Is it just us, or does Dodge seem to have an affinity for naming its cars after destructive forces? Avenger, Challenger, Charger, Nitro, and of course, Caliber. So basically, if you’re coming after Dodge pardner, you better know it’s a Challenger, an Avenger, and a Charger. For weapons it’s got Nitro and Caliber—plus, it will all arrive in a Grand Caravan—with a Journey from Durango.
OK, all kidding aside, the Caliber is Dodge’s entry-level car in the U.S. Further, Dodge exported Caliber all over the world. In fact, the Dodge Caliber was the first Dodge sold in China since, like, World War II. Unfortunately though, as small cars go, when you compare the Caliber to alternative firepower like the Toyota Matrix, that Caliber’s more derringer than .357 Magnum (and yes, Dodge formerly sold a vehicle called “Magnum” too).
Introduced in 2006 as a 2007 model, the Dodge Caliber replaced the arguably better Dodge Neon in the company’s lineup. While there have been revisions to the Caliber over its lifetime, officially there is but one generation of the Dodge Caliber, and by all appearances that is all there might ever be. The current model is slated for replacement in 2013 with parent company Fiat supplying Alfa Romeo underpinnings for the next iteration of the car — which may, or may not, be called “Caliber”.
2007 – Current (2011) Dodge Caliber
Defining the Caliber can be somewhat tricky. Given it shares its platform with the Jeep Compass and it has a tall-ish SUV-let profile, one would be forgiven for considering the Caliber a small crossover. However it also works as a hatchback and a small station wagon. If all of this leads one to conclude the vehicle has considerable utility, it's because it does. The rear seats fold flat, as does an optional folding front passenger seat to imbue the diminutive Dodge with more than its fair share of cargo capacity.
Officially though, the Caliber is considered a four-door hatchback. When it went on sale in the spring of 2006, it came equipped with a choice of three four-cylinder engines, as well as a choice of three transmissions. The base engine produced 148 horsepower, displaced 1.8-liters and generated 125 ft-lbs of torque. It was available only with a five-speed manual transmission.
The mid-level engine choice was a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline four, capable of 141 ft-lbs of torque. This engine was available with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The “big” engine was a 172-horsepower; 2.4-liter, which made 165 ft-lbs of torque. All-wheel drive was offered as an option with this engine, while all other powertrains for the Caliber were front-drive. All-wheel drive models with this engine used the CVT. If you opted for front-drive with this engine, you could also get the five-speed manual.
That first 2007 Dodge Caliber was offered in three states of trim; SE, SXT, and R/T. A price leader, the SE offered 15-inch wheels and a CD player with an external input jack; but air-conditioning, power windows and power mirrors did not appear on its menu. For those items you had to go SXT.
Checking the SXT box on the Caliber’s order form back in ’07 got you 17-inch wheels, keyless entry, a 60/40-split folding and reclining rear seat, the fold-flat front-passenger seat we told you about earlier, power windows, mirrors and A/C, a chilled glovebox beverage cooler, a built-in rechargeable LED flashlight, and a premium stereo with rear speakers that could be flipped down and pointed outside the open liftgate (if you got the upgraded stereo system)—plus a 115-volt outlet.
The options list for the SXT contained some other really choice bits; alloy wheels, sunroof, leather, heated seats, Bluetooth, navigation, satellite radio, and cruise control. The rump-bumpin’ audio system choice included a six-disc CD changer, a Music Gate speaker package by Boston Acoustics, and satellite radio. Stability control and traction control were SXT options as well.
Had a buyer opted for the Dodge Caliber R/T, they had the run of the SXT’s kit, plus they got 18-inch wheels, rear disc brakes (lesser Caliber models ran drums in the rear), a faster steering rack, and a stiffer suspension system to improve cornering performance.
2008 Dodge Caliber
For 2008, the 285-horsepower SRT4 Dodge Caliber debuted, delivering 265 ft-lbs of torque from its turbocharged version of the Caliber’s 2.4-liter inline-four cylinder engine. The front-wheel drive model ran a six-speed manual transmission.
