2010 Dodge Caliber Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
March 1, 2010

The 2010 Dodge Caliber has room to spare for adults-but it's short on refinement, value, and safety equipment.

TheCarConnection.com has driven the 2010 Dodge Caliber to bring you this hands-on review that covers styling, performance, safety, utility, and features from on-the-road observations. TheCarConnection.com's editors also researched reviews from other sources to give you a comprehensive range of opinions from around the Web-and to help you decide which ones to trust. High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided Dodge Caliber to produce this hands-on road test.

In 2007, the Dodge Caliber debuted to replace the outgoing Neon small sedan. The 2010 Dodge Caliber is available in one body style, an aggressive-looking five-door hatchback. For the new model year, Chrysler's deleted the all-wheel-drive option, the optional turbocharged engines, and the SRT4 high-performance model. With a base price of $17,090, the Caliber competes against the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, the Kia Soul, the Mazda3, and the Subaru Impreza. The Caliber will be retired after the 2011 model year when Chrysler replaces it with a new vehicle based on products designed by Italy's Fiat Group.

The 2010 Dodge Caliber has a sporty hatchback look that seems tall and narrow from some angles, but overwrought from others. For 2010, the dashboard design and interior materials are brought up to par, with soft-touch plastics and judicious use of chrome trim.

Appearances can be deceiving, since the butch exterior you see when parked belies a tame and docile car in motion. The 2010 Caliber comes with a choice of two engines, both four-cylinders: 2.0 liters and 2.4 liters. The base SE and SXT versions have the 158-hp 2.0-liter four, while the 172-hp, 2.4-liter four is offered on the SXT and R/T. The top-of-the-line R/T performance model also gets four-wheel disc brakes and larger 18-inch wheels. Both engines can be ordered with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but it encourages the engines to rev at their noisiest, and its performance is unimpressive. The Caliber has a decent ride but doesn't handle as nimbly as most small cars, and fuel economy is middling to below-par for the class. It is rated at 23/31 mpg for the base engine and five-speed manual gearbox, and 23/29 mpg for the larger 2.4-liter and manual. The CVT automatic-a transmission that's supposed to enhance fuel economy-delivers 23/27 mpg paired with the 2-liter, but a truly disappointing 21/25 mpg with the larger engine.

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The cabin is large, with good, supportive seats that sit driver and passenger high in the front. It offers plenty of space for both people and cargo, including a large load bay and several different cubbies and storage bins.

Safety is hardly a strong point, as the 2010 Dodge Caliber stints on some standard features found in competitors. Anti-lock brakes are optional on the Caliber SE and SXT, and side-seat bags are an extra-cost option available only on the SXT and R/T. It doesn't offer electronic stability control either. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Caliber five stars, its highest rating, for front and side-impact protection. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls the Caliber "marginal," its second-worst rating, for its performance in side-impact testing.

The 2010 Dodge Caliber can make a good first impression with interior features, especially for some of its clever options. Standard features on the base SE model include roll-up windows, cloth seats, an AM/FM/CD player, and 15-inch steel wheels with plastic covers. Almost all the good stuff is an option on the Caliber. There are better sound systems available on order, with Sirius, navigation, and USB connectivity built in; an optional set of rear-facing speakers that drop down from the tailgate for outdoor parties; and an optional beverage cooler between the seats, along with a "Chill Zone" glove box and cooling cup holders. The Caliber can be trimmed in leather and offers available heated seats, too. With many of these options, the Caliber can easily exceed the $20,000 mark-an unremarkable value, especially compared to the new Korean-built compacts like the Kia Soul.

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2010 Dodge Caliber

Styling

The 2010 Dodge Caliber is distinctive from a distance, but the new and improved interior is generic.

The bold, upright styling of the 2010 Dodge Caliber stands out on the road; it's unlikely to be mistaken for any other car, and it offers a truly American take on the hatchback. Upgraded for the 2010 model year, the interior is pleasant but far less distinctive.

