2007 Dodge Caliber SE Review
While there is a great deal to like about the new Dodge Caliber, the replacement for the prolific Neon, the base engine isn’t one of them. The 1.8-liter inline four is rated at 148 horsepower that is woefully underpowered for the 3,000-pound car. It’s also noisy. In our tester it was coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission that wasn’t the best either. Fifth gear was only for highway cruising. Fourth was a good normal driving gear, while third was best if you wanted any kind of performance.
Handling was decent, but not great. You don’t have “sports car” type of fun playing with a low-powered engine and a manual transmission.
We used the Caliber on a couple of long-ish trips. It wasn’t bad at Interstate speeds, but passing sometimes was a challenge. In a couple of situations, I downshifted to fourth to pass slow-moving trucks.
Still, we averaged 26 mpg in our test, which is the package’s one redeeming social value.
There are a couple of other engines available in the Caliber, and if you go shopping for one I’d suggest you give these a try. There’s a 2.4-liter inline four that’s rated at 158 hp, and a 2.4-liter I4 rated at 172.
Sadly, the gearbox in our tester wasn’t that great. Every time we shifted there was a noise that emanated from the linkage that didn’t sound good. It didn’t sound bad either, which leads me to believe that’s it’s endemic to the gearbox.
Okay, while I’m in bashing mode, I’ll also mention the wind-up windows. This is the first car I’ve driven in years with wind-up windows. I knew they were coming, but it was a wake-up call when the car appeared. I actually liked working to get some occasional fresh air, and the fact that you can adjust them precisely where you want them is a big plus.
Mitigating that, however, was the lack of a remote door lock/unlock, which also wasn’t included in this base model. This was one modern feature I missed.
With that off my chest, I thought the Caliber, while not high-caliber, was definitely medium-caliber. It has a hatchback in the rear that offered access to decent storage, one of the benefits of this design style. In addition, you can fold the rear seat backs to create a flat storage floor that increased cargo capacity to a healthy 48 cubic feet. With the seat backs down, I was able to carry golf bags for two.
Storage is one area where the Caliber shines. Besides the great rear cargo area, there were cubbies all over. There’s a small compartment by the driver’s left knee that’s ideal for a cell phone. There’s a cubby in the center stack and a storage bin on top of the dash in front of the passenger that’s deep enough to carry more than just a couple of sheets of paper. I liked the fact that the door pulls had bottoms, which makes them great for cell phones.
The center console was deep and had a sliding top that had a gizmo for holding a cell phone (again). It also had a space at the bottom, so that if you were charging your phone it would still sit in there properly. Also in the center there are two cupholders along with some small cubbies.
Small hanger hooks were located over the rear doors, but I had clothes fall off them a couple of times.
The instrument panel was also a return to basics with a speedometer, fuel and water temperature gauges. No tachometer. I liked the black-on-white gauges.
Front seat comfort was good. Rear seat were also okay (for rear seats), but tended to be more “benchy.” Rear legroom was good for a compact car, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to use it to take three friends out to lunch, for example.
When I agreed to take the base Caliber, I knew what was coming. My primary complaint with the car was its lack of power, and with a manual transmission that was as noisy as the engine. With one of the larger engines, I would rate the Caliber as a good commuter car that wouldn’t be a major problem for long trips, especially considering the fact that two people could carry a lot of luggage in the back.
© 2006 The Auto Page Syndicate