< Dodge Caliber Review 2007
 
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Dodge Caliber
Dodge Caliber
Eye Catching, Stylish, Practical, Terrific Value
Dodge Caliber
Dodge Caliber
Dodge Caliber
Dodge Caliber
Dodge Caliber


Makes Competitors Look Bland, Derivative, Their Prices Outrageous
OK, So There’s No Free Lunch, The Interior Is Average, Diesel Noisy
**** out of 5 

“Clarkson rarely seems to evaluate cars for normal buyers, only as an overgrown boy racer with a rich daddy”

I find myself arguing about the merits or otherwise of the Dodge Caliber more than any other current car. It seems that the eye-catching, stylish, affordable and practical family car from America is just too good to be true.

I can hear Jeremy Clarkson now, looking down his snobbish nose and missing the point entirely on the BBC TV Top Gear set (I don’t think the programme has done the Caliber yet). After indulging his childish, mindless and ill-informed anti-Americanism, he will declare the car a dud on the ludicrous grounds that it is not exciting enough for his sophomoric tastes.

But this car must be judged strictly on the grounds of what it does for the buyer, and the price. The fact that prices start at Supermini levels of £11,495 (€17,000) for a car which provides the space and content of a well equipped Ford Mondeo priced at about £18,000 (€26,700) seems to phase the likes of Clarkson, who rarely seems to evaluate cars through normal buyers’ eyes, only as an overgrown boy racer with a rich daddy.

Yes, the quality is not quite up to VW Golf standards, but it’s not far off. Yes, the handling isn’t very sporty, but it’s just fine. Yes, the ride is a bit clumsy and lumpy, but perfectly adequate for the market it is attacking. The car I drove for a week, the 2.0 CRD SXT, had a 2.0 litre diesel engine, leather seats, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, six-speed gearbox and just about everything you’d need, all for £15,290 (€22,700).

“If you are looking for a car which is fabulous value, but has style and utility, this was going to be hard to beat”.

   I first set eyes on the new Dodge Caliber at the Detroit Motor Show in 2006. I didn’t take much notice at first, although, yes it did look different - handsome, rugged and eye-catching; after all, there were many other cars at the show competing for my attention.

It wasn’t until I found out that the Caliber was the replacement for the late, unlamented cheap and nasty little Chrysler Neon, that the true worth of the Caliber hit me right between the eyes.

“Us poor exploited, over-taxed, over-regulated and gullible Europeans can only wonder how the Americans do it”

This car, bigger than a VW Golf or a Ford Focus, would be priced like a VW Polo or Ford Fiesta. If you are looking for a car which gives you fabulous value for money, but does it with style and utility, this was going to be hard to beat. In America, prices start at $13,985 – that’s only £7,670 or €11,100, and yes, I know that in the U.S. prices are quoted before sales taxes, and that no, this base model won’t really have enough stuff on it, but having said all that, these prices are fabulous. Us poor exploited, over-taxed, over-regulated and gullible Europeans can only wonder how the Americans do it.

It is another depressing fact that prices in Europe will be much higher than American ones, but at £11,495 (€16,600) including taxes for the cheapest Caliber, or £13,790 (€20,000) for the 2.0 litre petrol with leather seats and automatic gearbox, this is pretty impressive, and will have potential customers wondering “where’s the catch”.  

I finally drove the Caliber for a lengthy evaluation in December 2006, and I can tell you that there is no catch.

“Anything but cute”
The car looks great on the road. The grille and front end is impressive, functional not beautiful; in fact the Dodge publicity material tries to make this into a virtue saying in its ads “It’s anything but cute”. The lines of the car are clean, with the beefed up wheel arches giving an appearance of muscularity. The impression it leaves me with is one of chunky styling, bags of personality, brash and functional. It looks like a small SUV (but certainly not priced like one), although it doesn’t yet have four-wheel drive in Europe. That is an option in America. Like in an SUV, the driver sits higher than in a regular car – in fact about 4 inches (102mm) than the old Neon.

It is a 5-door hatchback, which is another reason to gasp with amazement, because Americans traditionally, for some reason I don’t fathom, don’t like that format. Yet in America, the Caliber has been flying out of dealerships.

Switches and dials feel a bit cheap
First impressions inside the car are less positive. You can’t see where the front corners are because of the high bonnet, but you’ll get used to that. Some of the switches and dials feel a bit cheap. The plastics aren’t up to German standards, but they aren’t too bad.

Strike one for the European competition.

But the painted metal instrument console, matching the colour of the upholstery on more expensive models, looks terrific. The interior is designed for maximum utility. The rear seats fold flat, as does the front passenger seat. The Caliber passed my mountain bike test – will it fit in the back with the rear seats folded without removing a wheel? Yes.

The instruments are brash and eye-catching; isn’t that the best thing for them to be?

The 2.0 litre diesel engine, purchased by Dodge from Volkswagen, was a bit noisy, but delivered power impressively, more impressively than the diesel engine on the original launch car. It was very flexible and responsive.