Now in its fourth model year, the 2010 Dodge Caliber is available in three trims: Se, SXT, and R/T. The Los Angeles Times reviewer contends that the Caliber draws from "the bruised-knuckle machismo of the Durango and Magnum station wagon," while Car and Driver says "the look, echoed by Dodge's 'anything but cute' advertising tagline, is a purposeful departure from the Caliber's predecessor, the bug-eyed Neon." Road & Track calls the system "a two-box design a la Toyota Matrix," the now-discontinued five-door compact hatchback.

Its strong, look-at-me exterior is hard to miss, but the interior styling, new for 2010, is far less remarkable, although pleasant enough. The instrument panel, center console and storage bin, and door panel trims have been redesigned using higher-quality plastics, some of them "soft-touch." The center console now offers a padded armrest and a split lid over a larger storage bin. Cup holders are even illuminated by LED lighting, and Dodge is proud of the "bright accents" throughout the interior, including chromed surrounds for the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning vents, the shift bezel, and the instrument cluster rings. ConsumerGuide points out that the "large gauges are easy to read," and TheCarConnection.com editors note that the center console is well laid out and within easy reach.

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7

2010 Dodge Caliber

Performance

The 2010 Dodge Caliber is just adequate in most respects, with average handling and notably unimpressive fuel economy.

Dodge offers the 2010 Dodge Caliber with a pair of engine options, both with four cylinders; the smaller puts out 158 horsepower from 2.0 liters, the larger 172 horsepower from 2.4 liters. ConsumerGuide states that the Dodge Caliber SE and SXT have "a 158-hp 2.0-liter engine" and the Dodge Caliber "R/T has a 172-hp 2.4-liter"

ConsumerGuide contends that "Calibers are adequate at best," as "a manual-transmission SE did 9.8 seconds 0-60 mph in our test."

There are two transmissions options to go, along with the pair of engine choices on the 2010 Dodge Caliber. Car and Driver reviewers say that SE and SXT models "come standard" with a five-speed manual, and "a continuously variable transmission is optional." A five-speed manual is also standard on the Dodge Caliber R/T. Reviews of the manual are inoffensive-though 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."

Fuel economy is one of the main reasons for buying small hatchbacks and compact sedans, but the 2010 Dodge Caliber is thirsty for its segment. The official EPA estimates for the Caliber are that the 2.0-liter returns 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway when fitted with the five-speed manual transmission, with highway mileage falling to 27 mpg if you opt for the CVT. With the larger 2.4-liter engine, the five-speed model achieves 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway, and the CVT gets an unimpressive 21 mpg city/25 mpg highway.

Handling prowess is weak. The heavy steering takes a lot of muscle to maneuver, and ConsumerGuide reports that 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." Motor Trend chimes in, agreeing that "the ride quality is loud and flinty." On the other hand, braking is a strong suit.

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2010 Dodge Caliber

Comfort & Quality

Cargo space remains impressive for this category, but otherwise the 2010 Dodge Caliber is average at best, trailing the pack at worst.

The interior space of the 2010 Dodge Caliber is a strong suit, along with its comfortable seats, but materials are middle-of-the-road, and build quality and long-term reliability remain suspect.

Cars.com describes the Dodge Caliber as a "five-seat, four-door hatchback," and while most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com describe it as a compact car, the interior is quite spacious and, at least in the front, comfortable. Up front, Car and Driver says "the seating position is high," a notable plus, and ConsumerGuide measures "ample headroom and legroom." In the rear, it's not quite as good: Edmunds reports that, although the seating capacity is five, "putting three adults in back will likely result in grumbles about lack of comfort for the center passenger." Unfortunately, "the cloth seats lack a lumbar adjuster, and thus are short on lower-back support."

Cargo storage is a major plus, with many reviewers citing this as one of the 2010 Caliber's strongest attributes. ConsumerGuide says 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." Cargo capacity is a plus in the Dodge Caliber, with rear seats that fold down 60/40 to provide 48.0 cubic feet of stowage space. Interior storage is aided by "cubbies all over," according to reviewers at The Auto Channel, and Edmunds just calls the Caliber "pleasantly roomy and functional."

Overall space and a comfortable cabin rank as pluses for the 2010 Dodge Caliber, but they are likely outweighed by chronically poor build quality. Most Chrysler vehicles rate average or below average in long-term reliability.

