2010 Dodge Caliber Road Test Review

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Let's get one unpleasant fact out of the way right at the start -- the Dodge Caliber is not the darling of many automotive enthusiasts. The Caliber came along in 2007 to replace the Dodge Neon; and though it's a slightly larger, much more useful and arguably a better vehicle, it hasn't exactly lit the automotive world on fire.

The Caliber's five-door hatchback body style is a versatile setup that puts it head-to-head with enthusiast darlings like the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf, and tepid performance from the base engine doesn't match up. Dodge wasted no time in getting aggressive R/T and SRT4 models onto the streets, but for some reason the Caliber still hasn't caught on in a big way and they were discontinued. Now Dodge has revised the model lineup that continues forward with the Canada Value Package, SE and SXT trims. So what's the matter with the Caliber, then?

Well, it certainly lacks manners. The Caliber and I didn't get off to a good start; the first time I slid into the driver's seat, the lower edge of the dash caught my knee a painful blow that left me limping for an hour afterward. Things didn't get much better from there; the ungrateful little orange beast whacked my knee four more times during my test week. Once inside, the Caliber sports a high seating position for a good view of the road; just be careful getting in.

A major update to the interior for 2010 improves the outlook considerably. New materials and a more modern design to the centre stack go a long way toward eliminating the cheap feeling of previous Calibers. The seats are comfortable enough and there's rear-seat room for three across. In the centre console, a folding holder carries cell phone or MP3 players out of sight. The trunk can swallow up to 1,360 litres (48 cubic feet) of cargo with the rear seats folded, and there's a removable light back there for emergencies as well. The glovebox "Chill Zone," a micro-cooler that holds up to four bottles of water or soda cans, is pure genius. A 115-volt plug that will power laptops and other small electrical devices, the UConnect tunes system with at 30-gigabyte hard drive for storing music, and fold-down speakers in the tailgate are cool add-ons that are standard in the Caliber.

Don't let the sporty model names fool you though; the Caliber's acceleration is leisurely at best. One engine choice is offered in the Caliber lineup: a 158-horse 2.0-litre; the 148-horsepower 1.8-litre four-cylinder and 172-horsepower 2.4-litre engines available in the US can't be had here in Canada. The standard Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) didn't help with acceleration, often letting the Caliber down when it was time for acceleration; a five-speed manual is standard. The benefits to the CVT include improved fuel economy, but merging and passing are not this transmission's strong points. Driven like an economy car, the Caliber's performance feels mid-pack.

With a fully independent suspension consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear, the Caliber has average handling. The available Electronic Stability Program provides a measure of safety with traction control, and anti-lock brakes are standard across the board. A high beltline makes it feel larger than it is. Steering feel is acceptable.

If nothing else, the Caliber looks good. Dodge's burly styling gives the Caliber good curb presence, and the unique five-door silhouette is handsome. The standard oversized crosshair grille leads into a slab-sided, muscular body. The greenhouse drops toward the rear of the car, giving the Caliber a coupe-like silhouette.

It's a clever and capable enough companion, but the Caliber remains somewhat rough around the edges. If you're in love with the armored-truck looks and unique interior features, the Caliber won't let you down, but for the money, I prefer the Suzuki SX4 or Kia Rondo. Caliber pricing starts at $13,995.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Dodge, 2010, Caliber, $10,000 - $19,999, Compact,

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