MacPherson struts comprised the front suspension, while the rear suspension was a multi-link setup. Dual piston calipers clamped 13.4-inch vented front rotors, while single piston calipers bit the rear discs.
By the way, that quoted output for the engine was thought by many to be on the conservative side. SRT4 Calibers have been shown to deliver 281 horsepower on the dyno—at the drive wheels.
Options included a 19-inch tire and wheel set with aggressive Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, polished aluminum wheels, Sirius Satellite Radio, and a Kicker Livin’ Loud audio system.
All other Caliber models carried into ’08 essentially unchanged.
2009 Dodge Caliber
All-wheel drive was discontinued as an option, the available navigation and hard drive based audio systems were upgraded, and steps were taken to make the Caliber quieter on the road.
2010 Dodge Caliber
The interior was reworked to assuage complaints about the Dodge Caliber’s inferior passenger accommodations. Engine choices were reduced to two, the trim packages got hip “Urban” names to up the Caliber’s cool-factor, and the SRT4 was discontinued (which, in turn, arguably re-lowered the cool factor somewhat).
The base engine for 2010 was the 158-horsepower 2.0-liter, generating 141 ft-lbs of torque. The big engine remained the 2.4-liter, 172-horsepower/165 ft-lb, inline four. All-wheel drive was squashed in ’09, so the ’10 Caliber was strictly front-drive. The CVT transmission carried on, as did the five-speed manual.
And now, for those “hip”, “Urban” new trim package names we mentioned earlier; Express, Mainstreet, Uptown, Heat, and Rush.
(Hey, we didn’t name ‘em, we just observed them and reported on them—OK?)
Express was the entry model, most closely aligned with the former SE trim package. However, it did offer a bit more kit than the older SE; 15-inch steel wheels, A/C, cloth seats, full power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, an auto-dim rearview mirror, Bluetooth, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary audio/USB inputs, as well as satellite radio were all standard “Express” features.
Mainstreet garnered the Caliber buyer 17-inch alloy wheels, a tighter suspension system, foglights, a tachometer, and the fold-flat front passenger seat paired with the folding and reclining rear seatbacks.
Heat, brought 18-inch polished wheels, a sportier-tuned suspension system and quicker steering, rear disc brakes (as opposed to the drums on the lower models), and interior trim specific to the Heat models sportier aspirations.
If you went Uptown (hey, we couldn’t resist) you saw rear disc brakes, automatic climate control, leather, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls, and flip-down speakers in the rear liftgate.
When you got in a Rush (c’mon, you had to know THAT was coming…), you found the 2.4-liter engine, 18-inch chrome-finished wheels, a rear spoiler, automatic climate control, a premium audio system with a touchscreen interface, and a 30-gigabyte hard drive.
Fleet versions of the Caliber (you know, like the rentals and such) retained the earlier trim designations.
Current Model (2011 Dodge Caliber)
Production of the iteration of the Caliber launched in 2006 as a 2007 model ceased in November of 2011, with the all remaining cars that didn’t sell in 2011 carrying on to comprise the 2012 model year of the car. The three fleet designations were dropped for 2011, the steering system was improved to provide more tactile response, and the navigation system was upgraded as well.
While the Dodge Caliber did/(does) offer a fairly nice array of features, some of them quite unique actually (the fold out party speakers for the rear hatch come to mind), the vehicle was/(is) unfortunately surpassed in execution by pretty much all of its competitors.
However—when we say surpassed, we mean only in terms of power, fit, finish, and overall execution. When it comes to reliability, the Caliber is quite robust, with all of its major components proven over many years of service. That said, if you’re just looking for transpo, and you want it pretty cheap, you’d do well to look at a pre-owned Dodge Caliber.
There have been a few recalls, although nothing really seriously death-defying. You’ll want to run an Internet search for “Dodge Caliber recalls”, indicating the model year of your interest, just to make sure the one you’re looking at has been duly updated. And, of course, you’ll want make sure you get the car a thorough pre-purchase inspection by a qualified, professional Dodge mechanic—just to make sure the one you’re about to buy is one you’ll be glad you bought.