2008 Dodge Caliber Reviews and Ratings

Wagon 4D SRT-4

Consumer Reviews

Own this vehicle? How would you rate it?

My Rating

Braking
Fuel Economy
Interior Comfort
Acceleration
Dependability
Handling
Ride Quality
Overall Rating

My Review

Type your review and click the Submit button
0 of 600 character limit


Customer Review


Be the first to review this 2008 Dodge Caliber.


Expert Reviews ( 1 )

2008 Dodge Caliber
New Car Test Drive

Introduction
The Dodge Caliber was launched as a 2007 model. For 2008, the high-performance Dodge Caliber SRT4 joins the lineup.

The Dodge Caliber is classed as a compact car, though it's larger than the Neon it replaced. A five-passenger, five-door, the Caliber isn't easily categorized, combining elements from hatchback, wagon and minivan designs. Though very popular in Europe, hatchbacks, especially five-door hatchbacks, have not caught on in American garages. The five-door hatch is a practical design, but most Americans prefer the styling of a traditional sedan with a separate trunk. Maybe that's changing, however. We certainly like hatchbacks.

A choice of four-cylinder engines is available, along with a choice of front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive makes the Caliber a capable winter vehicle.

Relatively affordable, Caliber starts below $14,000 retail, and fuel economy is respectable, achieving 24/29 City/Highway miles per gallon in its most frugal form, according to EPA estimates.

At the other end of the scale, the new SRT4 version has a turbocharged engine generating 285 horsepower. With a starting price of $22,435, it is a performance bargain.

The mid-level Caliber SXT model with the 2.0-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission is among the more enjoyable of the standard models, but the Caliber is no sports car. For driving excitement, the SRT4 is the choice.

The front seats are comfortable, with lots of head room, and there's a large amount of cargo space here. Packaging is functional, with folding rear seats that have an optional reclining adjustment and an optional fold-flat front passenger seat to make room for a ladder or more likely, a surfboard. A couple of innovative options, especially for a car in this price class, are an air conditioned compartment in the glove box to chill water bottles or sodas and a swing-down stereo speaker panel attached to the liftgate that converts the back end to a sound stage for beach parties or tailgating. Model Lineup
The 2008 Dodge Caliber offers a choice of four models, all with four-cylinder engines. A 148-horsepower 1.8-liter is standard in SE and SXT, a 158-hp 2.0-liter is optional for SXT, a 172-hp 2.4-liter is standard in R/T, and the SRT4 has a 285-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter. The 1.8 is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 2.0 comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The 2.4 is available with the five-speed manual in the front-drive R/T and the CVT in the all-wheel drive R/T. The SRT4 comes only with a six-speed manual.

The SE ($13,925) comes standard with the 1.8-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission. The 2.0-liter engine is optional ($150) and it must be ordered with the CVT automatic ($1000), which comes with antilock brakes. (All NCTD prices are MSRP, do not include destination charges, and can change at any time without notice.)

The SE has cloth seats; tilt steering column; an AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers and an auxiliary input jack; a 60/40-split, folding rear seat; removable and washable vinyl cargo mat; and P205/70R15 tires on hubcapped, steel wheels. Air conditioning is not standard, nor are power windows. The SE comes with manual roll-up windows and manual outside mirrors. Options for the SE are as extensive as the standard equipment is basic. The air conditioning system ($1050) includes an interior air filter and a Chill Zone inside the glove box that holds four half-liter water bottles. The Power Equipment Group ($595) includes power windows, outside mirrors and keyless remote central locking. The Popular Equipment Group includes the Power Group, plus floor mats, a cargo area tonneau cover and cruise control. An uplevel stereo adds MP3 capability and six-disc CD changer. Sirius Satellite Radio ($195) is offered and it includes a one-year subscription.

The SXT ($16,620) also comes standard with the 1.8-liter engine and five-speed manual, with the 2.0-liter engine and CVT optional, but the list of standard features expands dramatically.

