May 28, 2013
2008 Dodge Caliber, engine from SRT4 trim. Click image to enlarge
Vehicle Type: 5-door hatchback
History/Description: With a high size-to-price ratio, a flexible interior, available all-wheel drive (AWD) and a slew of different options and trim levels, Dodge made sure there was a Caliber for any need or budget – except a sedan. The entry-level model in the automaker’s lineup replaced the Neon when it hit lots for model year 2007, and has now been replaced by the Dart.
This wasn’t, admittedly, a car for fans of an upscale driving experience or a luxurious cabin – though Caliber did hit the mark in one area of tremendous importance to budget-minded shoppers: value. Simply, it offered lots of room and equipment relative to its price – as well as good fuel mileage. It’s a simple proposition that won over thousands of shoppers, some of whom downsized to the Caliber out of larger pickups or minivans.
Key competitors included the Subaru Impreza, Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf, Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe and the like.
Engines / Trim: All Caliber models were five-door hatchbacks featuring four-cylinder power and either a manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT) options. Up to three four-cylinder engines were available, depending on the year and model. Offered were 1.8L, 2.0L and 2.4L powerplants, as well as a 2.4L unit with a great big turbocharger attached, motivating the Caliber SRT4 with nearly 300 horsepower. We’ll save this specialized model for a different review.
The nomenclature used to separate various standard Caliber models from each other worked thusly: SE trim grades started the lineup with the smaller-displacement four-cylinder and basic equipment. The SXT designation was applied to mid-range, high-value models, which included a list of popular equipment upgrades applied to the cabin and body.
Numerous SXT sub-designations were available; for instance: SXT Play and SXT Sport. The Caliber R/T offered up sportier styling and a bigger engine packing 172 hp. Not surprisingly, the R/T AWD delivered power to all four wheels. Later in the Caliber’s life, the naming convention switched, and saw either the ‘Canada Value Package’ or ‘SE Plus’ trim grades starting the lineup, with ‘Rush’ and ‘Uptown’ models topping the range.
Note that not all trim grade designations were available in all years.
Look for your used Caliber with options like a premium stereo, flip-down tailgate speakers, a built-in flashlight, cruise, power accessories and a chilled glovebox for keeping your road-trip sammiches nicely refrigerated. Fog lamps, alloy wheels and various cosmetic styling tweaks helped set the Caliber apart on the road, and up-level features like a heated power driver’s seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror and satellite radio could be specified, too.
2007 Dodge Caliber. Click image to enlarge
What Owners Like: Flexibility, versatility and a slew of thoughtful, handy touches were all highly rated by Caliber owners. This is a machine that’s easily set up for a wide range of activities from passenger-hauling to camping to shopping and anything in between. Generous at-hand storage, a commanding driving position and confident AWD traction were also highly rated. Many folks say their Caliber ‘feels’ like an SUV where driving position is concerned, but without the challenging step-in height. Based on personal experience from past test drives of various Caliber models, your writer can also advise that it’s an easy machine to board and exit for limited-mobility passengers.
What Owners Dislike: Some owners wish for a more pleasing engine note, and better fuel economy on models with the larger engines. Additionally, some owners report high wind noise levels and ‘floaty’ handling. One of the largest complaints is simply the low-budget feel of the paneling and trim throughout the cabin. The Dodge Caliber, especially in early years, felt like its cabin was made of melted-down yogurt containers. Limited rearward visibility rounds out the owner-stated complaints.
Here’s a list of owner reviews of the Dodge Caliber
2007 to 2012 Dodge Caliber Owner Reviews (autoTRADER.ca)
2007 to 2012 Dodge Caliber Owner Reviews (Carreview.com)