With the 2008 Dodge Caliber, the automaker has proven that it can design a car that looks like a highly capable and willing sport wagon. In base versions, though, its performance is forgettable.
The 2008 Dodge Caliber is offered with a "wide range of engines" that Edmunds lists as a "1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 148 hp and 125 pound-feet of torque" on the SE and SXT, while "a 2.0-liter engine is an optional upgrade" that ups it to "158 hp and 141 lb-ft of torque." Regarding the Dodge Caliber R/T, Edmunds reports that "a 2.4-liter engine good for 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque" is standard, and on the top-end Dodge Caliber SRT4, drivers will find a "2.4-liter turbocharged engine good for 285 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque." The numbers on the higher-output engines might sound impressive, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that all four engines are rather sluggish. With the tiny 1.8-liter engine on the Dodge Caliber SE, The Auto Channel says that the Caliber is "woefully underpowered" given its "3,000-pound" curb weight; "it's also noisy," they note. Edmunds states that "acceleration is unimpressive, whether you stick with the base 1.8-liter or ante up for the 2.4-liter in the R/T model"; furthermore, "all of the engines have an unrefined power delivery." The one bright, or perhaps less dull, spot in the Dodge Caliber lineup is the SRT4, which offers a turbocharged engine, but Edmunds reports that "excessive curb weight and abundance of torque steer" is enough to offset this performance enhancement. In terms of acceleration times, Car and Driver predicts "60 mph in six seconds or so" on the SRT4, with the times increasing dramatically for the less powerful engines.
The 2008 Dodge Caliber is available with several different transmissions and two drive types. Edmunds says that most Dodge Calibers are front-drive, but the R/T trim is "the only Caliber available with all-wheel drive." In terms of transmissions, Edmunds reports that "the 1.8-liter engine comes paired to a five-speed manual only," while "both 2.0-liter engine and R/T AWD models come standard with a CVT" and "with the SRT4, you get a six-speed manual transmission." Opinions of the manuals are mixed, but most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com disapprove of the CVT. On the Dodge Caliber SRT4, "the manual transmission...isn't particularly slick-shifting, because it requires a good nudge to move the shifter from gear to gear," according to Cars.com, which nonetheless notes that it is "positioned high on the dash and it falls easily to hand." Car and Driver proclaims the SRT4's transmission is "way better than the manual tranny offered in base Calibers," though that's not saying much. The Auto Channel contends that the five-speed on the base Dodge Caliber SE "[isn't] the best either," and "fifth gears was only for highway cruising...while third was best if you wanted any kind of performance." When it comes to the CVT, Mother Proof reviewers slam Dodge's transmission for the fact that "the rpm rev without getting much reaction in the form of increased speed."
One of the purported benefits of both a small car and a CVT are increased fuel economy, but that's not necessarily the case on the 2008 Dodge Caliber. The official EPA estimates range from 24 mpg city and 29 mpg highway with the 1.8-liter engine down to 21 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the AWD Dodge Caliber. In between, the SRT4 gets 23 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, while the 2.0-liter with CVT gets 23/27 mpg, and the 2.4 with CVT gets 21/25 mpg. During their road test, The Auto Channel "averaged 26 mpg" in a Dodge Caliber SE, which is about in line with the EPA estimates.
The 2008 Dodge Caliber doesn't earn high handling marks by any stretch of the imagination, even in SRT4 trim. Cars.com writes that the "SRT4's street moves are just OK," thanks to "the steering system's lack of road feel." On the more comfortably tuned Dodge Caliber R/T, Road & Track reports "handling is tidy and benign, with lots of warning before terminal understeer sets up camp." Fortunately, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the ride quality is acceptable, and Edmunds says "Dodge's wagon has a smooth ride quality on city streets but rarely generates much excitement for the driver, even in R/T trim." Braking is a strong suit on the performance edition, with Cars.com noting that the "SRT4 also features larger brake discs and two-piston front calipers...[which] give the car a performance-oriented feel with firm pedal feel, linear response and powerful stopping."