Why didn’t Dodge use a high tech diesel from its DaimlerChrysler sister company Mercedes? That would have also made for an automatic diesel version, and earned the car a coveted maximum 5 stars out of 5 from me.

More like Botswana than Britain
Road noise is more intrusive than it should be, particularly over rough surfaces. Maybe someone should have told Dodge that U.K. infrastructure, after 10 years of neo-Labour misrule, is more like Botswana than Britain. This should not be a problem in France and Germany.

 The Caliber offers some clever design touches including MusicGate Power, which adds a couple of speakers into the tailgate. When the tailgate is open you can swing the speakers down to face outwards and play music for your picnic or beach party.

There’s a self-recharging torch above the cargo area which snaps out to serve as a flashlight. There’s a Chill Zone cold storage bin which can hold four bottles or cans in the facia. A vinyl load floor in the cargo area is washable and removable.

Automatic for free
There are four models in the range – S, SE SXT and SXT Sport, with two petrol engines and one diesel. The range starts with the 1.8 litre petrol S at £11,495, with a 5-speed manual gearbox and no air-conditioning. The Caliber S 2.0 litre diesel, with a 6-speed manual ‘box, is £13,495 (€19,500). If you buy the 2.0 litre petrol in SXT or SXT Sport specification from £13,790, you can get a CVT (continuously variable) automatic gearbox, for free.

The base model includes side-curtain airbags, 60/40 split rear seats which fold flat, sliding central console, power folding exterior mirrors and remote keyless entry. The SE adds things like reclining rear seats, air-conditioning, and the Chill Zone. SXT includes cruise control, front fog lamps, 17 inch wheels, leather, and tyre pressure monitoring. SXT Sport adds 18 inch wheels six-disc CD radio with MusicGate, and centre console colour coding with the seats.

The Nitro is coming
Dodge is part of the Chrysler-Jeep group owned by Germany’s DaimlerChrysler, and you may be surprised to know is the 5th biggest brand in the U.S. with a market share of 7%. If you like what you see, Dodge is introducing two new cars this year, the Nitro, a mid-sized SUV, which I think has knockout looks, and the Dodge Avenger, a 4-door saloon.

Dodge isn’t being modest about the qualities of its new European entrant, and its advantages over the opposition.

“All of our research says that drivers are bored with the bland offerings in this part of the market – they want a boldly styled, affordable car. The Caliber is between 10 and 25% less expensive than the equivalent VW Golf when you look at the specification but it isn’t your typical family hatchback. It combines eye-catching crossover (whatever that is) styling with space-efficient packaging, loads of interior space, innovative features and a choice of great engines,” said Dodge in its press release.

Now the misinformation will start.

Britain’s car magazines and TV shows made a habit of trashing Japanese cars for years, until their superiority became so obvious they had to stop. Criticism of European cars was always timid, of course completely unrelated to the fact that the truth might hurt advertising revenues. Korean and American products are the new Japanese now, attracting criticism for minor style blemishes or dynamic “shortcomings” that only a foolish boy-racer would notice. Meanwhile Koreans and American cars often provide a level of quality or price or both Europeans can only dream about.

Designed for real people
Engineers from across the pond don’t waste time making family cars over-steer or under-steer at the limit, or cling like limpets to the road while driving at immature speeds. American cars are designed for real people with sensible needs. Take this gem of snobbery from an Autocar review of the Caliber back in the summer.

“Cost and value are two very different things,” says Autocar.

Only if you never have to spend your own money to buy a car.

And listen to this.

“Body control (was) lacking as it crashes into potholes. The steering is unresponsive, blighted by torque steer and prone to tram-lining. Frankly, few new cars are so dynamically inept,” said Autocar.

Only if you drive it like an idiot. 


Neil Winton – January 5, 2007

Dodge Caliber SXT Diesel
Engine:
1.9 litre, 4-cylinder
Power:
138 bhp
Gearbox:
6-speed manual
Drive:
front-wheels
Acceleration:
0-60 mph-100 km/h 8.8 seconds
Top Speed:
115 mph-185 km/h
Fuel Consumption:
claimed combined - 46.3 mpg-6.1 l/kms  WintonsWorld Test - 38.1 mpg-7.4 l/kms
CO2 Emissions:
161 g/km
Length:
4,415 mm
Width:
1,800
Height:
1,535
Weight: 2,015 kg
Suspension:
MacPherson/Multi link
Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles
Service Intervals: 9,000 miles/12 months
Price:
£15,290 (€22,700) – on sale in Europe now
Competition:
VW Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall/Opel Astra, Renault Megane, Peugeot 307, but at that price cuts into swathes of choices from Superminis to family cars
Same for Less: This is the same for much less
Would I buy one?
If there’s a diesel automatic, yes
Rating:
**** out of 5
Insurance group: 8E
For:
great value package, looks, utility, stands out from the crowd
Against:
interior quality not perfect, until you look at the price

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