, but it was still a small car built to a price, so it came without luxurious accommodations.
Initially, there were three regular trim levels available: base SE, SXT and R/T. In 2010 and '11, there were a wider variety of interestingly named trims available (Express, Mainstreet, Uptown, Heat and Rush), but the available feature content was mostly the same. For 2012, the SE and SXT trim levels returned along with SXT Plus.
The base SE wasn't as bare-bones as you'd think, boasting air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB audio jack and satellite radio. The SXT added bigger wheels, a power driver seat and a reclining rear seat, while the SXT Plus was a sport-tuned model with suspension, brakes and wheel upgrades. It should be noted that stability control was not offered on the SE (standard on other trims), and the antilock brakes feature rear drums on the SE and SXT. Discs were optional on the SXT and standard on the SXT Plus.
At the bottom of the Caliber's engine lineup was a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder, which came standard on the base Caliber and the SXT. It was only available with a five-speed manual transmission, and was discontinued for 2010.
Those seeking more power and an automatic transmission should look for a Caliber with the 158-hp 2.0-liter four, which was equipped exclusively with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). There was also the R/T model (and later Rush) that was equipped with a 174-hp 2.4-liter inline-4, though Dodge discontinued it for 2012. All-wheel drive was available on the R/T model until 2009.
There was also a high-performance Caliber SRT4 produced for 2008 and '09. It boasted a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 285 hp and 265 pound-feet of torque, with a six-speed manual as the only available transmission. Aside from its big engine, it got 19-inch wheels, lowered suspension, upgraded brakes, a performance trip computer and sport seats. This may sound impressive, but it really wasn't. We found it underwhelming and overpriced compared to other affordable, high-horsepower hatchbacks, as well as burdened by excessive weight and an abundance of torque steer.
In road tests, our editors found the Dodge Caliber to be an adequate daily driver, though not much more than that. Its ride and handling just weren't as refined as its many competitors. None of the Caliber's available engines were ideal; all sounded coarse under load. We'd avoid the 1.8 given its mediocre power; the 2.0 will get you the same fuel economy. The best choice for power is the 2.4, though with either engine the optional CVT just exacerbated that coarse nature.
While any Caliber will offer respectable hatchback versatility, shoppers should note that models produced prior to 2010 had deplorable interior quality. These earlier models had hard interior surfaces, unappealingly textured plastic and questionable build quality. Compared to the accommodations in vehicles like the Mazda 3, the Caliber's furnishings were several steps behind. A notable Caliber change was for '09 when it received its available hard-drive-based music and navigation systems.
The Caliber's interior was greatly improved for 2011. The design was more appealing and materials were better, including soft-touch materials in areas frequently encountered by elbows. Still, the cabin quality was far from class-leading.