2012 Dodge Caliber Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 4, 2012

The 2012 Dodge Caliber offers a good deal in terms of space, versatility, and features for the money, but you might not find much else to like.

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.

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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.

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2012 Dodge Caliber

Styling

The 2012 Dodge Caliber looks gawky and dated on the outside, but inside its chunky, upright look still has some design appeal.

At the time that the Caliber first came out, Dodge might have been at the leading edge of a new small-car styling movement; alas, the Caliber's bold, upright style never quite caught on, and that leaves the 2012 Dodge Caliber looking like an outsider today. Upgraded for the 2010 model year, the interior is pleasant but far less distinctive.

With sheetmetal that's a little overwrought, and a chunky, gawky, slab-sided look from the front or back--combined with a taller-than-typical, almost-crossover profile, the Caliber simply now has trouble fitting in with anything else on the market.

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On the inside, the look is more ordinary, with the chunky, angular look that Dodge was trying to imbue in all its products before casting its trucks outward as Ram products and softening its cars and crossovers a bit. While the Caliber's dash and door designs haven't changed much, the instrument panel, center console and storage bin, and door panel trims were resurfaces with higher-quality plastics--some of them soft-touch--back in 2010. 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. We'd hardly call the Caliber top-notch inside, but it's pretty well coordinated.
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2012 Dodge Caliber

Performance

The 2012 Dodge Caliber performs just adequately--and the CVT automatics give this small car a sluggish character.

In the 2012 Caliber, you have a choice between two adequate but noisy four-cylinder engines. 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; on either, you have a choice between a five-speed manual gearbox or 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. Both engines rev too slowly with the CVT to ever feel particularly responsive--and gas mileage is particularly low compared to all other small cars.

With tighter steering the Caliber still doesn't have the reflexes of a Golf, but does have decent ride quality. Steering isn't bad, but the Caliber tends to ride somewhat stiffly and bound over bumps, interfering with your ability to zoom through corners quickly on anything but perfect pavement.

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2012 Dodge Caliber

Comfort & Quality

Cargo space remains the operative word. Otherwise the Caliber is average at best for comfort.

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 in the 2012 Dodge Caliber, 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--which makes it particularly good for cargo--while relative to smaller crossovers with the same footprint the Caliber doesn't have quite as much interior space. 

Nevertheless, fold the 60/40 rear seatbacks forward and you'll find 48 cubic feet of stowage space. There are plenty of cubbies for smaller items, and the back seats are actually quite decent for space compared to other small cars. Materials, while improved somewhat a couple of years ago, remain middle-of-the-road, with a hollow feel pervading the dash and doors.

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Ride quality is acceptable, although there's a fair amount of ride noise (and suspension noise) over coarser or bumpier road surfaces--not to mention the noise from the engine.
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2012 Dodge Caliber

Safety

In safety, the 2012 Dodge Caliber lags behind most other cars in its class.

There's not all that much good news about safety for the 2012 Dodge Caliber, even though its list of safety equipment is pretty typical.

The Caliber earns just three stars (out of five) in side impact from the federal government, with an overall score of three stars, and in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests it's earned only an 'acceptable' rating for roof strength and a 'marginal' score in side impact.

Also, we recommend that you take a look back during the test drive. Thick roof pillars can make outward visibility difficult for some drivers.

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2012 Dodge Caliber

Features

The 2012 Dodge Caliber is a well-equipped compact car with a strong list of features and options.

The 2012 Dodge Caliber falls short of a number of fresher small-car models in many ways, but its feature set isn't one of them; the Caliber has a set of options that brings possibilities not always found among budget entries, and several innovative features set it apart. 

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 has been somewhat whittled-down--in what might end up being the Caliber's last model year--but one of the standouts remains an available navigation system with real-time traffic and travel information. Bluetooth (UConnect) is available in much of the model line.

The ChillZone cooled glove box for keeping drinks at the proper temperature was innovative in this class when the Caliber was introduced, and it remains so today.

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2012 Dodge Caliber

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Dodge Caliber is much thirstier than other small cars, and you'll need to pony up quite a bit more for fuel.

Compared to most other compact cars, the 2012 Dodge Caliber has EPA fuel economy ratings that might be called dismal. Ranging from 22 to 24 in the city and 27 to 32 on the highway, they're lower than those of many mid-size sedans; you could do better with a number of taller, heavier compact crossovers as well.

In short, the Caliber just isn't very green, especially when you compare it to other cars its size. Stay tuned, though, as the 2013 Dodge Dart that's due to replace it will likely do much better.

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6.4
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 6
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 5
Features 9
Fuel Economy 7
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