The Dodge Caliber, often slammed by reviewers, started out in 2007 with a starting price of $13,985. Its moment in the sun was the “Cash for Clunkers” time, when it was subsidized with a trade-in; the Caliber was one of the most popular cars under that program before supplies ran out.
A hot Caliber SRT4’s 285 horsepower easily beat the Neon SRT4, but sales did not, and it did not last long. The high-performance car cost just $22,995, with stability control, on-board performance metrics, and a brake lock differential.
The 2010 Dodge Caliber redesign hiked up the price by $4,000, but dramatically improved the interior; along the way, the suspension was retuned and the continuously variable transmission was adjusted to address criticism of the first cars, with a “fake automatic” shifter added. In 2012, the Caliber started at $18,085, but large rebates took the edge off for American and Canadian buyers. One can easily see the difference in the look of the original and second generation Calibers, just by glancing at the gauges (they were kept in the same place but restyled):
The Caliber’s wheelbase sat between the first and second generation Neons, at 103.7 inches; it was just 1.4 inches wider, though a good 4.4 inches taller (60.4 inches) than the final Neon. Ground clearance increased to seven inches; those wanting more could get a related Jeep Compass or Jeep Patriot.
Dodge Caliber had an eclectic mix of interior features, including standard side-curtain air bags, an optional flip-down speaker set in the tailgate, a self-recharging removable flashlight, and a storage bin in the glove compartment which routed the (optional) air conditioning through a bin that could hold up to four bottles or can, named “Chill Zone.”
Other features included:
In Europe, a Volkswagen diesel engine had about the same horsepower as the base gasoline engine, with more than double the torque of the base powerplant, with an EU-estimated 30 mpg city, 46 highway (thanks, Filip Norrgard). Worldwide, the Caliber used a new gasoline engine series, the “World Engine,” renamed later to “World Gas Engine.” While this engine was revised into the “Tiger Shark,” the revisions never made it to the Caliber. The 2.4 liter engine beat Volkswagen’s expensive five-cylinder Rabbit engine by 22 hp.
Technologies used in the Caliber included dual Variable Valve Timing (VVT) and intake manifold design with flow control valves.
The 1.8 liter engine was coupled to a standard Chrysler-engineered T355 five-speed manual transaxle, while the larger engines came only with the CVT which had an AutoStick® feature that allowed for manual control with the simulation of six stepped gears. CVT2 was claimed to increase fuel economy by 6-8% compared with a traditional 4-speed automatic, but critics complained that it made the car sound like an overworked sewing machine under hard acceleration. The all wheel drive setup (optional) was electromagnetically controlled, with variable torque output; the default was front wheel drive.
Caliber launched outside North America with both right- and left-hand drive models. Dodge Caliber’s shifters were packaged in the center stack instead of the floor console, which is more common in Japanese and European markets.
The Federal government gave the Caliber five-star crash test ratings for all tests, while the IIHS gave it Good ratings in all but one test.
The 2009 Dodge Caliber got the MyGIG system, with cellphone connections and 30 gigabyte hard drive, satellite traffic reports, and satellite radio as options. Engine noise was cut with added insulation and exhaust systemupgrades. Other changes included badging, colors (inside and out), larger floor mats (SXT and R/T), and body-color door handles (SXT and R/T).
Numerous package changes were made; SXT Security Group got an engine oil cooler with the 2.0 liter engine. On the SRT4, now in its final year, the new performance pages (providing 0-60 times, quarter mile reports, G-forces, and braking distances) and an EVIC became standard. MusicGate was made standard on SXT Sport, and antilock brakes became standard on SXT.
At a U.S. list price of $13,985 (including destination), the Dodge Caliber SE included a 1.8-liter engine, side-curtain air bags, radio jack, lit front cup holders, body color grille and fascias, 60/40 split-fold rear seats, tilt steering wheel, and 15-inch wheels and tires. Options included the 2.0-liter World Engine coupled with the CVT2 (which included anti-lock brakes), stereo setups, power windows, mirrors, and locks, remote keyless entry, body color liftgate appliqué, air conditioning, speed control, tow group, and MusicGate Power.
