2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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A bit late to the party, but welcome nevertheless, is the 2007 Dodge Caliber four-door hatchback. Similar to tall hatchbacks such as the Toyota Matrix, Ford Focus and Suzuki Aerio, the Caliber is a roomy, fuel-efficient compact four-door hatchback priced under $20,000 well-equipped. Just the kind of car Canadians love!

Replacing the Neon/2.0SX, the Dodge Caliber is offered in three trim levels with three different engines (four if you count the upcoming high-performance Caliber SRT4 model). These three all-new engines are built by GEMA (Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance), a partnership between DaimlerChrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi that shares research, development, and manufacturing costs.

Nowadays, nobody but your mechanic looks under the hood anyway, so who’s going to care?!

The base Caliber SE ($15,995) and SXT ($17,695) models have a 148-hp 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine and a standard five-speed manual transmission. For an extra $1,200, you can upgrade the SE and SXT models to a 158-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission. Included in this upgrade is the addition of anti-lock brakes to the standard front disc/rear drum brake set-up. Top-of-the-line Caliber R/T models have a 172-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder motor mated to a CVT that features a manual shift mode, and standard all-wheel drive. SRT4 models will have a 300 horsepower turbocharged engine!

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge

For under $16,000, base Caliber SE models are well-equipped with features such as 15-inch tires, front disc/rear drum brakes, power steering, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with auxiliary jack and four speakers, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, front airbags, side curtain airbags and driver’s knee airbag; variable intermittent wipers, rear wiper/washer, tilt wheel, and removable vinyl cargo area mat. But if you want power windows, power door locks and air conditioning, you have to move up to the SXT model.

The SXT adds 17-inch tires, chrome grille, air conditioning, power mirrors, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, tachometer, fold-flat passenger front seat, reclining rear seats, driver’s seat-height adjustment, cargo lamp with removable flashlight, and a 115-volt outlet.

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge

The R/T adds the 2.4-litre engine, CVT AutoStick transmission, all-wheel drive, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 18-inch tires and alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, fog lamps, chrome trim, cruise control, and illuminated entry lighting.

Our test vehicle, a Caliber SXT 2.0 with the CVT transmission, came equipped with optional fog lamps ($115); 6-disc CD changer ($455); and 17-inch alloy wheels ($475). With Freight ($1,050) and A/C tax ($100), our test vehicle came to $21,090.

Other options you might consider in your Caliber include heated front seats ($295), a nine-speaker premium sound system with subwoofer, tailgate speakers, and steering wheel audio controls ($445), power moonroof ($850), and a Security Group which includes a rear privacy cargo cover, alarm and cabin air filter ($195).


Interior impressions

With four large door openings and a tall roof, the Caliber should be easy to get in and out, but I bumped my head a couple of times on the roof above the driver’s door because it wraps over the top. As well, I found the rear wheelwells protrude into the rear door openings, making it more difficult for passengers to get in.

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge

Inside the cabin, there is generous headroom and legroom for four adults. The driver sits up higher than in a typical car and visibility is generally good even though the front of the hood is not visible. A manual height adjustable driver’s seat and tilt steering wheel are standard, however I found the Caliber’s tall dashboard, bulky windshield wipers, narrow windshield, and high window ledges actually made me feel like I was sitting lower, much like in the Dodge Magnum.

The Caliber’s rear seats are stiffer than the front seats, but they do recline and there is adequate legroom under the raised front seats and generous headroom made possible by an impression in the ceiling. Rear passengers have two cupholders and two fixed rear head restraints, but no folding centre armrest.

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge

Some reviewers have complained about the quality of the Caliber’s dash and seating materials, but for a vehicle under $20,000, I think the overall quality and design layout is quite good – although not the best in its class. I liked the pleasing combination of light and dark plastics used in the instrument panel and the doors, the three chrome-ringed white-faced gauges, the silver-coloured centre console, and the patterned seat inserts. The seats have an anti-microbial coating, stain-resistant coating.

In terms of functionality, the Caliber scores well. The three gauges are easy to read day or night; the radio/CD player is easy to use although some of the white lettering is a bit small to see at a glance; a storage slot below the radio is handy for storing CDs; the shift lever is mounted high in the centre console and is easy to reach; and the three heater dials are simple to use.

