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Old 12th June 2006, 01:51   #1
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Default Driven: Dodge Caliber

If a poll was conducted on the worst cars in North America, the Dodge SX 2.0/Neon would have been voted among the top ones. The replacement for the SX 2.0 was thus far overdue and Dodge released the spanking new Caliber recently.

Likes : Distinctive looks, Cheap.
Dislikes : steering, clunky and noisy suspension, noisy engine, uncomfortable, too many blind spots.


I have to hand it to Chrysler and Dodge designers. Their new range of cars are extremely distinctive looking. The one thing I like about their cars is they look very macho. 300C, Charger, RAM pick-up are all the nicest looking North American cars. The Caliber is a entry level hatchback but it looks like a SUV. The driving position is high, the front grille makes the car looks very macho and SUVish and even from the side the car looks like a 4X4 rather then a hatcback.

The problem with the swooping rear design is evident inside where there are too many blind spots and the view from the inside rear view mirror is extremely restricted. Changing lanes by relying on the rear view mirrors is a big no. I have a habit of turning to look over my shoulders while changing lanes, the Caliber falls short on this area too. The view around the B pillars is pretty restricted too and I had to look over my shoulders twice before changing lanes. It wasn't as much of an issue here with more disciplined traffic and driving but I shudder to think what would happen if this car was launched in India! Check out the view from the rear windshield.

The best angle of the Caliber is from dead front. The big dodge grille gives the car a very macho look. From dead on front the Caliber looks like a SUV.

The interiors of the Caliber are decent. Among North American car makers, GM makes the worst interiors according to me. The insides are functional. The dash is logical and I found the placement of the gear lever fantastic. It just falls into the hands. I also liked the placement of the stereo, it was over the HVAC controls, more cars should have this arrangement. The quality of dash plastics and feel of the steering was nice too though nowhere as good as European cars. I kinda liked the blue inserts in the dash. That alongwith blue inserts in the seats really brightened up the insides.

However, the seats were not comfortable at all. I tried all sorts of adjustments but couldn't find a comfortable seating position. Also, the lever to adjust the seatback is placed over the seat height adjuster and is a really really small one that barely came into my hands so everytime I wanted to adjust the seatback i would end up struggling to first hold the lever and then to pull it up or push it down. It was also pretty flimsy and I was scared that I may actually end up breaking it. The seating and driving ergonomics reminded me of the Santro. A few hours of driving the Caliber, I had a backache, something that used to regularly happen to me with the Santro too.

Engine and Suspension

I rented the Caliber and drove it from Toronto to Niagra and back with a very minor detour to Hamilton and Missassauga, a distance of about approxmiately 350-370 kms. The car was spanking new, it had only 275 kms on the odo when I got in and it still had the new car smell inside. The version I had was the SXT. It had a 2.0L I4 16 Valve VVT unit with 158bhp and was equipped with a CVT that felt really weird but then it was the first time I was driving a CVT and I have never been a fan of A/T or CVT's. Give me a simple M/T! The engine had decent HP and torque though it did struggle up the inclines and while making quick overtakes. Still, the lack of low end torque wasn't as much of a bother on highways here since there was no oncoming traffic but I guess it will be a little frustrating in India. The most irritating thing about the engine was that it was very noisy and crude or maybe it was because of the CVT(?). At higher rpm's the noise was really irritating and there was also a lot of wind noise around the A pillars which was easily filtering into the cabin. All in all, Dodge could have done some more work on NVH. The suspension was another irritant. It was clunky and noisy and shuddered and rattled over minor disturbances on the road. In true North American tradition, it was also set up soft and that meant a lot of pitch and roll, add the high seating position and you guys will agree, it wasn't comfortable in there! The steering was too light and I had to literally hold it tight to keep the car straight. I can imagine a few females complaining of a painful shoulder after a long drive in the Caliber. There was no feel to the steering too, no feedback from the super light steering too. The light steering reminded me of the Scropio.

However, the Caliber has a lot of tricks in the interiors. The cup holders are luminiscent (spell check?), they glow a soft blue at night and I am sure that must be impressive to the yankees! The glovebox can hold a few coke cans and it also has a cool box as an option I believe. One more irritant was the arm rest. It moved front and back to adjust with different driver bodies but didn't lock in place. Everytime I got into the car and my arm would hit the arm rest it would slide back!

The SXT retails for about CAD 19,000 plus taxes. Would I buy it at that price? A big NO. The Caliber has it's work cut out. At that price range, I can buy better cars like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and I believe even the Nissan Verso. Another CAD 1500, and I can buy the Honda Civic.

If I had to sum up the Caliber in a few sentences, I would say it's a very tiring car to drive. Noisy engine, light steering, clunky suspension, uncomfortable seats, blind spots, it just has too many negitives where it matters the most. North Americans may buy this car but then as long as a car is cheap, has 4 wheels and 2 cup holders, North Americans will buy!

P.S. I could not figure out how to open the hatch of the Caliber! There was no lever to pull the hatch open on the inside of the car and no key slot on the hatch itself! Since I didnt' have too much of luggage, I didn't bother with it much but I'd like to unravel this secret someday!

Last edited by amit : 12th June 2006 at 01:59.
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Old 12th June 2006, 12:14   #2
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I saw many of these here and frankly it does not look all that good. The fact that Dodge tried to give macho looks of the Ram to what actually is a hatchback doesnt go together.
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Old 13th June 2006, 09:17   #3
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The fact that Dodge tried to give macho looks of the Ram to what actually is a hatchback doesnt go together.
I think Dodge is trying to give a corporate look to all their cars hence the same big macho grille. Dodge Charger, Magnum, Caliber, RAM pick up all sport similar grilles. As for the Caliber, like I said, the car has distinctive non-hatchback like looks. It's not outright gorgeous but distinctive.
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