First some background information. I made a reservations for a compact rental car for 4 days in Seattle, WA. Upon arrival the rental company upgraded me at no charge to a larger vehicle, a Dodge Caliber Hatchback. They told me it was a 5-door hatchback SUV.
Heres what AutosMSN.com had to say about it:
Dodge Caliber Hatchback
Body Style: Hatchback
Exterior Color: Inferno Red
Interior Color: Gray
Engine: 1.8L Inline 4
Transmission: CVT AUTO
The Caliber is an all-new model from Dodge that redefines the entry-level sedan with bold styling and versatility that by most standards would define Caliber as a crossover SUV. The design features the classic 2-box proportions of an SUV, but the roof peaks just over the driver and slopes downward towards the rear hatch, giving the Caliber a much sleeker look than a typical SUV. The 5-door hatchback Caliber is expected to be the basis for a number of new cars coming from the Chrysler group over the next several years.
New for 2007
The 2007 Dodge Caliber is offered with three different engines, a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter for the SE and SXT, an optional 158-horsepower 2.0-liter, and a 172-horsepower standard engine for the R/T version. The 300-horsepower Caliber SRT4 will be offered later in the model year. Caliber will also feature Chrysler's first continuously-variable transmission (CVT), designed to increase performance as well as fuel efficiency. Another first for Caliber, offered initially on the R/T, is an electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that works on demand, driving only the front wheels until power to the rear wheels is needed, which optimizes fuel economy.
Heres the link for the above information: http://autos.msn.com/research/vip/overview.aspx?year=2007&make=Dodge&model=Caliber
Here are my own impressions gained over the four days.
It looks like a scaled down big Charger RT. But the scale doesnt quite work as well since the height versus width stance ratio cannot be maintained to its big brother. It ends up looking a little odd too high and narrow for the width.
Doors sound really tinny when shut. My first impression of just the act of getting in and closing the doors was not good. The doors sound tinny, especially if the window is down. The rear, heavy hatchback sound hollow/klunky when shut not a comforting sound.
There are lots of little nooks and crannies to store stuff in the dash and center console. Decent, deep cup holders (2) are molded into the center console. And the console lid has a nice little space for your cell phone, PDA or iPod. The AM/FM CD radio has a front panel input for your iPod.
Engine noise is very noticeable. It is not very peppy and sounds like it is struggling a bit under any kind of load. The transmission shifts are smooth but it seems rather vague - kinda like it can't make up it's mind at what gear it should be in - just for a moment. It reminds me of the old Buick Dynaflo Transmission lots of engine commotion with little accompanying results at the wheels. This, I believe, is the result of the new CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).
Shift lever is really odd - not dash or column nor console mounted. It is mounted on a 45 degree slanted transition panel between the vertical dash and the horizontal console. So, the shift lever feels odd - not a horizontal movement nor a purely vertical movement to make a shift command. And the detents are also odd - a zig zag pattern - not a straight line or linear motion.
Noise is not limited to the engine operation. Road noise is really bad. Hum and thrum of the pavement comes through really loudly. On the freeways made up of concrete with aggregate, the noise is so bad that passengers have to shout to be heard. I would love to borrow a decibel meter. I suspect that at freeway speeds on concrete pavement that it exceeds the safe levels mandated by OSHA at the workplace approaching 110 db. Our 1995 Toyota Avalon with 179K miles on it is much quieter and smoother that it makes this Dodge Caliber a joke for human comfort.
The hatch back is heavy even with the assist of the gas-operated struts. It goes up easily enough but reaching up to lower it shut is kinda difficult. There should be a strap hanging down that the operator could grab with two hands to pull it down. And, there is no tonneau cover to shield luggage and packages in the back from prying eyes.
It drives and handles rather heavily for a vehicle of this size - not light and nimble feeling - more like numb handling. The ride is a bit taut but acceptable given the short wheelbase. It has some road feel but not much. Braking seemed effective and I did test the ABS feature on a gravel stretch on the side of the road. It works well and provides controlled, with steering ability. The brake pedal does chatter a bit but not excessively when the ABS is engaged. When pushed hard into a corner, the stock tires squeal/complain really badly. And there is definite understeer even with the AWD feature. It plows around corners when pushed. This AWD is 100% engaged. It cant be turned off. Thats not a bad thing.
The gas pedal is so touchy it makes driving smoothly virtually impossible. I think it was set up so that just a touch of the pedal would bring rapid response. This is a ploy to make/give the impression of power or responsiveness. This touchy gas pedal will likely have a negative effect on good gas mileage because you cannot be smooth with it.
Getting in and out the front or back doors is not very easy. The doors are a bit small and the floor sill high and the top edge roof line is kinda low. You have to sorta crawl into your seat. This is not comfortable for an old man like me! This is the penalty of trying to keep the vehicle profile acceptably low but still have the high seating typical of SUVs. I guess this is why it might considered a cross-over vehicle.
Driver's position is comfortable but the adjustable steering wheel has a very limited up/down movement range. It's not enough to facilitate ingress or egress - purely for driving position. Vision forward is OK but the high, sloping hood means you cannot see the ends of the left/right fenders easily for judging of distance to objects youre trying to avoid. Vision out the rear is good but vision out the rear quarters are compromised by tiny little quarter panel glass.
A/C was effective and reasonably quiet except at the highest of 4 fan speeds. When put on defrost it automatically turns on the A/C for the fastest clearing of the windshield. Most modern vehicles do this, too. Fresh air ventilation was decent but only the front windows went all the way down. The rear passenger windows only went down about 2/3.
Fit and finish was not all that great. The outside edges look OK. There is a uniform clearance around the opening things doors, hood, rear lift hatchback, gas cap, etc. But, the interior was not as uniform. The dash had some minor gaps. The interior was a bit Spartan and harsh on the eyes.
Interior comfort was marginal. The drivers seat had very little lumbar support and the seat back reclining mechanism was difficult to adjust while seated in the seat. The center console armrest was too low to be comfortable and the arm rest built into the left door was a bit too high. The center console storage compartment was deep but hard to access while normally seated. The lid is too far back from the driver or passenger to get at without being a contortionist. Adjusting the heater and A/C airflow was difficult. The louvers for the pivoting up/down movement are very stiff and the wheel that directs them left and right is vague.
The left control stalk holds the headlight/parking light controls. The icons marking their function are not clear. I had to drive up to a storefront window and see in the reflection while cranking the control to see what it did! Yikes!
And there is no cruise control, even though it has remote entry, power windows and doors and power remote outside mirrors and variable speed wipers.
Other brands, especially the imports have nothing to fear from this quirky little car. It really is dreadful - nothing going for it. I couldnt wait to drop this beast off at the rental car agency.
Amount Paid (US$):
2007Model and Options:
Base entry level, 4 cyl, auto, A/C, PW, PD, CD/AM/FM