2007 Dodge Caliber R/T Road Test Review

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Category:$13,000 to $20,000 Compact Wagon
Who should buy this car:A person who wants a practical small wagon with aggressive styling
Comparable models in this class:Chevrolet HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Focus, Kia Rondo, Jeep Compass, Kia Spectra, Mazda3, Pontiac Vibe, Suzuki SX4, Toyota Matrix

What Caliber Legos?

You know, somewhere, sometime someone must have said, Hey, Id like a car that look like it was made out of Legos. Probably about the same time small cars suddenly were replaced by tall wagon-y things. Yep, well betcha. Because that would explain the 2007 Dodge Caliber.

The Dodge Caliber, of course, replaced the Neon, whose cute Hi! had grown stale and the four-door small sedan concept brittle in a fickle automotive market. Since hatchbacks are still so not chic, the Caliber goes five-door with a chunky look that inspired some observers to ask whether the 2007 Dodge Caliber R/T with all-wheel drive was on a truck platform. Close. It shares its platform with the Jeep Compass.

Just Say No Retro Nope. Just like the Chevy HHR and Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Dodge Caliber is a tall wagon with lots of room inside and access to that capacious interior via the stern. The styling eschews retro. Rather, its what happens when Dodges chiseled design theme is compacted to small car size.

The Caliber, new for 2007, is offered in three front-drive trim levels, SE, SXT and R/T. All-wheel drive is available on the R/T only. The Caliber R/T also has a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with dual variable valve timing. One of Chryslers World Engine designs, its rated at 172 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque. The lesser Calibers come with a 1.8-liter 148-horse four-cylinder, standard on the SE and SXT, or a 2.0-liter 158-bhp four, optional in either.

A five-speed manual transmission is available in all models except the all-wheel drive R/T which comes standard with a second-generation continuously variable ratio transmission (Dodge calls it CVT2). Rather than the conventional stepped fixed-ratio transmission, CVT transmissions have a belt and pulley system that allows the engine to go to peak torque rpm and stay there while the car catches up.

(Get used to it. As the upper end gets six, seven and eight speed conventional automatics, mid range and compacts will see more CVT transmissions. In fact, no conventional automatic is available in the Dodge Caliber).

Our tester, a Dodge Caliber R/T, had AutoStick, an option exclusive to the R/T. AutoStick allows the CVT to be shifted like a conventional automatic, with gear ratios programmed into the pulley system to mimic a conventional transmission. It defeats the fuel economy benefits of the CVT, so any driver using it is hastening global warming just that little bit more. On the other hand, it makes driving a little more satisfactory as well, so what the heck.Wheres the oomph? Despite the R/Ts bigger engine, one of our drivers complained about a lack of oomph. Its not that the Caliber R/T is slow that’s reserved for the smaller-engined Calibers but its hardly a threat to the space/time continuum, Still, we suspect that the sensation of pokiness is partly due to the CVT. It actually aids acceleration because the engine stays at maximum output, but the constant rpm sounds like nothing is happening, and because the R/Ts 172 horsepower doesnt slingshot 3,300 pounds of mobile cubism, it doesn’t feel like much is going on either.

That said, its unnerving to drive the 2007 Dodge Caliper R/T in full automatic mode on a golly wiggling road and have the engine rpm swinging wildly, whooping up coming out of a corner then sagging when the throttle is lifted, all without any relationship to vehicle velocity.

However with AutoStick, the Caliber R/T can be driven like a sports car. Well, at least a chubby sports car with tall seating and an under abundance of power. But unlike some sporty Eurotypes, AutoShift will not shift up unbidden regardless of revs or pedal pressure. However, it wont downshift at speeds that would frag the engine. In other words, the transmission works as well as a manual but without the joy of clutch.

Wheres the Prince? The Caliber R/Ts engine is no Prince of Smooth. Acceptable at idle, it grows harsh as rpm increased, and there was an odd harmonic at mid-range revs. The latter may not be universal; we talked with owners who hadn’t experienced it. Or maybe were just too sensitive.

Cornering is unremarkable. It follows the helm but with no great insight, fitting the mold as a transportation module despite the promises made by the R/T badge. Instead of Road/Track it stands for Road/Transport.
But even if the R/T moniker is a cheat, our 2007 Dodge Caliber R/T was as useful as a Swiss Army knife with pockets. Lots of pockets. There are bins to the left of the steering wheel, another below the radio and above the HVAC controls, but neither has a lip to keep objects from rolling out.