Dodge Caliber SXT added 60/40 rear seats that both folded flat and reclined, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a re-chargeable/removable interior lamp, map light, air conditioning, Chill Zone®, tachometer, power windows, mirrors and door locks, remote keyless entry, 110-volt electrical outlet in the center console, manual seat height adjuster, floor mats, bright silver IP bezels and switches. The Dodge Caliber SXT had standard black dual power mirrors, body-color body-side molding, a chromed grille, and 17-inch wheels and wheel covers.
Options beyond the SE included a leather steering wheel with radio control options, heated seats, power sunroof, fog lamps, 17-inch aluminum wheels, a Security Group (tonneau cover, alarm, and air filtration), a Driver Convenience Group (compass and temperature gauge, universal garage door opener, electrochromic mirror, and tire pressure monitor), and a Leather Interior Group (which included leather seats, heated front seats, and manual lumbar adjuster). A Sport Package on the SXT added fog lamps, 17-inch aluminum wheels, cloth seats with colored inserts, color-keyed PRNDL, and instrument panel bezels.
Caliber SE: 2966 lbs
Caliber SXT: 3039 lbs
Caliber R/T FWD: 3156 lbs
Caliber R/T AWD: 3308 lbs
The Dodge Caliber R/T with all-wheel drive used the top engine, the 2.4-liter, CVT, anti-lock brakes, AutoStick, sport suspension, performance steering, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. The Dodge Caliber R/T also had a leather wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, tonneau cover, better fabric, silver bezels on the instrument panel, and chrome interior door handles. Outside, it had a chromed grille, body-color lower fascias, body-color sill moldings, chromed body-side moldings, body-color door handles, and fog lamps.
Colors at launch were red, orange, marine and steel blue, silver, black, and white, with a two-tone interior color theme of dark and lighter shades of gray or beige — the optional Sport Appearance Package added gray with seat accents that coordinated with the exterior color.
Production of the Dodge Caliber began in early 2006 at the Belvidere, Illinois Assembly Plant, using engines built in Dundee, Michigan (except diesels).
The Caliber was similar in size to the Toyota Matrix of the same era. As with the Neon, the Caliber had a long first model year of 18 months. Dodge announced expectations of selling 370,000 Calibers in that time, but combining all Dodge Caliber sales of calendar-years 2006 and 2007, which included 2008s, Dodge sold less than 200,000 vehicles, coming in lower than the Neon. (In 1974, by comparison, the company sold 277,409 1974 Plymouth Dusters, along with 127,430 Valiants, 51,000 Scamps, a few thousand Broughams and Duster 360s, and a slew of Dodge equivalents). The Caliber did sell nearly as well as the Neon’s norm in 2007, but never hit 120,000, unless you include the Compass and Patriot. (Then one might be tempted to add the PT Cruiser to the Neon).
Overall, Caliber’s best sales year was 2007, though 2006 was close. After 2008, sales dropped off a cliff as Chrysler’s future came into doubt. Compass and Patriot recovered nicely and in fact recorded their best sales years ever, after a redesign, but Caliber was not given the same level of exterior refresh, and customers preferred the Jeeps by a large margin. Production ceased and there were no 2013 Dodge Calibers. United States sales were:
A 1:87 (HO) Caliber model was available in four colors, from Burbank’s House of Hobbies.
The Caliber was not as aerodynamic as the Neon, nor as light, with performance nowhere near as good as a stick-shift Neon. It did have more cargo and passenger space, higher safety and emissions standards, and a good diesel option for Europeans.
The CVT made gas mileage for the Caliber automatics better in some cases than the Neon automatic, though still disappointing (especially given that the Kia Optima, using a similar engine, managed to post a full 7 extra highway miles-per-gallon with a conventional automatic).
The base model had lower EPA ratings than the 1995-99 or 2004-05 Neon stick-shift models (29/38), but the difference with the automatic was not as severe. By comparison, the Toyota Corolla automatic was rated at 30 city, 38 highway with 126 hp; or 26 city, 34 highway with the 164 hp XRS and a stick.
The CVT (continuously variable transmission) used a steel push belt. It was retuned and revised during the first model year for better feel and responsiveness. CVT transmission details. Unlike an automatic transmission, there was no part-throttle downshift. The engine did not change rpm as one accelerated.
The diesel had direct high-pressure (up to 2,000 bar) fuel injection, a variable geometry turbocharger, and four valves per cylinder.
