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The Dodge Caliber hatchback has been on sale since the 2007 model year, but it almost seems like longer. That's because this four-door hatchback never managed to hit the market sweet spot for which it had been programmed. The Caliber was originally positioned as a car with some of the utility of a crossover vehicle--and a space-efficient interior design plus some innovative features--but its cheap-feeling interior materials, noisy cabin, sluggish CVT performance, and lackluster gas mileage were all letdowns that were hard to look past.
Now the Caliber is (marginally) a better car than it was when first launched. For 2012, it continues virtually unchanged, but a few model years ago it received some modest trim upgrades, revised steering, and some much-needed additional sound insulation. However with respect to styling and design, the Caliber never quite fit in, with sheetmetal that's a little more overwrought and slab-sided and an upright, overtly boxy interior look.With its large cabin, supportive seats and large hatchback opening, flexibility and passenger space are the Caliber's strengths. There's plenty of headroom front and back, though the front seats themselves aren't all that comfortable. And really whether you consider the Caliber downright roomy or not is a little relative. Compared to most other hatchbacks, the Caliber is tall and chunky, while relative to smaller crossovers with the same footprint the Caliber doesn't have quite as much interior space.
The Caliber remains offered with adequate but noisy four-cylinder engines. The base versions work it out with a 158-hp 2.0-liter four; a 172-hp, 2.4-liter four can be found on pricier versions. Both engines can be ordered with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). If you can go with the manual, do it, as with the CVT these engines feel considerably more sluggish while also coarser in character. With tighter steering the Caliber still doesn't have the reflexes of a Golf, but does have decent ride quality.
Especially frugal-minded small-car shoppers might think they're getting a lot more space and car for the money without many other sacrifices, but there is one especially big letdown: gas mileage. The Caliber is thirstier than most mid-size sedans--at best 23/31 mpg, but a truly disappointing 21/25 mpg with the larger engine. Safety lags compared to most other cars in this class; the Caliber earns just three stars (out of five) in side impact from the federal government, with an overall score of three stars, and it's earned only an 'acceptable' rating for roof strength and a 'marginal' score in side impact. Safety equipment, otherwise, is about typical for the class.
Features continue to be the other strong point for the Caliber, though. Even the base Caliber SE includes keyless entry, air conditioning, power heated mirrors, full power accessories, and cruise control, plus a ChillZone cooled compartment. SXT models add an upgraded suspension; rear disc brakes; larger wheels; a removable, rechargeable flashlight; XM satellite radio; fog lamps; and a split-folding backseat. A sport suspension, Auto Stick, and larger 18-inch wheels come with the SXT Plus package. The options list is somewhat whittled-down, but one of the standouts remains an available navigation system with real-time traffic and travel information.