The Caliber has two glove boxes, however, one over the other. Our test vehicles upper garage door lid didn’t want to stay open. The lower glove box has contours for four soft drink cans that are cooled when the a/c is on. But it wont cool with the engine off so if you plan to stop, you’ll need that cooler anyway.

The center armrest slides forward and back so shorter drivers can rest their elbows too. The armrest also has a flip pocket sized right for a cell phone, pda or iPod. The R/T also has a 115V AC outlet in the center consoles bin so there’s no need to buy another adapter to charge your stuffs batteries.

Seats The Caliber R/Ts front seats are comfy enough for this class of vehicle, and our collective derrieres could spend hours in them without complaining (something you wouldn’t want to experience). The rear seat is higher than the front, and although this provides more legroom and a better view forward, its a trade-off against headroom. The tape measure says its there, but only in a pocket contoured in behind the sunroof. Taller passengers frequently riding in the back will appreciate it if you skip the sunroof: Be kind to your carpool. There are, incidentally, three seatbelts in back but only two headrests. Put your least valuable passenger in the middle.

Utility is the Calibers trump, however. Inside that squared-off exterior is a squared-off interior with 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row of seats and a whopping 48.0 cubic feet with both rear seats folded. Long stuff can be accommodated by folding the front seat back forward (Dodge doesn’t say how long because Daimler Chryslers lawyers just don’t want to know about it). Officially the back of the folded seatback can be used as a table for an office on the goor cozy dinner for one at the drive thru.

Make that dinner kimchi. Caliber visits the Koreans in its long list of standard equipment for a reasonable price. The 2007 Dodge Caliber R/T AWD lists for $19,425, the base price including full-length side curtain airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, cruise control, tilt wheel with hub-mounted audio controls, illuminated cup holders (the Next Big Thing: no more fumbling in the dark for your Big Gulp) and more.

So if the Dodge Caliber R/T isn’t particularly sporty and someone should rethink that R/T label very carefullyits not without merit, even if it does look like Dodge designers have been moonlighting at Toys R Us.

Philbert J Thrombockle comments: Critical as we may be over the dilution of the storied R/T trim level, its absence as a serious performance indicator will be missed only as long as no SRT badge is around. In this case, there’s the 2007 Dodge Caliber SRT4 with its 2.4-liter turbocharged intercooled four-cylinder engine producing 300 horsepower. The front-driver (no AWD available) has a standard limited slip differential, six-speed manual transmission (no optional automatic), upgraded brakes, retuned anti-roll bars and 19-inch wheels. Dodge claims that the Caliber SRT4 dominates the sport-compact performance market. Perhaps. Sure would like that all-wheel drive, though. No price yet.

However, not only will the Caliber SRT4 push $30,000, and most Caliber drivers will not want and/or be able to afford the SRT. The Caliber SE rings in at $14,135, and check for discounts. The SXT has a list of $16,230.

Our test 2007 Dodge Caliber R/T AWD has a list price at publication of $19,425. It was optioned up with the Security Group (alarm), $200; Leather Interior, $910; Driver Convenience Group (tire pressure monitoring, ambient temperature and compass, autodimming rear view mirror, $400; premium audio, $400; Sirius radio, $195; Smokers Group, $30; sunroof, $750; daytime running lights, $40; UConnect hands-free communications, $275; aluminum chrome-clad wheels, $700. Add $560 destination for a bottom line of $24,035 for a lavishly equipped Caliber.

We were not able to obtain real world fuel mileage data, but the EPA rates the base 1.8-liter engine at 28/32 mpg city/highway, and the 2.4-liter at 26/30 mpg. The 2.4-liter with the manual transmission still gets 26/30 mpg. The 2.4-liter with the CVT transmission reduces fuel mileage to 24/27 mpg, and adding all-wheel drive knocks another mpg off city and highway mileage. So much for the highlighted 28/32 mpg. That comes only with the base engine. Ya pays yer money

Finally, not that long ago, the monochrome treatment painting grille and other erstwhile trim in body color was the mark of high performance. Now, apparently, its become the mark of the low-cost trim line, as with the base Dodge Caliber SE. Move up to the SXT and the grille is chrome. Go figure.

2007 Dodge Caliber

Standard Equipment

(partial list)

SXT adds…

(partial list)

R/T adds…

(partial list)

Major Available Options

(Partial List, depends on model. Some items only available as part of an option group, see your Dodge dealer for details)

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