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  • 2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4

    Posted on July 30th, 2007 ninarussin

    Lean mean five-door machine
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4

    2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4

    In a perfect world, everybody would be able to drive a car with two seats, abundant horsepower, and a perfect front-to-rear weight ratio. Packs of elves would ferry cargo and children under the age of sixteen to their destinations. Mortgage payments, power and cable bills would not exist. Nothing would ever break down, and college tuition would be free.

    In the real world, people with families want affordable cars that don’t feel like appliances. While a high-performance family wagon may seem like an oxymoron, such an animal exists. The Dodge Caliber SRT4 holds five people, averages 24 miles-per-gallon, and comes with standard antilock brakes, electronic stability program and side curtain airbags.

    The standard 285-horsepower engine accelerates from zero-to-sixty in just over six seconds. Top speed is 155 miles-per-hour.

    Twin turbochargers and a free-flow stainless exhaust make the car breathe like a sprinter. It also stops on a dime, thanks to twin-piston front brakes with massive rotors. A race-inspired clutch gives the six-speed transmission an extra kick in the pants.

    The hot-rod Caliber comes in four colors: none of them are boring. Base price, including destination charges, is $23,000.

    Giddy up

    The new Caliber SRT4 was the second half of a recent Chrysler program in southern Indiana that also included the all-new Jeep Liberty. While the Liberty appeals to drivers who seek their thrills off-road, the Caliber is a street-legal machine that loves to go trackside. But unlike some street machines, the Caliber is practical enough to be a family’s only car.

    Except for a stiffer-than-average clutch, it’s quite drivable. Gauges are easy to read without obstructing the forward view: the electronic boost gauge is to the left of the steering wheel, below the dash. Visibility to the rear is also good, despite the car’s rather wide D-pillars.

    The short-throw shift lever is easy to use. Braking is firm but not grabby. Sixty-to-zero braking distance is 125 feet.

    A single large exhaust pipe emits a throaty purr during acceleration. The SRT4 has more road noise than the standard Caliber, but that’s something the intended audience will probably appreciate. There is no noticeable wind noise around the mirrors or windshield, and the sound from the tires isn’t so loud that it drowns out conversation inside.

    Hood scoops and brake ducts prevent the car from overheating when idling in hot weather. My test drive included ten miles through Indianapolis during rush hour. Despite record heat and high humidity, there was no change in performance, and engine temperatures remained normal.

    Four-wheel independent suspension gives the SRT4 a comfortable ride on the average pothole-ridden freeway. Large front and rear stabilizer bars keep the chassis flat in the corners, and resist the tendency of the front-wheel drive car to understeer. Engineers also made the rear spoiler larger to increase down-force. I pushed the car hard into a couple of turns, and never lost control of the front end.

    In the interest of performance, engineers lowered car’s ride height, which puts the front fascia pretty close to the road. Ground clearance is just under seven inches: enough to clear the average driveway, but a potential problem driving through deep snow. The standard R-rated tires provide excellent traction in warm weather, but cold-climate denizens should probably count on a separate set of treads for the winter.

    Hot rod interior

    Designers spiced up the interior with high-performance seats and a carbon leather steering wheel. Side bolsters on the front bucket seats are aggressive enough to hold passengers in place without limiting access and egress. The white-faced gauges are easy to read. Buyers can opt to add “performance pages:” a display that records acceleration times, speed, braking distance and G-forces.

    Pedal covers give drivers extra grip at the track. The shift lever is an inch shorter than the standard Caliber for faster, cleaner gear changes. The Getrag gearbox includes a standard reverse lockout ring.

    Buyers can upgrade the standard audio system to a 322-watt Kicker sound system with thirteen speakers. The rear speakers flip down from the tailgate, for an open-air party.

    Caliber’s rear seats fold flat to extend the rear cargo area, making the car bicycle friendly. A vinyl load floor in the cargo area is removable and washable.

    Up front, a chill zone provides cold storage for up to four 20-ounce cans or bottles. A flip pocket in the center armrest holds a cell phone or MP3 player.

    Map pockets in the doors add additional storage, as does a small shelf in the center stack underneath the audio system. Audio and temperature controls are easy to reach from either front seating position.

    High level of standard safety

    The Caliber has received five-star crash ratings for both frontal and side impacts. In addition to standard front and side-curtain airbags, the SRT4 also has an inflatable knee blocker that protects the driver in the event of a crash. Antilock braking, traction control, and electronic stability program are standard equipment, as is a tire pressure monitoring system.

    The Caliber SRT4 rolls into dealerships the fourth quarter of this year.

    Likes: The Caliber SRT4 is a great package for drivers who want performance but need the practicality of a five-seat passenger car. The 285-horsepower engine and six-speed manual gearbox deliver plenty of low-end power for launching off the line. The suspension is compliant enough for daily driving, but stiff enough to handle autocross on the weekends. Steering feedback is excellent.

    Dislikes: The stiff racing clutch may be a problem for urban commuters who spend a lot of time in gridlocked traffic.

    Quick facts:

    Base price: $22,995*
    Price as tested: N/A
    Horsepower: 285 Hp @ 5700 r.p.m.
    Torque: 265 lbs.-ft. @ 2000 r.p.m.
    0 to 60: 6 seconds
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: No 
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Fuel economy: 21/26 m.p.g. city/highway
    Comments: * Base price includes the destination charge.

     

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