2007 Dodge Caliber SXT; photo by Greg Wilson
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

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Dodge Canada

By Chris Chase

Dodge and its Chrysler parent company haven’t had much trouble building popular small cars: its 1980s K-cars became household names, and the Neon that replaced them came pretty close to achieving the same level of recognition. No doubt that both the K-car and Neon possessed many strong points, but what Dodge has had trouble doing is creating a compact vehicle to rival class benchmarks in terms of quality and refinement.

The Dodge Caliber was the car that should have achieved those goals, but this car, too, fell short. Too bad, because this one was unique in many ways: its mini-crossover looks – praised and panned in equal measure – stood out in a class of mostly me-too sedans, and it offered a number of nifty features that aimed to maximize the car’s appeal to young shoppers.

Specs-wise, the Caliber looked spot-on: it offered more choice than most in its class under the hood, with three available engines. A 1.8-litre (148 hp) was paired exclusively with a five-speed manual transmission, a 2.0-litre (158 hp) was offered only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while a 2.4-litre (172 hp) could be had with either. Initially, all 2.4-litre models with CVT were all-wheel drive, too.

The 2008 model year added the Caliber SRT4, which got a turbocharged 285-horsepower, 2.4-litre engine and six-speed manual transmission. Look for a future used vehicle review focusing on the SRT4.

2007 Dodge Caliber SXT; photo by Greg Wilson
2007 Dodge Caliber SXT; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

In 2009, the R/T model, along with its non-turbo 2.4-litre engine and all-wheel drive set-up, were discontinued, and in 2010, the SRT4 was dropped, as was the 1.8-litre engine, leaving the 2.0-litre. The 2010 model also got a redesigned interior that did much to bring up the tone of this little car. For 2011, the 2.4-litre engine was re-introduced.

Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption figures for the Caliber ranged from 8.5/6.8 L/100 km (city/highway) for the 1.8-litre model, to 9.0/7.3 for a 2.0-litre model. The 2.4-litre engine with manual transmission nearly matched the 2.0-litre’s numbers, while adding the CVT to the largest motor boosted consumption 9.8/7.9, and the all-wheel drive model was rated at 10.1/8.4 L/100 km; the 1.8-litre and 2.4-litre engine’s ratings improved slightly in subsequent years; the “new” 2011 2.4-litre was rated at 9.5/7.2 L/100 km. The SRT4 model achieved surprisingly reasonable (considering its nearly 300-horsepower) ratings of 10.9/7.4 L/100 km.

The 2.0-litre-only 2010 models were rated at 9.1/6.3 with a manual transmission and 9.0/7.3 with the CVT.

In its first few years on the market, the Caliber has fared decently in the reliability department, seemingly avoiding any widespread mechanical problems. CVTs are still a relatively new transmission technology, and they’re not without flaw, but the Caliber’s – the same one used in the Nissan Versa – seems to be holding up just fine. I’d suggest that maintenance is the key to CVT longevity, so avoiding a car that appears to have been abused or poorly-maintained (or whose seller doesn’t have maintenance records) would be wise. Plenty of used Calibers will have factory warranty remaining, a good thing to have in a used car, no matter what you buy.

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