2011 Dodge Caliber First Look

A Compact Hatch of Questionable Value

2011 Dodge Caliber Front Three Quarters In Motion

The 2011 Dodge Caliber compact five-door hatchback essentially functions as a placeholder for Chrysler as the brand prepares a better quality small car replacement from new owner Fiat. The Caliber replaced the Dodge Neon sedan and coupe years ago with one bodystyle: a five-door hatchback. Despite Dodge's changes to the Caliber for the 2011 model year, the resulting car is one that still falls behind the competition unless you find one with thousands of dollars in incentives on the hood.

Built on the same platform as the Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass, the 2011 Caliber is offered in front-wheel drive only with 2.0- and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines. A base model using a five-speed manual transmission carries a price of just under $18,000. Add features like leather seats, 18-inch wheels, and a navigation system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and the MSRP can rise to as much as $24,500, before negotiations begin. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 158 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 141 pound-feet of torque at 5000. Fuel economy is a respectable but far from class-leading 24/32 mpg city/highway with the five-speed manual transmission but only 23/27 mpg with the CVT.

Opt for the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and you'll get 172 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 165 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. The high-performance turbocharged Dodge Caliber SRT4 is no longer made. Fuel economy with the 2.4-liter I-4 is 22/27 mpg with the CVT and 23/29 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission. Towing capacity on the Caliber with the upsized four-cylinder engine is as much as 2000 pounds.

The Caliber has not aged well. When Automobile magazine tested a 2010 model, one editor commented that it would be difficult to find a compact vehicle that is not better than the Caliber. Numb steering and slow acceleration on the 2.4-liter four-cylinder model were additional complaints made, though one editor noted that the Caliber's high ride height gives the driver a decent view over traffic. It's worth mentioning that Dodge has retuned the steering for the 2011 model. The chunky styling is also reminiscent of an SUV, though the Caliber is cheaper than many compact crossover SUVs. Clumsy suspension responses were also mentioned.

"The Dodge Caliber isn't a terrible car, just as long as you get one close to base price," Automobile magazine said in the review. "Paying anything more than $20,000 for one should be illegal."

Cargo space is one area in which the 2011 Caliber -- regardless of engine or transmission choice -- is competitive with other compact and inexpensive five-door hatchbacks. With the rear seats in place, the Caliber can swallow 18.4 cubic feet of stuff. Fold down those rear seats and the storage area expands to 47.4 cubic feet. For comparison, a Toyota Matrix can carry 19.8 cubic-feet of goods with the rear seats up and 49.4 cubic feet with the rear seats down.

When it comes to safety, the 2011 Dodge Caliber only performs adequately. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found the Caliber to be "good" in its frontal impact test and "marginal" in the side impact test. Results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the now more stringent safety tests for the 2011 model year weren't much better. The NHTSA said the 2011 Caliber qualifies for a three-star overall rating (out of a possible five stars), with a four-star frontal and rollover rating, plus a three-star side test rating.

Besides the retuned steering with a more direct and precise feel, Dodge has also introduced six new colors for the 2011 model year Caliber like Redline 2 Pearl Coat, Mango Tango Pearl Coat, Blackberry Pearl Coat, Dark Charcoal Pearl Coat, Bright White Clear Coat, and Tungsten Metallic Pearl Coat. A more up-to-date navigation system is new, as is red and blue accent stitching to leather seats on the Rush trim. Also, a six-way power seat becomes standard equipment on the Mainstreet model.

A standard power seat and new set of colors can't disguise the fact that the Caliber is simply outclassed by its competition. The Caliber shouldn't be considered without lots of money in incentives.

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