The 2008 version of the Dodge Caliber was known for being quite unrefined and noisy, so for 2009 Dodge installed several new layers of sound insulation. The results, however, aren't that impressive; Motor Trend describes the Dodge Caliber as "coarse and crude," and Car and Driver simply notes that "the engine is buzzy." ConsumerGuide too reports "mediocre suppression of road noise." For 2010, the dashboard and console have been redesigned with better-quality plastics, addressing some of the more scathing comments aimed at prior model years of the Dodge Caliber.

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2010 Dodge Caliber

Safety

Safety features remain a low priority on the list of equipment that comes standard on the low-cost 2010 Dodge Caliber.

The 2010 Dodge Caliber looks pretty fierce, but it's little more than a paper tiger in some safety tests.

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have tested the Dodge Caliber. Their results differ in some important areas, however. The Caliber earns the highest possible rating, five stars, in every single NHTSA crash category. The IIHS, however, gives the Caliber top honors for its front impact protection, but no praise at all for its side impact protection-for which it awards the Dodge Caliber a rating of Marginal, or second-worst. That rank reflects the Caliber's poor record of safety in crashes when it is not equipped with side-impact airbags, which are offered only as an extra-cost option. "Measures taken from the dummy indicate that rib fractures and/or internal organ injuries would be likely," says the IIHS in deeming the Caliber's safety only marginal.

Most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are negative on the topic of safety features offered on the 2010 Dodge Caliber. While the right collection of features is available, many are not standard. To start, anti-lock brakes are optional with the manual transmission in the SE and SXT. Car and Driver says that "front, curtain, and driver's-side knee airbags are standard," and Cars.com adds that "an electronic stability system and traction control are optional on most models."

As for driver visibility-an important but sometimes overlooked facet of overall safety-the 2010 Dodge Caliber racks up more demerits. ConsumerGuide is the most critical of all reviews, saying that "outward visibility to all directions is restricted by thick roof pillars, especially to the rear corners."


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2010 Dodge Caliber

Features

The 2010 Dodge Caliber is available with a wealth of features in an array of combinations, but most of them will cost you.

With drivers spending more of each day in their cars, Dodge pushes to appeal to the growing number of owners who prioritize in-car features above other purchasing criteria. So the 2010 Dodge Caliber is packed with various exclusive, though occasionally impractical, features.

The base Dodge Caliber is understandably the least well equipped of the range. All 2010 Dodge Caliber models come with a "tilt steering wheel ... AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, outside-temperature indicator," and "rear defogger," according to ConsumerGuide. Cars.com also notes that "standard illuminated cupholder rings" are included on the Dodge Caliber.

Moving up the trim levels, Edmunds states that the Dodge Caliber SXT comes with "17-inch wheels, keyless entry, cruise control," and a "115-volt outlet."

An $1,130 Sport Appearance Package on the SXT includes steering-wheel mounted audio controls, a soft tonneau cover, a popular-equipment group package along with special interior trim, a Boston Acoustics AM/FM radio with in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer and nine speakers-including two that swing down from the liftgate for those impromptu parking-lot parties-and fog lamps.

ConsumerGuide reports that the Dodge Caliber R/T ups the ante with "heated front seats" and "leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls." It also features 18-inch wheels that are unique to the R/T. Both the Dodge Caliber SXT and R/T also get a fold-flat front passenger seat and remote keyless entry.

The lengthy options list for the 2010 Dodge Caliber holds some very desirable options, most of which are grouped into packages. For those prone to spilling in their vehicles, Dodge offers YES Essentials cloth upholstery that it says is odor, stain, and static resistant. A ChillZone cooled glove box for keeping drinks at the proper temperature is also offered, although Car and Driver reviewers deem it to be "of dubious functionality." More useful is a rechargeable LED flashlight. Also available as stand-alone options: a power sunroof and DVD entertainment system.

ConsumerGuide reports that some of the more noteworthy options packages are the Sun/Sound Group on the SXT, which includes a "Boston Acoustics AM/FM w/in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer, liftgate speakers," and a "power sunroof." Chrysler also offers a MyGIG multimedia system, but Car and Driver cautions that it "probably isn't worth the money, especially if you already have a digital audio player such as an iPod."

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Styling 7
Performance 7
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Features 9
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