Dodge has killed the once-promising but lately unloved Neon small car and replaced it with something quite different.
The replacement, Caliber, is a four-door hatchback along the lines of Toyota Matrix. It's built at the same Belvidere, Ill., factory that made Neon.
Dodge's parent, DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group, spent $419 million revamping Belvidere and installing 780 new assembly robots with flexible-manufacturing capability — meaning they also can build the Jeep Compass and Patriot, coming later this year.
The Caliber's base model, SE, is pretty barren to keep the starting price around $14,000. It has no air conditioning or power windows, for example.
The Caliber test car was a pre-production R/T model that would be priced in the low-$20,000 range. It had most options, plus a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine rated 172 horsepower, coupled to a CVT, or continuously variable transmission.
It's a belt-drive rig able to vary the diameters of its pulleys to keep the engine speed where it needs to be for best performance and fuel economy. So the theory goes. Dodge also built in six individual ratios to provide a manual-shift mode for enthusiasts.
Fuel economy is one place the CVT scores, in the view of Larry Lyons, Chrysler Group's vice president in charge of front-drive models (and, in this case, front-drivers that also offer all-wheel drive). He says it's up 4% to 6% vs. a four-speed automatic transmission. "We can completely shut off the fuel" when the car decelerates, he says, not just cut back fuel flow as in cars with conventional transmissions. The belt drive and ever-changing ratio between those pulleys make a smooth coast-down.
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Source: USA Today