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Caliber struts its cool
Web Posted: 08/03/2006 08:03 PM CDT

San Antonio Express-News
Dodge has a hit on its hands. Whether it's because consumers are looking for cars with great fuel economy, or because it's just a really cool vehicle with a lot of versatility, or a combination of the two, the all-new 2007 Caliber is selling briskly.

In fact, this new compact wagon is so popular that dealers are having a hard time keeping it in stock, and Chrysler can't build them fast enough.

That's a good position for an automaker to be in these days, particularly one of the so-called Big Three.

Introduced in March, the Caliber replaces the Neon compact sedan in the Dodge lineup, although there never was a Neon wagon and this new car has absolutely nothing in common with the plain-and-simple Neon.

In the first place, the Caliber has curb appeal, something that always eluded the Neon.

Add to that a starting price under $14,000 and EPA fuel-economy ratings of up to 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway, and you have a formula for instant success.

G. Chambers Williams/Express-News

Built only in wagon form, the 2007 Dodge Caliber has been chosen one of the 'Top 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000' by the editors of the Kelley Blue Book.

The caliber's base price of $13,425 (plus $560 freight) is about $400 less than the least expensive 2005 Neon.

But the entry-level Caliber SE model has about $1,000 more standard equipment than the base Neon had, which means that the actual price is about $1,400 less than that of a comparably equipped '05 Neon (the last official year of that car).

Our test car, the midlevel, volume model known as the SXT, begins at $15,425 (plus freight), and comes very well-equipped at that price.
Even so, ours came with some extras that ran the total price tag up to $20,810 (including $560 freight). But the frugal buyer could leave most of those extras off and still have a nice car.

The sporty R/T model begins at $19,425 (plus freight) and comes with all-wheel drive, a more powerful engine, and the optional continuously variable automatic transmission.

Though the SXT is the one most consumers will choose, don't scoff at the base model.

For many buyers, this one will be quite sufficient, just as it comes out of the box — even with its standard five-speed manual gearbox.

Air conditioning is included, but you'll have to crank your own windows and manually lock the doors for that price.

Both the SE and SXT come with the same 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower, but an optional 2.0-liter, 158-horsepower engine costs $100 more, and was included on our test car.

The R/T, meanwhile, gets the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 172 horsepower. All of the engines have aluminum blocks and variable valve timing.

Coming early next year is a 300-horsepower, pocket-rocket version of the Caliber, to be known as the SRT4. Dodge says it can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in under six seconds.

No prices have been announced yet for this street-racer tuner model, but expect it to be about double that of the entry-level Caliber. It will compete against the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.

Beyond its good looks, the Caliber offers a quite roomy and comfortable interior. The materials and finish are better than I expected for a car in this price class.

A Jeep version of this vehicle, the Compass, is now on sale, but it comes only with the 172-horsepower engine and begins at $17,025 (plus $560 freight). Though all-wheel drive is offered on the Caliber and Compass, neither one is truly off-road-capable.

Coming later this year, built on the same chassis as the Caliber and Compass, is the Jeep Patriot. It looks like a traditional SUV, though, and will be off-road-capable, Chrysler spokesman Scott Brown said.

The Caliber's rear seat folds flat for easy cargo hauling, and an optional folding front passenger seat can be used as a work space, such as to hold a laptop computer. With the rear seat in place, it can carry up to five passengers.

The five-door Caliber has an abundance of features designed to appeal to young people. But it won't be just that group who will appreciate these things — such as optional rear speakers for the audio system that are built into the one-piece rear liftgate, and which can be turned around and aimed to the rear to provide music outside the vehicle for a picnic or tailgate party.
Called the MusicGate, this option was included on our test car at an extra cost of $495.

Other cool features include cup holders with illuminated outer rings, and the Chill Zone, an air-conditioned glove box that can hold up to four 20-ounce drink bottles. It gets cool air from the Caliber's air-conditioning ducts, and is standard on all Calibers equipped with A/C.

