First reviews, more pictures of the latest, hottest cars
Eye Catching, Stylish, Practical, Terrific Value
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”
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
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
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
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 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
“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
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