I also liked the 12-volt powerpoint positioned low on the centre console next to an open storage bin where phones and Blackberrys can be charged; two illuminated cupholders mounted low and out of the way of the shift lever; a sliding centre armrest with storage and a built-in flip-up cell phone or i-Pod holder; and a 115-volt outlet under the armrest for laptops, cameras, or appliances.

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge

There are two gloveboxes on the passenger side: the lower one has two compartments, one with space for four cans or bottles that can be kept cool by the air conditioning system. However, they should be cool before putting them in the glovebox because it takes a long time to cool them down. The upper glovebox is a shallow storage box.

Standard safety features include dual front airbags and dual side curtain airbags for both rows of seats, but side airbags in the front seats are not offered.

The Caliber’s cargo area is roomy with a large hatch opening, and a removeable plastic floor panel which is easy to clean. However, it’s quite likely that the plastic floor and plastic trunk walls will get scratched by objects sliding around in the cargo area.

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge

Both split rear seatbacks fold flat, and the right front passenger seat also folds flat enabling long objects up to about 8 feet long to be transported with the hatch door closed. With both rear seats up, there is 525 litres (18.5 cu. ft.) of storage space and a floor length of 80 cm (31 in.). With both seatbacks folded there is a substantial 1360 litres (48.0 cu. ft.) and a floor length of 140 cm (55 in.). The cargo liftover height is 701 mm (27 in.).


Driving impressions

With 158 horsepower, the Caliber’s all-aluminum 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine has more than enough power for this compact car which weighs just 1378 kg (3039 lb.). Its 0 to 100 km/h of about 11 seconds is not exactly quick, but its off-the-line and low-speed acceleration is quite good. The engine features dual variable valve timing and an intake manifold with flow control valve, both designed to maximize torque at low revs and horsepower at higher revs, and improve fuel economy. As well, the 2.0-litre engine has dual counter rotating balance shafts to smooth out engine vibrations. I was surprised at how quiet and smooth it was at idle. I drove a PT Cruiser recently with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, and it was quite noisy at idle.

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge

Mated to a continuously variable transmission which has no shift points, the Caliber’s 2.0-litre engine accelerates smoothly and evenly. It’s only when you floor the accelerator that you become aware of the CVT’s curious trait of allowing the engine to rev up to the redline of 6000 rpm and stay there until the driver eases back on the gas pedal. In normal driving however, you probably won’t notice the CVT’s unique characteristics, and acceleration is brisk and responsive. Still, if I had a choice, I’d go with a traditional automatic transmission.

At freeway speeds the Caliber’s engine hums along at just 2000 rpm at 100 km/h and 2500 rpm at 120 km/h, saving fuel and reducing engine noise. Official fuel consumption figures for the 2.0-litre engine with CVT are 9.0 L/100 km (31 mpg Imp) city, and 7.3 L/100 km (39 mpg Imp) highway. However, a quick comparison with its competitors reveals that the Caliber is competitive in city fuel economy but worse than most in highway fuel consumption – rather unexpected. By the way, the Caliber doesn’t have a locking filler door.

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT. Click image to enlarge

At higher speeds, there is little engine or wind noise but I experienced some road noise that appeared to be coming from near the rear wheelwells. More sound insulation might be in order. Handling is nimble – the Caliber’s suspension is fully independent (front MacPherson strut/rear multi-link with coil springs and gas shocks) and the meaty Firestone Affinity S3 215/60R-17-inch radials provide good grip. However, the ride is fairly stiff over sudden bumps and the Caliber’s tall ride height works against its handling by creating some lean. In city driving, the Caliber’s tight turning diameter (10.8 m/35.5 ft.) allows quick u-turns and its power-assisted rack and pinion steering provides adequate boost. Brakes are front disc/rear drum with ABS, but four discs are not offered.

A stability control system will be offered as an option later in the model year on front-wheel drive Calibers.


Verdict

Bold styling, a practical interior and cargo area, and a reasonable asking price are the Caliber’s high points, but its tall dashboard and narrow side windows provide an unusual driving position and the jury’s still out on the CVT transmission.


Pricing


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


Crash test results


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