Our test car came with four bottles of water in the Chill Zone, but the problem with this setup is that unless you're on a long, cross-country drive, this little semi-fridge doesn't have time to chill the drinks. Our water was at room temperature, which means that with the car sitting in the South Texas summer heat, it was as warm as bath water.

The Caliber has a special place in the middle of the center console to hold cell phones and MP3 players, and the audio systems have input jacks for connecting an external audio source such as an MP3 player or iPod.

The center console also has an armrest that can be moved forward or backward to accommodate the front-seat occupants. There is even a removable, self-recharging flashlight embedded in the dome light, and a 115-volt power outlet is provided for devices such as laptop computers.

For safety, front and side air bags are standard, and the side bags are in place for front and rear passengers. High-strength steel was used throughout the body structure for better impact protection.

Our 2.0-liter engine was quite responsive, thanks to the vehicle's relatively low weight — 3,039 pounds for the SXT model (before options).

Two transmissions are offered for the regular versions of the Caliber. The five-speed manual is standard on SE and SXT models, while the continuously variable automatic ($1,000) is optional.

On the R/T, though, only the CVT is offered. That seems strange, considering that the bigger engine would seem to appeal more to enthusiasts, who probably would prefer a manual gearbox.

Chrysler says the CVT offers up to 8 percent better fuel economy than a conventional automatic. The CVT was included on our car. With the transmission option also comes antilock brakes. This transmission with the 2.0-liter engine in our test car gave EPA ratings of 26 mpg city/30 highway.
The SRT4 model will come with a six-speed manual gearbox, a perfect complement to the turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. That engine turns out an impressive 260 foot-pounds of torque.

Mitsubishi did the original design and engineering work on the Caliber, and the resulting vehicle architecture or "platform" was co-developed with Chrysler (before the two companies went their separate ways last year).
The Caliber's engines are the result of a joint effort among Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai, and though the three will share the technology of these engines, all three will build their own versions of the engines for their own vehicles.

Among standard equipment on our SXT model were power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, power front disc/rear drum brakes, air conditioning, power rack-and-pinion steering, touring suspension, intermittent wipers, halogen headlights, and tilt steering column.

An AM/FM/compact-disc player with four speakers is standard, but our car came with an upgraded audio system that included a six-disc, in-dash CD player ($320).

Also installed on our vehicle was the MusicGate system ($495); security package ($275), including an alarm system; towing package ($130), including wiring harness and oil cooler, for trailers of up to 1,000 pounds; driver convenience group ($400), with a tire-pressure monitoring system, temperature/compass gauge, universal garage opener, and auto-dimming rearview mirror; power sunroof ($750); cruise control ($250); Sirius satellite radio ($195); U-Connect hand-free communications system ($275); sport interior appearance group ($150); fog lights ($85); and 17-inch aluminum wheels.

Total price of our SXT tester was $20,810 including freight and options.
Chrysler builds the Caliber at its Belvidere, Ill., plant, which underwent $419 million in upgrades to build the Caliber, Compass and Patriot.

G. Chambers Williams/Express-News

There's room for five adults and their stuff in the all-new Dodge Caliber compact hatchback/wagon.

To read more:

198 Posts
Coming later this year, built on the same chassis as the Caliber and Compass, is the Jeep Patriot.
Chassis? Aren't all these vehicles UNI BODY???

267 Posts
Hey that's MY car! Silver metallic, Sunroof.. yep it's mine! Now I know why it's been taking so long, they've been using it for publicity shots LOL.

198 Posts
Xtreme Thunder said:
I am thinking it was a poor choice of words, platform would have been more correct.
Even PLATFORM has its interpretations. To the locals (the Brampton assembly plant is here, they assemble the 300s, Magnums, Chargers, and soon, Challengers), to them, "same platform" is the physical platform, as in, shop floor! When they say the Challenger will be built on the same platform as the Charger, they mean it comes down the same line. It does not share the same "underpinnings" or floor pans, or anything like that.

To each their own I guess.... :confused:
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