2009 Dodge Caliber Review and Prices
Its styling has attitude, its wagon body style provides reasonably utility. A few convenience features show some imagination, and available all-wheel drive is an all-season asset. Base prices are competitive, and discounts and incentives are plentiful. But there’s no such thing as a good deal on a bad car, and, sad to say, Caliber comes as close to qualifying as a bad car as any modern automobile.
The way it drives and especially the cheapness of its interior materials makes you feel you’ve paid for more than you’re getting. No good car makes you feel that way.
The Dodge Caliber is the best-looking penalty box on wheels. A bold nose, macho wheel arches, and a cool crouched roofline disguise a grating driving experience.
This affordable small wagon has its fans, however, ranking among the top third in compact-car sales and edging the full-size Charger as Dodge’s most-popular car.
2009 Dodge Caliber Changes back to top
No significant changes are expected for the 2009 Dodge Caliber. Caliber was introduced for the 2007 model year to replace the Neon as Dodge’s entry-level car. Beneath its sheet metal, Caliber has the same engineering as two recently introduced models from Jeep, the Compass compact wagon and the Patriot light-duty sport-utility vehicle. Dodge and Jeep are divisions of Chrysler LLC.
No change to the 2009 Dodge Caliber will significantly alter its performance or passenger accommodations from those of the 2008 model. Statements in this review about performance and accommodations are based on detailed test drives of the 2008 Dodge Caliber.
2009 Dodge Caliber Test Drive back to top
Driving the Dodge Caliber: Picture yourself in a boat on a river, a slow boat with an apathetic hand at the rudder.
Caliber floats and bobs down the road, with little feeling of precision in suspension or steering. Sharp corners pitch it onto the gunwales; quick stops dip its bow into the briny. Caliber won’t let bumpy pavement jar your spine, but ruts and expansion strips can send a shudder coursing through its structure. R/T and SRT4 models feel slightly more composed, but not enough to validate their upgraded suspension and wider tires.
The SRT4 is fast once you compensate for its tendency to pull to the side during quick starts, a flaw called torque steer. Calibers get progressively slower from there, leaving SXT and SE drivers frustrated when merging or passing. No Caliber engine is pleasing to the ear, no manual transmission pleasant to shift.
In lieu of a conventional automatic transmission, SE, SXT, and R/T models are available with a Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT. This dispenses with gears in favor of a rheostat-like transfer of power. The CVT enhances throttle response at higher speeds, but also emphasizes the coarseness of Caliber’s engines.
Riding in the Dodge Caliber: Caliber has congenially upright seating, great foot space, and plenty of head clearance. Yet it still manages to make you feel closed. High windowsills and a low roof supported by thick pillars conspire to create a letter-box view of the world outside.
Only the SRT4’s special sport buckets provide good support. The other models’ seats -- front and rear -- are flat and flaccid. Combined with the engines’ aural assault, Caliber provides precious little defense from wind rush or road noise.
Caliber scores for utility, though not in ways you’d expect from a wagon. Cargo volume even with the rear seatbacks folded is tighter than in some smaller hatchbacks. Instead, Caliber earns points with details like a cooled glovebox, party-ready stereo speakers that hinge down from the liftgate, and a removable cargo-bay lamp that doubles as a flashlight. The big center console has a built-in cradle for cell phone or iPod. And the front cupholders have electroluminescent rings to create a nighttime target for that can of Rockstar.
Dodge Caliber dashboard and controls: Mostly rational describes the dashboard layout. The SRT4, however, mounts its tachometer front and center in the gauge pod, relegating the speedometer to the margin, where it’s hard to read. Controls are large and clearly marked, but easy access to the climate system dials depends on the position of the transmission shift lever.
2009 Dodge Caliber Prices back to top
To achieve a starting price some $2,000 or more below its top competition, Caliber has to begin with a stripper model, and the SE is pretty much that. This is among the few vehicles on sale in the U.S. that doesn’t come with power windows or air conditioning.
Starting around $16,700, the SXT model closes the gap with Caliber’s main rivals. It adds basics the SE leaves off, plus cruise control, driver-seat height adjustment, remote keyless entry and bigger tires with alloy wheels. R/T versions add the 172-horsepower engine, extra safety and sport equipment, and such niceties as heated front seats. Base price is around $18,500 with front-wheel drive, $20,600 with all-wheel drive.
