2009 Dodge Caliber SXTPosted on February 22nd, 2009
Compact crossover vehicle with big functionality
By Nina Russin
Rising fuel costs and tightening pursestrings may be the Dodge Caliber’s ticket to fame. The compact crossover vehicle combines many interior features found in larger trucks with better fuel economy and value pricing.
The Caliber is available in three grades, and a choice of three four-cylinder engines with either a five-speed manual or automatic transmission.
Rear seats are easy to fold flat and extend the cargo floor, making the Caliber bicycle friendly. An optional MusicGate feature adds an extra set of speakers in back: the speakers flip down from the liftgate, providing open-air music for a tailgate party. An optional flashlight that stows in the headliner comes in handy during a roadside emergency.
Designers culled features from Dodge minivans to transform the Caliber’s interior into a mobile recreation room: chilled cupholders, a 115-volt inverter, 12-volt powerpoints, a two-part glove box, satellite radio and a MP3 plug-in.
This year Dodge adds an available hard drive for downloading music and photos, as well as navigation with real-time traffic updates.
Car-like ride and handling
The test car is the SXT grade with a continuously variable automatic transmission and four-wheel independent suspension. Average fuel economy is twenty-four miles-per gallon. Four-wheel disc brakes and four-channel antilock braking, previously part of an option package, are now standard equipment.
The two-liter engine has plenty of power for the average commuter’s needs. It won’t race down the dragstrip in under twelve seconds, but there’s enough low-end torque for merging onto the highway, and adequate power on the top end to pass cars on the highway.
A standard timing chain doesn’t produce any noticeable noise. Chains or more durable than timing belts: they don’t require replacement during the average lifespan of the vehicle, saving the owner a big chunk of money.
The fully independent suspension provides a car-like ride, yet keeps the chassis remarkably flat in the corners. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the Caliber handled a decreasing radius cloverleaf ramp at speed.
On-center feel is adequate, though not exceptional. Engineers kept steering wheel play to a minimum, even at low speeds. A thirty-five foot turning radius makes it easy to do the occasional U-turn.
The front pillar is rather thick, and protrudes out into the driver’s line of vision: it’s quite noticeable when cornering to the left, or watching for oncoming traffic. Visibility to the sides and rear is good, despite the car’s thick rear pillar.
A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clear in rain and snow.
Brakes are firm and linear without being grabby. The upgrade to four-wheel discs will help drivers in wet weather climates: they work better in rain and snow than drums, and are easier to service.
Chrysler designers excel at interior packaging. The Caliber’s high roofline makes it feel like a bigger car than it actually is.
Up front, standard cloth seats have manual adjustments. The seats are firm enough to provide adequate lower lumbar support. Standard heated seats make travel more comfortable for people who live in cold climates. A sliding armrest allows drivers of all sizes to find a comfortable position.
White face gauges are easy to read. An ambient temperature display in the odometer is handy for drivers who like to play outdoors. Standard stain-repellent fabric appeals parents with small children, or athletes coming home from the trails.
Temperature and audio controls on the center stack are reachable from either front seating position. The standard audio system is MP3 compatible. The standard audio system comes pre-wired for satellite radio: Chrysler throws in a year of free service to Sirius/XM.
A premium sound package on the test car upgrades the audio to a Boston nine-speaker system with steering wheel mounted audio controls. It also adds the MusicGate: two speakers that flip down from the liftgate to broadcast music outside the car.
A chilled cupholder in the center console keeps drinks cold. All of the cupholders in the car are big enough for water bottles.
The center console bin is large enough to hold a stack of compact disks. A 115-volt inverter on the front of the bin allows the front passenger to plug in a computer or video games.
A two-piece glovebox has a huge lower bin: big enough to hold a small purse. A shelf inside stows the owner’s manual and other important paperwork. The upper bin is smaller, but has enough room for small books, maps, or electronic devices.
Legroom in the second row outboard seats should be adequate for the average adult, although taller men may feel cramped. Cupholders behind the center console and a floor tunnel eliminate all legroom in the middle. There is plenty of head and shoulder room.
Configurable cargo area
A strap on the outside of seat cushions releases the seatbacks and folds them flat to extend the cargo floor. With the second-row seats folded down, the Caliber easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
A standard tonneau cover hides items in back from prying eyes. The cover is removable for larger cargo. The Caliber’s undersize spare tire is located under the cargo floor.
Standard safety features on the SXT grade include antilock brakes, front and side curtain airbags.
Electronic stability program and daytime running lamps are part of a security package that also adds a trailer wiring harness and engine oil cooler.
Chrysler builds the Caliber at its Belvidere, Illinois assembly plant.
Likes: The front-wheel drive Caliber is a versatile, fuel-efficient crossover vehicle with a well-designed interior and configurable cargo area that easily meets our bicycle friendly standards.
Dislike: Electronic stability program is only available as part of an option package.
Model: Caliber SXT
Base price: $17,600
As tested: $21,465
Horsepower: 158 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 141 lbs.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 23/27 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $630 destination charge.
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