The SXT comes with the features in the SE Popular Equipment Group, air conditioning with the interior air filter and Chill Zone; a tachometer; YES Essentials cloth upholstery that Dodge says is odor, stain and static resistant; Sirius satellite radio; 115-volt, AC power outlet; a flashlight-like removable lamp that stows and charges in a receptacle in the rear headliner; height-adjustable driver's seat; fold-flat front passenger seat; a reclining 60/40 split rear seat; and all-season P215/60R17 touring tires on aluminum wheels. SXT options include seat heaters for the cloth seats ($250); sunroof ($795); the Driver Convenience Group ($760) with Dodge's UConnect hands-free cell phone link, HomeLink universal garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, vehicle information center and a tire pressure monitor; the Popular Equipment Group ($200) with fog lights, body side molding, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls; a navigation system with six-disc CD changer ($1395); and the Premium Sound Group ($495) Boston Acoustics sound system with nine speakers, including two articulating liftgate speakers called MusicGate Power. The available Sport Appearance Group ($365) has a body-color grille, color-keyed instrument panel and shifter bezel, fog lamps, Sirius satellite radio, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, and cloth bucket seats with contrasting inserts. When ordered with the 2.0-liter engine, it also has Dodge's Autostick manual shiftgate with six preset gear ratios for the CVT automatic. A Trailer Tow Group ($130) adds an engine oil cooler and a wiring harness.

The R/T ($18,395) comes standard with the 2.4-liter engine, the manual transmission and, new for '08, front-wheel drive. It is also offered with the CVT and all-wheel drive ($20,495).

The R/T comes with the SXT features, plus the Sport Appearance Group, the Premium Sound Group with MusicGate Power, cruise control, heated front seats, cargo cover, a sport suspension with performance steering, and P215/55R18 all-season performance tires on aluminum wheels. Options exclusive to R/T are the Leather Interior Group ($595) with leather seating surfaces and a manual lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, and chromed 18-inch wheels ($700).

The SRT4 ($22,435) has a turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter engine pumping out 285 horsepower through a Getrag, six-speed manual transmission. Suspension, brakes and steering are beefed up to handle the increased performance, and painted aluminum wheels wear W-rated, P225/45R19 all-season tires. The SRT4 has unique body aero add-ons, including a large rear spoiler.

The SRT4 gets sport bucket seats, a carbon fiber and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a reconfigurable display, a boost gauge, a six-disc CD changer, and aluminum pedals. The only options are a 13-speaker, 322-watt Kicker audio system ($1190), a sunroof ($795), polished aluminum wheels ($400), and summer performance tires.

Safety features that come standard on all Calibers include multi-stage front airbags, inflatable driver knee blocker, and full-coverage side curtain airbags. Antilock brakes come standard with the CVT but are optional with the manual transmission on the SE and SXT ($400). Optional on SXT and R/T is the Security Group ($890 with manual transmission, $490 with CVT), which includes an alarm, front and rear disc brakes, antilock brakes with brake assist, daytime running lights and antiskid control. A tire pressure monitor is optional for SXT and R/T. The SRT4 has all of the aforementioned safety equipment standard. Walkaround
Picture a Dodge Magnum as it might appear in a theme park's House of Mirrors, and you'll have a good idea of what the Dodge Caliber looks like. Yes, it's shorter and narrower and taller (the latter by two inches), but it's still a station wagon with four doors, five counting the rear liftgate, and it wears all the styling cues of the Magnum.

The trademark crosshair grille dominates the front end; depending on model, this is either body color or trimmed in chrome. Massive headlights are notched into the leading corners of the front fenders. A pouting lower lip-like bumper separates the grille and headlights from a slimmer, lower air intake and (uplevel) fog lamps.

The side view shows strongly blistered fenders front and rear beneath a wedge-shaped beltline. Tires mostly fill the wheel wells, but we expect aftermarket hardware will be popular amongst younger buyers. The lower portions of the doors wear longitudinal moldings, again, body color or chrome highlighted, that look like a bi-level rocker panel but aren't, but that nevertheless minimize the Caliber's height. Full-round door handles, either chrome-trimmed or body color, bridge scooped-out grip spaces.

