2009 Dodge Caliber Review

Consumer Reviews
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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 8, 2009

The Caliber has a very practical layout and truly innovative features to get excited about, but it's lacking in driving enjoyment or refinement—even compared to its low-priced competition.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com have driven the 2009 Dodge Caliber and offer their expert opinions on how the Caliber compares to other vehicles. TheCarConnection.com has also researched the latest reviews on the Dodge Caliber in order to publish this conclusive report.

The Dodge Caliber arrived in 2007 as Dodge's replacement for the Neon compact sedan. The Dodge Caliber is available exclusively as a rather sleek five-door hatchback, though it comes in three different models, each featuring a different engine; 1.8-, 2.0-, and 2.4-liter four-cylinders are available on the 2009 Dodge Caliber lineup. While the Dodge Caliber previously offered an especially fuel-sucking all-wheel-drive R/T trim, that option has been discontinued for 2009. The top-end Dodge Caliber SRT4 packs a 285-horsepower, 2.4-liter turbocharged engine under the hood and includes a bevy of high-performance equipment and styling changes.

Most shoppers will have a positive initial impression of the Dodge Caliber, which is understandable considering it is packed with clever features, such as a beverage cooler, an easy-clean cargo floor, and a setup that includes rear-facing speakers for tailgating. Its cabin is also comfortable, featuring supportive seats and a surprisingly large interior that affords space for passengers and cargo alike. Unfortunately, a closer inspection of the interior reveals questionable materials, including rough plastics and poor finish throughout.

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Despite its aggressive appearance, the Dodge Caliber is decidedly docile on the road. An available continuously variable transmission (CVT) for the 2.0- and 2.4-liter engines is underpowered and noisy with either engine, while overall handling performance is disappointing. The SRT-4 isn't as comfortable or as fun to drive as its 285 hp might suggest, due to a hard, unforgiving suspension that's out of place on rough roads. Fuel economy isn't what you might hope for a small car, with the SRT4 getting as little as 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. TheCarConnection.com has seen figures in the low 20s in SXT and R/T models.

The Dodge Caliber certainly isn't atop the heap when it comes to safety either, as it fails to offer all of the standard features that some competitors do. For example, while anti-lock brakes and side curtain airbags are standard, side impact airbags will cost you extra. NHTSA does rate the Caliber a perfect five stars for both front- and side-impact crash protection, yet the IIHS only awards the Caliber a second-worst rating of "marginal" in side impact tests.

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2009 Dodge Caliber

Styling

The 2009 Dodge Caliber looks good from the outside, but the interior styling is disappointing.

The 2009 Dodge Caliber, with its blocky, upright styling, stands out as a truly American, SUV-esque take on the traditional hatchback. The interior, however, could use a little European refinement or Japanese quality control.

The 2009 Dodge Caliber is the third model year for Dodge's small car, and once again it is available in four trims. Edmunds reports that "SE, SXT, R/T and SRT4" versions of the Dodge Caliber are on dealer lots, and there won't be any mistaking the SE for the SRT4. Car and Driver says Dodge's tagline--"anything but cute"--is put into effect on the Caliber compared to its predecessor, the cutsy Neon. Road & Track compares it to the more low-slung Toyora Matrix, while The Los Angeles Times contends it borrows some masculinity from the larger Durango SUV and Magnum wagon. The Dodge Caliber SRT4 is even more impressive, as Cars.com remarks that it "has been turned into a serious-looking muscle machine, carrying itself with a swagger that even some of the bigger SRT models, like the 300C SRT8, would be hard-pressed to match." For those looking for even more visual effect, Edmunds asserts "available 18- and 19-inch wheels only add to the Caliber's swagger."

The 2009 Dodge Caliber boasts a strong, attention-getting exterior, but the interior styling isn't quite as catchy. Cars.com says the interior "loses points for its lack of uniform graining on the dash plastic and unremarkable fit-and-finish," while also noting that "one SRT-specific cue is a turbo-boost gauge on the left side of the steering wheel that looks pretty cool, but it isn't optimally positioned." ConsumerGuide reports that "the transmission shifter can partially block access to the climate dials," but some aspects of the layout deserve mention. ConsumerGuide points out the Caliber houses easy-to-read gauges, and MyRide.com remarks its interior has a well laid out center console that places everything within easy reach of the driver.

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2009 Dodge Caliber

Performance

The 2009 Dodge Caliber is just adequate in most respects, while the aggressive SRT4 fails to wow.

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."

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2009 Dodge Caliber

Comfort & Quality

Cargo space is impressive for this category, but otherwise the 2009 Dodge Caliber falls well behind the pack.

The 2009 Dodge Caliber is spacious enough to be comfortable, and the seats are adequate, but materials and build quality are on the extremely low end of the spectrum.

The Caliber might wear the face of a small SUV, but it's certainly a four-door hatchback with five seats, describes Cars.com. Still, TheCarConnection.com's reviewers find the interior is quite roomy considering its compact classification. Edmunds reviewers report the Caliber's rear seat will induce grumbling from adult passengers if they're sat three abreast. And even though ConsumerGuide notes generous head and legroom up front, Car and Driver is quick to point out the Caliber's high seating position. But those who need lumbar adjustment are likely out of luck when it comes to the Caliber, as ConsumerGuide notes cloth seats on non-SRT models don't offer it. MyRide.com observes that "the front seats that come standard are comfortable, but far from plush," while the "rear seat is a bench and leg room is somewhat cramped, trailing most competitors."

