Bringing some attitude to the compact segment
Attitude. That's the word at DaimlerChrysler and, in particular, Dodge these days. From the award-winning Chrysler 300 sedan to the Hemi-powered Dodge Magnum wagon, this is a company that is hell bent on providing aggressive design, often backed up by equally intimidating powertrains. In the case of Dodge, it's an approach that has been trickling down from the truck division. First, it was the menacing Dodge Viper. Then, those Ram pickups with Mack truck looks started scaring the bejeebies out of all who spotted one in their rearview mirror. The formidable Rams were followed by the Magnum - possibly the meanest looking station wagon you'll ever see. Most recently was the introduction of the all-new, furrow-browed Charger. And now there's a compact crossover thingamabob that plants that "You talking to me, tough guy?" 'tude on a smaller package. Dubbed the Dodge Caliber at its 2005 Geneva Auto Show debut, this five-passenger concept was shown in North America for the first time at the 2005 California Auto Show. Officials say that it will replace the aging Dodge Neon early in 2006.
Styling is what sets the Dodge Caliber apart in the small car segment. Up front is a raised hood, below which is the familial cross-haired grille trimmed in chrome with large headlights serving as bookends. Coupled with exaggerated front wheel flares, the mug of the Dodge Caliber bears a striking similarity to those of the Ram, Dakota, Magnum, and Durango. The chin features a nicely integrated air dam and foglights. The side flanks include flared front and rear wheel wells, a rising beltline toward the rear, and a swooping roofline reminiscent of its big brother, the Dodge Magnum. Chrome trim accents the door handles and side moldings. In silhouette, the dropping rear roofline and large wheel wells make the Caliber look remarkably similar to the Infiniti FX SUV, and the Sunburst Orange paint used by Dodge matches the copper-colored tone sprayed onto many FX models. Finishing things off are massive 19-inch alloy wheels wearing 245/45 tires, though word has it they'll be replaced by 17s for production.Behind the rear wheel well is a very short overhang that ties in with a relatively bold rear end. Some of our editors have whispered complaints about the rather dull styling of the butts on the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger - not so on the Caliber. Starting at the top is a matte black spoiler that blends in with the subtle roof rails, and below the glass are sizable jeweled taillights. The hatch provides a wide opening, and the bumper has cutouts to allow for a lower liftover height - making it easier to place items into and remove them from the cargo area. Shining below it all is a chrome exhaust pipe. Dodge has been a little skimpy with actual details, but there are enough to make some comparisons with the outgoing Neon and the comparable Chrysler PT Cruiser. The Dodge Caliber's wheelbase measures about an inch shorter than the Neon and an inch longer than the PT Cruiser. In regard to length, the Caliber is about an inch shorter than the Neon, but five inches longer than the PT Cruiser; its 68.6-inch width is about 1.5 inches greater than the others. Finally, the Dodge Caliber is roughly four inches taller than the Neon and four inches shorter than the Chrysler. Interior and cargo figures have not been released.
Though powertrain specifics have yet to be made official, this much we know: The Dodge Caliber will offer three four-cylinder engines ranging from a 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower engine to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that will generate around 170 horsepower. The engines will be mated to a standard five-speed manual, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) will be offered as the automatic transmission choice. More expensive variants of the Caliber will offer all-wheel-drive as an option. There are also rumblings about the possibility of adopting one of the PT Cruiser's turbo-charged motors, but again, those ideas have not been confirmed. Having driven the boosted 220-horsepower PT, we'd be the first to vote yea on that one.
Thankfully, compact cars are now available in all flavors and colors, from mundane tan sedans with tan seats to flamboyant six-speed sport wagons. Depending on your poison, you're covered from I-95 to Pike's Peak. But none of them demand your respect, and few look like a grown up in a kid-sized package. The introduction of the Dodge Caliber concept is analogous to that new kid who showed up in sixth grade - the girls whispered as he walked by, teachers thought he looked like trouble, and the boys suddenly realized they weren't too cool for school after all. So, to all of the compact car guys - watch out - there might be a new kid coming to class.
Photos courtesy of DaimlerChrysler