The roofline arcs cleanly from its junction with the hood just aft of the front wheel wells over the side door windows to pinch off at the tail end of the rear quarter glass. Topping this arc but stopping at the top of the backlight (rear windscreen) is an unbroken, thick strip of black molding the Caliber's designers say is supposed to work with the arc and the truncated back end to impart a coupe look. We're not sure why that was important or that it necessarily succeeds, but it does buff up the Caliber's side aspect.

The back end pulls from the Magnum, too, with a steeply raked backlight beneath a roof-mounted spoiler and above a mostly upright lower liftgate, employing a hatchback style arguing against any comparisons with a traditional station wagon. A relatively short rear overhang and oversize taillight housings add credence to the argument.

The SRT4 can be distinguished by several exterior features aimed at both form and function. The ride height is lowered 28 mm in front and 22 mm in the rear. The front end features a functional hood scoop, dual hood vents, a unique front fascia with brake cooling ducts next to the fog lights, and a lower air dam. Aero side moldings run along the side and at the rear are a large high-mounted rear spoiler, a four-inch exhaust tip, and a rear fascia with lower strakes to direct underbody airflow. For 2008, the SRT4 is available in only Brilliant Black, Sunburst Orange, Bright Silver and Inferno Red. Interior
Step inside the Caliber and the Dodge legacy is loud and clear. If function tops your list of must-haves, this is good. If glitz is your thing, this is less good.

The instrument cluster and center stack are the picture of efficiency. Gauges are large, round and gleefully legible with black markings on white backgrounds. In the SRT4, the central gauge is the tachometer instead of the speedometer, a change Dodge says it made because the SRT4 is a driver's car. To the left of the steering wheel in the SRT4 is a turbo boost gauge; this area serves as a small cubby in other models.

The SRT4 also has a reconfigurable display with what Dodge calls performance pages. This feature can provide readouts of lateral and longitudinal G forces, 1/8- and 1/4-mile time and speed, 0-60 mph time, and braking distance. It's quite a little toy for performance enthusiasts, somewhat similar to a system Porsche offers.

The center stack presents the stereo face and climate control panel in stark relief with functional knobs, buttons and switches and trimmed in matte metallic plastic or not-very-convincing wood grain. All of these controls are easy to reach, but the materials are cheaply rendered and lacking in quality. You get the feeling the Caliber is built to a price when you first close the door and hear a metallic clang worthy of an empty beer can.

Back to the functionality. The shift lever extends from the base of the stack; the notched gate on the CVT makes ratio selections intuitive. In cars equipped with a manual transmission, the shifter falls easily to hand. The power point serves neither the cell phone holder nor a radar detector well; located at the extreme base of the center stack, it leaves cords either draped over the center console's cup holders or dangling down the dash between the instrument cluster and the center stack.

An MP3 player/cell phone holder flips up out of the front of the center console armrest and, while properly sized for an iPod or similarly shaped MP3 device, adapts best to candy bar-style cell phones. Also, the sliding armrest covers a range of three inches, which is helpful for drivers of shorter stature, but when all the way forward, it blocks the rearmost of the two cup holders.

As the Caliber is relatively tall, standing more than four inches above the Neon it replaced, the seats are closer to chairs than cushions bolted to the floor. This eases climbing in and out.

The front seats that come standard are comfortable, but far from plush, with decently bolstered back cushions. Bottom cushions, or squabs in designer lingo, are more flat than sculpted and a bit short on thigh support. The SRT4's seats are thickly bolstered and have grippy cloth inserts to hold occupants in place in fast turns.

Front-seat headroom is impressive in all Calibers, topping the five-door Mazda3 hatchback by almost two inches. It falls short of the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix by about a half inch. Leg room up front is adequate, equal to the Mazda3, Vibe and Matrix. A cautionary note about the driver's seat-height adjustment, however: It pivots at the front, which means trading leg room for height.

The rear seat is a bench and leg room is somewhat cramped, trailing most competitors. Rear-seat head room tops the Mazda3 by about a half-inch, but loses to the Vibe and the Matrix by almost an inch.