The Dodge Caliber was developed under the thumb of Daimler. Some buyers were happy with the Caliber, which fit the needs of many people, but many more turned down the hatchback form, chunky styling, and “odd-feeling” powertrain. Cerberus, on taking over, initiated a fairly extensive restyling effort; when Fiat took over, Chrysler engineers and leaders continued that work.
When the 2010 Dodge Caliber finally arrived, starting production in January 2010, the interior was mainly new, other than the positions of gauges and controls; there was a floor console with soft armrest and secondary armrest storage bin, new door trim panels with soft armrests, new shift boot (manual transmissions), new cloth, active head restraints, standard floor mats, LED cluster with chrome rings on higher models, new gauge cluster, and new wheels. Climate controls were larger and the airbag cover was seamless; bright accents added contrast and chromed accents brightened numerous controls. New door-trim panels and a center console with an armrest split-lid had padded soft-touch materials. The 1.8 was dropped, so the five-speed manual was available on the 2.0.
The CVT was given “tip start” and a moderate gas-mileage boost to 31 mpg highway. A new optic green metallic color replaced surf blue, and a new set of wheel options was brought out. All models had five star front and side crash test ratings. All power mirrors were heated; remote start was available. But the SRT4 was gone.
Export models switched to (ironically) a Mercedes diesel which had 16% more power, while cutting fuel usage by 5%.
The seat recline handle was lengthened and seat track covers improved; temperature controls were electronic (rather than using cables); and air conditioning performance was reportedly upgraded. The line dropped the “alphabet soup” of SE, SE with CPOS, SXT, SXT with CPOS, and R/T, and replaced it with Express, Mainstreet, Heat, Uptown, and Rush (this attempt was later quietly dropped). While prices did not fall in absolute terms, more features were bundled.
The 2010 Dodge Caliber Express was the base model, now with four-wheel anti-lock brakes and listing for US$17,510 (including destination). The CVT was not available on Express. It added to the old base model air conditioning, power locks, mirrors, and windows, tonneau cover, UConnect/iPod connection, AC outlet, auto-dimming rear view mirror, remote entry, and cargo shade.
The Dodge Caliber Mainstreet added 17-inch aluminum wheels, chromed crosshair grille, body-color door handles, fog lamps, folding front-passenger seat, 60/40 split-folding and reclining rear seat, touring suspension, tachometer, and CVT, for $18,690. It was similar to the SXT 24D package, with more features.
The 2010 Dodge Caliber Uptown took the Express and added the CVT, 17” aluminum wheels, fog lamps, automatic climate control, five-passenger leather seating, power six-way driver’s seat, and stereo with hard disk, MusicGate Power™ nine-speaker Boston Acoustics system, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, and two liftgate speakers. This cost $20,625.
The Dodge Caliber Heat was the Caliber Mainstreet with a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch polished-aluminum wheels, performance steering, color-keyed instrument panel and seats, B- and C-pillar blackout accents, and five-speed manual transmission, for $18,625 (including $630 destination). A CVT was optional.
The 2010 Dodge Caliber Rush replaced R/T and had the five-speed manual transmission with the 2.4-liter, a combination new to the Caliber (CVT was optional). It had the SRT4 spoiler, and features from the Heat plus the media center / speaker package from Uptown and 18” chrome aluminum wheels. This ran to $20,625.
Dodge targeted 20-something first-time new car buyers who earn a median income of $45,000 and to parents buying a car for their children, who valued safety. Outside North America, Caliber was to spearhead Dodge’s expansion into Europe and other global volume markets “as a boldly styled, affordable entry into the competitive C-segment.”
Early in the Caliber's production cycle, “Mr. Source” wrote: “Some Calibers are suffering from rattles and noises coming out from the dash, suspension, and other areas. There is problem in the welding of the "A" pillar, not easy to fix at the dealer.” An ex-Chrysler engineer responded: “I would think the issues are with the 3T spotwelds for the retention bracketry for the IP, not anything structural to the body. (3T means 3 layers of sheetmetal being spotwelded together into one assembly-the weld heat and time is critical over 2T to ensure adequate attachment.) About all the dealer can do is to use Sikaflex adhesive (something like Sika252) and possible Hucks to repair any spotwelds that are failing. Remember, this is only a guess and opinion!” (This was fixed early).
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