The SRT4 starts around $22,500 and builds on the R/T with the turbo engine six-speed instead of a five-speed manual transmission, 19-inch alloys instead of 18s, uprated brakes, suspension, and sound system, plus the aforementioned sport seats.
Opting for the CVT adds almost $1,200 to the price of an SE, SXT, or front-drive R/T. That price does include ABS for SE and SXT models (adding ABS to a manual-transmission SE or SXT costs about $400). The CVT is standard on the all-wheel drive R/T and unavailable on the SRT4.
2009 Dodge Caliber Fuel Economy back to top
Caliber isn’t exactly a fuel-sipping economy car. Over the long run, manual-transmission models should average around 21 mpg in mixed city-and-highway driving, regardless of engine. EPA estimates predict CVT-equipped Calibers will get lower fuel economy than manual-transmission versions, but the Continuously Variable Transmission proves quite efficient in real-world driving. CVT-equipped Calibers likely will return 23-25 mpg overall. Dodge recommends premium-grade fuel for the SRT4 model. Others Calibers run on less-costly regular.
2009 Dodge Caliber Safety and Reliability back to top
Head-protecting curtain side airbags and a drivers’ knee airbag are standard. The R/T and SRT4 models have four-wheel disc brakes with antilock control. SE and SXT buyers must pay extra for the added safety of antilock brakes (ABS), and even then they get less-efficient rear drum brakes.
Caliber posts outstanding results in government crash tests. It rates five starts on a five-star scale for driver and passenger protection in a frontal collision. Tested with torso-protecting front side airbags (a $250 option) supplementing the curtain side airbags, Caliber again rates the highest marks for occupant protection in a side collision.
Owners rate the Dodge brand below average in most measurements of initial quality in surveys by J.D. Power and Associates, the leading customer-satisfaction ratings firm.
Caliber owners are a bit more generous, rating the car “average” in most quality categories. But while Caliber’s mechanical components and accessories don’t tend to cause problems, there’s no getting around the shockingly low-grade plastics and fabrics used in this car’s passenger and cargo areas. The seats themselves are about the only surfaces soft to the touch. Dashboard and door panels have a thin, hollow feel. Overall, it’s a customer-be-darned ambience you won’t find in any of Caliber’s top rivals.
2009 Dodge Caliber Release Date back to top
The 2009 Dodge Caliber release date is autumn 2008.
What's next for the 2009 Dodge Caliber back to top
The 2009 Dodge Caliber will continue as a five-passenger four-door wagon with a one-piece liftgate. It comes in four models, one of which offers all-wheel drive as an alternative to front-wheel drive. All Calibers have a four-cylinder engine.
The line begins with the entry-level SE model, ascends through better-equipped SXT and sporty R/T, and tops out with the high-performance SRT4. SE and SXT have 148 horsepower, or 158 when ordered with a Continuously Variable Transmission. The R/T has 172 horsepower and is available with all-wheel drive. The SRT4 is turbocharged for 285 horsepower.
Caliber’s next design generation is due for model-year 2011 or 2012, so the 2009 Dodge Caliber is contemporary in basic looks, engineering, and features until then.
2009 Dodge Caliber Competition back to top
With a starting price around $14,000, Caliber plays at the budget-end of the market, where most small cars offer more than one body style, usually a coupe or hatchback along with a sedan. Caliber confines itself to a wagon body, narrowing its competitive set.
The most appealing similarly sized and priced wagons are the Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix, and the Scion xB. All feel better built than the Caliber, and each is more satisfying to drive. All are front-wheel drive, and Vibe and Matrix also offer all-wheel-drive models.
The HHR debuted for model-year 2006 with looks inspired by the 1950s Chevy Suburban. It has more space inside than Caliber, offers base and performance models, and starts around $16,200. The HHR is slated to be redesigned for model-year 2011, and some reports say it’ll loose its retro styling.
Vibe and Matrix are cousins under the skin, where they share a Toyota-engineered structure and engines. These wagons were redesigned for model-year 2009 and won’t change significantly before model-year 2015 or so. Starting prices are $16,000-$17,000 with front-wheel drive, around $20,000 with all-wheel drive.
The xB from Toyota’s youth-chasing Scion division is the underrated star of this bunch, its spry road manners belying its boxy looks. It starts around $16,000. Redesigned for 2007, xB’s basic package and engineering are good at least until model-year 2012.