Cargo capacity is one of the Caliber's big advantages. The rear seats fold down 60/40 to reveal 48.0 cubic feet of cargo room, which is as much as most compact hatchbacks and almost as much as some compact wagons. The available folding front passenger seat expands room further and allows for loading of long objects. The Caliber bests the Mazda3 in cargo room by more than 16 cubic feet, but falls short of the Matrix and Vibe by more than five cubic feet. The Caliber's rear load floor is plastic and removable, which means your stuff will slide around if not secured, but dirty cargo won't make a mess. The rear hatch is an easy opening liftgate and the floor height is low enough to allow for easy loading and unloading.

Cubby storage scores mixed ratings. The bi-level glove box, with a compartment on the top of the dash in addition to one in the traditional location, earns high marks, especially the innovative Chill Zone. But front door map pockets will hold maybe a paperback and a map, there are no map pockets in the rear doors, and the front seatbacks are bare of any magazine pouches. Illuminating the cup holders (there are only two, and they're in the front console) helps at night.

Visibility out front is good. Like many other modern designs, the hood drops away so quickly it disappears from sight; you may want to learn where the fenders are before you have to navigate a parking garage. The large backlight frames a good picture of what's behind, but the sloping rear-most windows create a blind spot over the driver's right shoulder.

The stereos generate quality sounds, with the top-level Boston Acoustic setup and the SRT4's Kicker outfit rivaling home systems of only a few years ago. Called MusicGate, the Boston Acoustics system features nine speakers, including 3.5-inch tweeters, a subwoofer and a pair of speakers in a boom box attached to the inside of the rear liftgate. When the liftgate is open, this assembly swings down so you can listen to tunes while tailgating. It's capable of entertaining the neighborhood. Driving Impressions
Dodge seemingly wants people to consider the Caliber as a downsized Magnum, and to believe this makes it essentially a sporty mini-minivan-cum-compact station wagon. Nice idea, but the package doesn't quite do this. Everything it does, it does well, but aside from the SRT4 model, it doesn't quite achieve the sporty part.

Of the base trim packages and powertrains, we believe the SXT with the 2.0-liter engine and five-speed manual delivers the best all-around performance.

The 2.4-liter engine's 172 horsepower arguably does a better job of motivating this one-and-one-half ton hatchback, but the CVT was neither as comfortable nor as precise in its selection of gear ratios as we hoped, or as Dodge promises. Left in Drive, it sounds and feels like an automatic that needs to have its bands tightened, or like a manual gearbox with a slipping clutch. Even in AutoStick mode, which involves imposing an electronically managed shift pattern on a transmission designed not to shift gears, engine speed wandered noticeably within the selected ratio. While Dodge says it adjusted the CVT to make it quieter and more drivable for 2008, we didn't notice a difference. And while Dodge says its testing shows the CVT improves fuel economy by between six to eight percent over a four-speed automatic, the 2.4-liter with five-speed manual is rated at 23 mpg City and 29 Highway, compared to 21/25 with the CVT, according to EPA estimates.

The 1.8-liter base engine is EPA rated at 24 mpg City and 29 Highway, while the 2.0 comes in at 23/27. But with fully 10 percent less torque, the 1.8 is also the least responsive to the gas pedal when you need it the most.

All three base engines deliver their power smoothly, with no disruptive surges or flat spots. Pedal layout is decent, while not quite ideal for heel-and-toe downshifts, and there's a dead pedal where drivers can rest their left foot on long trips.

The SRT4's engine is a different beast altogether. With 285 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, it can motivate the SRT4 from 0 to 60 mph in about six seconds flat. That's slightly slower than the 2006 SRT4, which was based on the Neon. While the Caliber SRT4 has 55 more horsepower than the 2006 SRT4, the Caliber is larger and heavier, so the extra power doesn't quite make up for the difference.

The Caliber SRT4's 2.4-liter engine exhibits some turbo lag, but it's mercifully short and the car is more than willing to get up and go from a stop. Passing power is prodigious provided you are in the right gear. If you let the rpms run too high, the engine will run out of breath, too low and you'll have to wait for the turbo to spool up. Deft shifting can avoid these problems. Speaking of shifting, the manual gearbox has fairly short throws and positive engagement, making it fun to operate.

