Performance » 7
PERFORMANCE | 7 out of 10
Like its powertrain, the SRT4's street moves are just OK
2009 Dodge Caliber loses its all-wheel-drive model
The Caliber is no sports car
The 2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4 has everything to suggest a fun ride—bold looks, a 285-horsepower turbocharged engine, and sport-tuned suspension—but the reality isn't nearly as exciting as those numbers would suggest. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the driving experience only becomes less engaging on lower trims.
Dodge offers the 2009 Dodge Caliber with three different engine options, all of which are four cylinders. ConsumerGuide states that the Dodge Caliber "SE and SXT have a 148-hp 1.8-liter engine when equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission," although that grows to "a 158-hp 2.0-liter engine when equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT)." They go on to say that the Dodge Caliber "R/T has a 172-hp 2.4-liter," and the top-of-the-line "SRT4 gets a turbocharged 285-hp [2.4-liter engine]." When it comes to performance, ConsumerGuide contends that "non-SRT4 Calibers are adequate at best," as "a manual-transmission SE did 9.8 seconds 0-60 mph in our test." The Dodge Caliber SRT4 has plenty of power, according to MyRide.com, but "where it struggles is getting that power to the ground. If you've ever heard the term 'torque steer' and wondered what it was, test drive a Caliber SRT4 and you'll get a quick lesson." Car and Driver is similarly unimpressed, noting that the Caliber SRT4 "suffers from the same lack of refinement as its brethren, and there's little joy to be found behind the wheel."
There are three available transmissions to go along with the three engine choices on the 2009 Dodge Caliber. Car and Driver reviewers say that SE and SXT models "come standard with a 1.8-liter mated to a five-speed manual; a 2.0-liter with a continuously variable transmission is optional." A five-speed manual is also standard on the Dodge Caliber R/T, while Cars.com reports that "the only transmission offered [on the SRT4] is a six-speed manual." Reviews of the manuals are inoffensive—MyRide.com comments the "transmission rows through the gears easily and they are nicely matched to the engine" of the SRT4, while Motor Trend claims that "the pedals are well positioned for heel-and-toe footwork." ConsumerGuide warns that the five-speed suffers from "slightly notchy shift action, but overall it works well enough." As for the CVT, ConsumerGuide notes that "throttle response is good around town but lackluster at highway speeds."
Most small hatchbacks and sedans emphasize fuel economy, but the Dodge Caliber is surprisingly thirsty for this segment. The official EPA estimates for the 2009 Dodge Caliber are that five-speed SE and SXT models will get 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, while the CVT drops those numbers to 23 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. The 2.4-liter Dodge Caliber R/T gets 23 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway, and the powerful Dodge Caliber SRT4 returns 19 mpg city and 27 mpg on the highway.
Despite its squat appearance and sporty intentions, the 2009 Dodge Caliber fails to earn high marks for its handling prowess. MyRide.com says that their testers had to "fight to respond to what the road" was telling them, as the heavy feeling of the steering required significant muscle power in order to maneuver the Dodge Caliber. Motor Trend adds that "the stiff-legged suspenders sent the SRT4 bounding into the air in places where the WRX and GTI stayed nicely planted, and the ride quality is loud and flinty." ConsumerGuide seconds that, reporting the Dodge Caliber "SE is busy with poor bump absorption," while the SXT "is more compliant overall but still a bit jittery over broken pavement." Braking performance is, however, a strong suit, and MyRide.com reviewers rave that "braking is spot on, bringing all 3,189 lbs. to a halt quickly and sure-footedly."
The 2009 Dodge Caliber is just adequate in most respects, while the aggressive SRT4 fails to wow.