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2007 Dodge Caliber SXT Sport Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Design B+
Execution C-
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The old Dodge Neon really needed replacing. It was beginning to look like something from an earlier decade. Oh, I guess that’s what it was. I remember being impressed with it originally at the preview at the Detroit Auto Show, but that was a loooooong time ago. Neon served well as Dodge’s entry-level economy car but that was then, and this is now.

The new Caliber has been on the market for a few years and is selling reasonably well. Built in Belvidere, Illinois our tester, an SXT Sport, has a base price of $15,575. That price includes mulit-stage front air bags, supplemental side curtain front and rear airbags, power front disc/rear drum brakes, rear window defroster, Sentry theft deterrent system, keyless entry, rear wiper/washer, power mirrors, speed-sensitive power locks, power windows with express-down driver’s window, power rack-and-pinion steering, touring suspension, AC with Chill Zone ™ storage in the glove compartment, tilt steering, AM/FM/ CD with 4-speakers, fold-flat rear cargo area, halogen headlamps, and most of the basics we’ve come to expect in any car these days.

Optional equipment on our Marine Blue Pearl test car are the Customer Preferred Package including extra interior trim, fog lamps, 17-inch wheels and tires, and body-colored seat inserts and dash panel for $695; the MusicGate™ Power Sound System including extra speakers with subwoofer, steering wheel-mounted controls and leather-wrapped steering wheel for $495; electronic stability control for $300, CVT (continuously variable transmission) for $1000; and cruise control for $250. The bottom line on the sticker, with destination charge shows $19,305.

Power comes from a wheezy 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 16 valves and variable valve timing. Mated to the optional CVT it seems to work awfully hard for little effect. Let’s cut it a little slack, though, as the outside temp was well over 90 all week so we were running constantly with the AC on. With two passengers aboard I wasn’t sure we’d get up to speed before merging on our straight, flat freeway ramp. With AC off performance was somewhat improved. Caliber with this 2-liter engine is rated at 26-mpg in the city and 30-mpg on the highway.

Like the outside of the car, the interior is dramatically designed with a masculine, muscular style - bold and brash without being overdone. The cell phone/MP3 holder, three-tiered glove box and washable rear cargo floor that will hold 250 pounds of stuff, make for versatile space inside. The quality of the materials, fit and finish, though, are not so good. Rough edges on the plastic pieces and ill-fits take away from the fun design and style. Controls feel reasonably good and solid but we can’t say the same for the doors that have a rather cheap sound when we close them. Remember, this is an economy car, after all, but it doesn’t compare well for fit and finish with some of the Japanese contenders in the class.

One thing I find terminally annoying is the car’s insistence on tooting its raucous horn when we lock the doors with the fob. Why do they design it that way? Is it important to let everyone in the parking lot know that we’ve locked the doors so they’re not tempted to come around looking for stuff to steal? Do customers actually like that feature? Perhaps we can program that out. I’ll have to check the book.

Safety features are good and Caliber has earned the five-star rating for front and side crash worthiness. The SXT comes with Electronic Stability Program, anti-lock brakes and the usual airbags.

So, for style and panache we give the Caliber a good solid B+ but for quality and content it gets just a C-. Next up is the Jeep Compass, sibling of the Caliber, sharing the chassis and some other components. We’ll see how they compare.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved