Overall, the 2011 Dodge Caliber does have many of the makings of a decent family vehicle—including a high utility hatchback design, well-designed seating, some innovative features, and a relatively low price—and that earns it a 6 out of 10, despite a number of issues including cabin noise, subpar materials, and unimpressive safety scores.
The Caliber is a little chunkier than most hatchbacks, yet too low to really be called a crossover—and to further complicate things, it shares its underpinnings with the Jeep Compass crossover.
Flexibility, versatility, and utility are what the Caliber does well. Its interior design is actually quite well done, with seats that fold forward easily, plenty of storage cubbies for smaller items, good front seats, and enough space in back for a couple of extra adults to catch a ride across town. Ride quality is pretty good, too, but road noise isn't well masked. Also, take a closer look at any of the interior appointments—or give them a knock with your knuckles—and you're bound for disappointment, even though Chrysler has made some efforts to improve them in recent years.
All the basics are covered with respect to the Caliber's performance; both the 158-hp, 2.0-liter or 172-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines move this compact quickly enough, but performance is unimpressive overall compared to most other vehicles of its size (and price). If you like a manual gearbox, we recommend it; many Calibers on the lot will have the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which brings out more engine noise. Gas mileage is puzzlingly low throughout the lineup, with the base engine and five-speed manual barely breaking 30 mpg on the highway (31) and the larger engine getting 21/25 mpg.
Even though the Caliber's design is dated, it's still close to the leading edge in features—including some innovative ones like the ChillZone cooled glove box and a rechargeable flashlight that clips into the hatch. The top SXT trim even includes a 115-volt outlet. A DVD entertainment system, upgraded audio with liftgate speakers, and hard-drive audio storage are also available, and new this year is a navigation system with real-time traffic and travel info.