The Dodge Caliber makes efficient use of its available interior space when it comes to cargo storage, as many reviewers list this as one of the Caliber's stronger attributes. MyRide.com says "cargo capacity is one of the Caliber's big advantages," and notes the rear seats fold down 60/40 to reveal 48.0 cubic feet of cargo room." ConsumerGuide also observes that the "cargo area is larger than that of a typical hatchback" and the Caliber's "removable plastic load floor is easy to clean, but [it] allows objects to slide around." Edmunds simply calls the 2009 Dodge Caliber "pleasantly roomy and functional." Interior storage is aided by "cubbies all over," according to reviewers at The Auto Channel.

The 2009 Dodge Caliber has some redeeming qualities in terms of cabin comfort and overall space, but these are more than mitigated by the poor overall build quality. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that the Dodge Caliber has major quality problems, as Edmunds reports the Caliber's interior "lacking in terms of materials and construction." ConsumerGuide is a bit more direct, noting that "low-rent hard plastics cover most parts of the Caliber's cabin," and although the "SRT4 has a slightly dressier cabin with better detail work than other Calibers... it still significantly trails the MazdaSpeed3 and Volkswagen GTI." Car and Driver asserts "the plastic is cheaper than that of most toys," while ConsumerGuide speaks to the build quality by pointing out that "the colors of the plastic panels weren't uniform" on one of their test Dodge Calibers, "further cheapening the interior appearance."

Dodge listened to complaints regarding noise and a general lack of refinement experienced in last year's Caliber, so it installed new layers of sound deadening material. Unfortunately for Dodge and would-be buyers, ConsumerGuide says the result isn't impressive, reporting road noise isolation is still mediocre. Motor Trend and Car and Driver note the Caliber's coarse and crude nature is teamed with a buzzy engine.

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2009 Dodge Caliber

Safety

Safety features didn't get much priority on the equipment list of the low-cost 2009 Dodge Caliber.

The 2009 Dodge Caliber looks pretty fierce, but some safety tests show that it's more of a paper tiger.

The Dodge Caliber has been tested by both NHTSA and the IIHS, although the results show some marked differences. In NHTSA tests, the Caliber earned the highest possible safety rating, five stars, in every single crash category. The IIHS also bestowed top honors on the Dodge Caliber for front impact protection, but offered a starkly different assessment of side impact protection. In the side impact category, the IIHS awarded the Dodge Caliber a second-worst Marginal rating, reflecting the poor safety record of the Caliber when not equipped with side-impact airbags. The IIHS cited the fact that "measures taken from the dummy indicate that rib fractures and/or internal organ injuries would be likely" as their justification for the rating.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are wholly negative when it comes to the safety features available on the 2009 Dodge Caliber. The problem is not that certain features aren't available, but rather that they're not standard in a lot of cases. To begin, Car and Driver says that "front, curtain, and driver's-side knee airbags are standard," and Cars.com adds that a "stability system is standard on the SRT4." However, MyRide.com reviewers note that antilock brakes "are optional with the manual transmission on the SE and SXT." Cars.com reports that "an electronic stability system and traction control are optional on most models," but side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional.

One oft-overlooked aspect of overall safety is driver visibility, and the 2009 Dodge Caliber doesn't escape unscathed in this category. ConsumerGuide is the most critical in their coverage of driver visibility, noting that "outward visibility to all directions is restricted by thick roof pillars, especially to the rear corners."

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2009 Dodge Caliber

Features

The 2009 Dodge Caliber is available with a wealth of features, but most of them will cost you quite a bit.

Recently, Dodge made a push to capture the growing market segment that emphasizes in-car features above most other buying criteria. To that end, Dodge packed the 2009 Dodge Caliber with a cornucopia of exclusive, though not always practical, features.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com reveal the Caliber's many many desirable features, though the base model is understandably lighter in this department. ConsumerGuide mentions all 2009 Dodge Calibers come equipped with tilt steering, MP3 audio, rear defroster, and an outside temperature display. Additionally, cupholders in the Caliber are illuminated, notes Cars.com. Edmunds states SXT models add 17-inch wheels, cruise control, keyless entry, and a 115-volt outlet over base models. Meanwhile, ConsumerGuide reports R/T trims up the ante, bringing heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel with mounted audio controls, and a six-disc AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system from Boston Acoustics with liftgate speakers. But it's the SRT4 models that pack it on with driver-seat lumbar adjustment. SXT and higher models will keep your drinks chilly with a cooled glove box, though Car and Driver questioned its "dubious functionality."

If you don't find what you're looking for as part of each trim's included equipment, Dodge offers a lengthy list of options for the 2009 Caliber. YES Essential upholstery—which Dodge claims is stain, odor, and static resistant—is available, according to MyRide.com. A much more popular option is the Caliber's Sun/Sound Group that can be equipped on SXT models. That option package brings upgraded Boston Acoustics audio with its liftgate speakers as seen on R/T models and a power sunroof, ConsumerGuide reports. The Kicker/SRT Livin' Loud Audio System package adds the same to SRT models, along with satellite radio. While Chrysler's MyGIG music storage system is available, Car and Driver advises buyers to avoid it if they already have or plan on buying an iPod or other digital audio device. Still, you can add a power sunroof or DVD entertainment as a la carte options, and that's a good thing.

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Styling 6
Performance 7
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