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On test: Dodge Caliber 2.0 SXT Sport review (2006 onwards model)
- Model: Dodge Caliber SXT Sport
- Bodystyle: Hatchback
- Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
- Transmission: 6–speed manual
- Date of Test: April 2006
What is it?
It’s the first wave of American manufacturer Dodge’s assault on the UK marketplace. US manufacturers currently see Europe as ripe for expansion. The Caliber not only introduces British buyers to the brand, but also brings bold SUV styling to the hugely competitive C segment (that’s VW Golf and Ford Focus sized cars). It also brings super-sized American spec levels and decent pricing making it a good value choice against established rivals. Dodge also aims to offer customers the most bang for their buck, or perhaps more appropriately in the UK more power for their pound, the Caliber boasting more power than similarly priced rivals by offering bigger engines for less cash.
Where does it fit?
The Caliber’s competition is made up of the usual wide range of hatchbacks in the class headed by familiar names like Ford’s Focus, the VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra. Its pricing and comprehensive standard kit does give it a value advantage over the majority of such rivals. It’ll be joined in the next year or so by three other Dodge models, the range being sold through tri-branded Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealerships, the network already well established. It’ll have a tough job in this traditional market, not simply because of the strength and diversity of the competition, but also the fact that although a well-known brand in its home country it’s a newcomer here.
Is it for you?
If you’re a bloke earning between £25-27,000 and around 39 years old then, yes. Like all manufacturers Dodge has done its research and the above is the likely average customer. Not that Dodge would ever want customers to consider themselves average, the Caliber intended to appeal to people who like Dodge’s bold ‘street smart’ crossover style combined with its value. Importantly, for European buyers the Dodge comes with a diesel from launch, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine bought in from VW. It’s a good, established engine with decent performance, refinement and economy.
What does it do well?
There’s no denying that the Caliber looks good with its chunky SUV-like style standing out from the hatchback norm. Specification levels are comprehensive across the entire range, the SE models (only a small premium over the entry S trim cars) coming with air conditioning with a chilled glovebox, a fold flat passenger seat, a height adjustable driver’s seat and full length curtain airbags. All diesel models also come with ESP (Electronic Stability Program) as standard. It’s relatively inexpensive too on a like-for-like basis and unlike other newcomers Dodge comes with a reputable dealer network due to it sharing showroom space with its Jeep and Chrysler siblings. Refinement is acceptable enough in this class too.
What doesn't it do well?
There’s no denying that you pay for that value. The interior materials might be good by American standards but they’re simply not up to the European norm. Indeed, most Japanese and even some of the budget contenders in this market better the Caliber’s plastics for look and tactility. The seats aren’t particularly supportive or comfortable, and although Dodge claims excellent flexibility and storage features in reality the Caliber is no more impressive in this area than its rivals. The A-pillars can be rather obstructive (common on virtually all new cars), and visibility out the rear window isn’t brilliant either due to its shallow glass area. The driving experience is competent, though hugely underwhelming, the Caliber unable to match the polished dynamic ability of cars like the Focus, Astra and Golf. Or, for that matter, even older contenders like the Mazda 3 or Peugeot 307.
What's it like to live with?
Despite all of our reservations above the Dodge does everything you’d expect a hatchback in this class to do, albeit none exceptionally. Except, regarding its styling and pricing. It unquestionably looks good on the road and that alone will be enough for most buyers. The attractive pricing and kit also add appeal, as perhaps to some buyers will the novelty of the ‘new’ badge. It’s just a shame that it’s not as exciting to drive as it is to look at, particularly as Dodge aims to offer more power than rivals and is seeking a relatively young audience.
How green is it?
It’s not bad in its class. The 138bhp, 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine gives it decent performance, it sprinting to 60mph in 8.1 seconds, while returning a credible 46.3mpg on the official combined cycle. CO2 emissions of 161g/km are also class competitive, the VW sourced turbodiesel the choice in the range if keeping your emissions down and squeezing every last mile out of a tank of fuel is your priority.
Would we buy it?
On looks alone we’d consider it a contender in this otherwise rather dull looking class. However, as a package, even with its attractive pricing it’s difficult to place it ahead of more familiar rivals. They all offer far more appealing interior materials, are as practical and, crucially, offer a significantly better driving experience. Residual values remain a concern too, it’s quite possible what you may save on purchase you’re likely to lose when the time comes to sell it on. Had Dodge introduced the Caliber in this class a few years back it would have sat more comfortably, but tough competition here has seen virtually all manufacturers produce some fairly exceptional cars. Given the choice we’d take one of them over the Caliber.
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