2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Paul Williams

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Indianapolis, Indiana – 285 horsepower. $24,995. Need I say more?

For many, those two numbers – 285 hp; $24,995 – will be enough to schedule a visit to the local Dodge dealer to test drive this performance and value slam-dunk at the earliest opportunity (sorry, you’ll have to wait until December, 2007 for first delivery). For the rest of you, here are the details.

The latest opus from Dodge’s SRT (Street and Performance Racing) division – the $24,995 Dodge Caliber SRT4 – is all that you might want from a high performance Dodge Caliber, and more. It’s also all you might want, and less, which I’ll get to later.

What you do get on the SRT4 will be more than enough for most buyers interested in a very high-performance modified production compact car with an MSRP of less than $25,000 (okay, it’s only five-bucks less, but you know how cars are priced).

The SRT-4 engine is a turbocharged version of the 2.4-litre, four-cylinder powerplant found in the base Caliber.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

It uses variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust valves, and features a specially machined block for increased water flow, cast pistons, forged connecting rods, a high-performance aluminum head with high temperature exhaust valves, special bearings and crankshaft, and a new air cleaner assembly. In other words, this is not your average “World” engine.

Add a high-performance turbocharger and a new engine management system designed by Siemens and you get 285 hp at 5,700-6,400 rpm and 265 pounds-feet of torque at 2,000-5,600 rpm.

There is, of course, more. Contributing to the power equation is a free-flow exhaust system that uses a single, 75 millimetre (three-inch) pipe from the engine back to the exhaust tip, a dual-mass flywheel that connects the engine to the SRT-4’s unique, Getrag, six-speed manual transmission, and an electronically tuned Brake Lock Differential designed to put the power smoothly to the ground.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

The brake lock differential, along with a 22 mm reduction in overall ride height (28 mm at the front suspension), and the special positioning of the differential in the transmission, are designed to manage the torque-steer you’d expect when putting this much power into a compact, front-wheel drive car.

The steering and suspension are comprehensively tuned by SRT, including performance tuned rack and pinion steering, and lowered MacPherson strut front suspension with new suspension knuckles, tuned dampers and revised swing rates. The front suspension also includes coil spring over gas-charged shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. The rear multi-link suspension includes coil springs, link-type stabilizer bar and gas charged shock absorbers. Sway bars are 24 mm front and 22 mm rear. The Caliber SRT4 also uses a unique front crossmember with anti-lift geometry.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

The Caliber SRT-4 arrives with 19-inch alloy wheels with 225/45 Goodyear RS-A all-season or F1 Supercar “three-season” tires, an oversized spoiler at the rear, a functional scoop on the hood, big (340 mm vented front; 302 mm rear) four-wheel disc brakes with antilock and red-painted calipers, traction control, vehicle stability control (tuned for performance handling in dry, wet and snowy conditions), side curtain airbags, air conditioning, a decent audio system, and power windows, doors, mirrors. The dual 57 mm piston brake calipers are also used in the 5.7-litre Dodge Charger police cars.

You can add almost $10,000 worth of options, including a navigation system, sunroof, accelerometer/g-force calculator, polished wheels and premium audio, but many buyers (40-percent, Dodge reckons) will buy the SRT-4 straight-up and add their own finishing touches. Available colours are red, orange, silver and black.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

Inside, you’ll find hip and shoulder-hugging front seats with red stitching and the SRT logo sewn into the head restraints, a centre-mounted tachometer, separate turbo boost gauge, leather shift knob and steering wheel, an all-grey interior with aluminum-look centre console and performance pedals.

The seats are comfortable (the squab a little softer than you’d expect) with pronounced side bolsters for your thighs and torso, and the driver’s seat is height-adjustable. The steering column tilts, but unfortunately doesn’t telescope, which will prevent some (me included) from finding an optimum driving position. Visibility front and rear is restricted by the short glass (a Caliber design feature) and the A-pillars also block vision when cornering.

On the road, the steering is firm and precise, the ride firm but not jarring, and the exhaust note is louder than most cars but not annoying. Wind noise at speed is noticeable (this car has a high 0.39 coefficient of drag). The armrests in the doors are hard on the elbows, and the dashboard is a bit plasticky, and hard to the touch.

But this car isn’t about luxury appointments and creature comforts. It’s designed to go, steer and stop better than most everything on the road, with a very low entry price. You can add your carbon-fibre inserts later, if you want.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

On the track at Putnam Park Raceway we were able to drive the Caliber SRT-4 without the moderating presence of the local constabulary. Flat-out acceleration requires two firm hands on the steering wheel as torque-steer will pull this car aggressively, despite efforts from the SRT engineers. Even though it’s a tall car, the SRT-4 handles sharp corners with poise and feels stable on the straights. Steering is quick and precise, but the car doesn’t feel high-strung. Brakes are very effective and after several hard laps were not fading appreciably. Acceleration is fierce, with the car reaching 100 km/h in about six-seconds (top speed, by the way, is 250 km/h). Torque comes on low, and keeps pulling.

Nobody crashed; a good time was had by all.

The drive back into Indianapolis from the track was uneventful, with the SRT-4 effectively transforming into street clothes from budget supercar when required. But those satisfying second and third gears do beckon when conditions allow, as do any twisting roads you may encounter.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

What more would I like? All-wheel drive. Apparently, the system available for the Caliber is not robust enough to handle the Caliber SRT-4’s power, so it’s not offered. An AWD system would be a terrific option, and likely would tame the torque steer.

An automatic transmission option is also missing, but most buyers of this car (males, twenty-something, enthusiasts) will prefer the six-speed manual, I should think.

And I have to mention the doors. They really let the car down by making such a hollow sound when you close them. Should be an easy fix; should be done soon.

The Caliber fuel tank is a mere 51 litres, and the SRT-4 gets the same tank (93-octane is recommended; that’s the very good stuff…). I suspect the small tank will cause frequent visits to the gas station. Smallest wheels you can fit over those big brakes are 18-inch, so expect to pay a lot for winter tires that will be so wide they won’t do much of a job.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

What else should you know? Oh yes, performance add-ons. As I said above, 40 percent of buyers will want more and apparently it’s coming: cold air intakes, suspension bits, the works from SRT for future tuning.

The Caliber SRT-4 isn’t the uncivilized little beast found in the original SRT-4 which was based on the 2.0 SX (Neon). That was a mini-NASCAR that burbled, snarled and belched on occasion as you ran it through the gears. The Caliber SRT-4 is not quite as wild, but still has lots of attitude. Given that buyers of this car will be fairly young, and this is a particular breed of automobile, Dodge might consider offering a performance driving course to go with it.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Click image to enlarge

New SRT-4 drivers could learn how to properly handle such a high performance car, and brush up on emergency manoeuvres as well.

Competition in this segment includes the Mazdaspeed3 and Volkswagen GTI, but the Mazda costs $6,000 more and the VW has 85 hp less.

285-hp. $24,995. A performance and value slam-dunk.


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