Driving and handling dynamics for SE, SXT and R/T models are mostly consistent, about on a par with the Vibe and the Matrix but not quite in the same league as the more tautly sprung Mazda3. There's not as much body lean in corners as we expected in a car this tall. Under hard acceleration, front-drive models show some torque steer, where the front-wheel drive tugs at the steering wheel, a shortcoming shared with every front-wheel-drive car we can remember in this class. This problem is compounded by the SRT4's greater power.

The Caliber's weight is biased to the front, so understeer (where the car wants to go straight instead of turning) is the default mode when corners are entered a bit too fast. The all-wheel-drive R/T is much better mannered in both these regards, especially in tight corners, when the system distributes the power as appropriate between the front and rear wheels to put the power where it can be used best, as much as 60 percent to the rear wheels if necessary. One downside to the AWD is the added unsprung weight with which it burdens the suspension, mass that's felt over parking lot speed bumps and rough pavement. Otherwise, the Caliber offers a comfortable ride, though the SRT4's stiffer suspension causes it to jiggle on broken pavement.

The SRT4 leans less in turns than the other models and its steering is sharper and more direct, but it is not as nimble as the 2003-2006 Neon-based SRT4. It also doesn't recover as quickly from quick changes of direction. Again this can be contributed to size and weight. The Caliber SRT4 will not be the autocross favorite that the Neon SRT4 was. Instead of a limited-slip front differential, the Caliber SRT4 utilizes the traction control system to detect wheelspin and apply brake pressure to the affected wheel, thus transferring power to the side that isn't slipping. It prevents the Caliber SRT4 from laying down long strips of rubber, but isn't as effective as a mechanical limited-slip system like that of the last SRT4. In short, a limited-slip is a performance-enhancing technology, while traction control is a performance-limiting technology.

The disc/drum brakes standard on the SE and in the SXT are competent. The R/T gets discs at all four corners and anti-lock brakes. ABS is optional on the SE and SXT and Brake Assist is optional on the SXT and R/T, but we strongly recommend opting for them. We feel the same way about the electronic stability program, which can help drivers avoid crashing. The SRT4, on the other hand, comes standard with all the safety equipment, and performance-oriented brakes that inspire confidence, even in racetrack conditions.

All Calibers have little wind whistle at everyday highway speeds. Road noise increases with the size of the tire's footprint, meaning it is more persistent in the R/T and SRT4. The added grip from the larger footprint more than compensates for this intrusion, however. In all but the SRT4, conversation can be carried on at normal tones even at extra-legal rates of travel. Be aware, however, that the SRT4 has a boy racer exhaust note, which means the engine emits a constant background drone and screams under heavy throttle. Summary
The 2008 Dodge Caliber is at the same time innovative and retro, a hatchback that's more like a station wagon but with hints of the utility of a minivan. The Caliber makes a good case when it comes to packaging, but falls short on materials quality. Though all Calibers show signs of cost-cutting, the SE, SXT and R/T offer good, basic transportation, the R/T has the advantage of optional all-wheel drive, and the SRT4 is a performance bargain.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported on the Caliber from Scottsdale, Arizona, with Kirk Bell reporting on the SRT4 from Indianapolis.

Model as tested
Dodge Caliber SXT ($15,425)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Belvidere, Illinois
Destination charge
560
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
13925
Price as tested
18945
Options as tested
158-hp 2.0-liter engine ($150); CVT ($1000); Premium Sound Group ($495) Boston Acoustics sound system with nine speakers, including two articulating liftgate speakers; AM/FM/MP3 stereo with six-CD in-dash changer with auxiliary input jack ($320); Driver Convenience Group ($760) with Dodge's UConnect hands-free cell phone link, HomeLink universal garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, vehicle information center and tire pressure monitor; power sunroof ($795)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Dodge Caliber SE ($13,425); SXT ($15,425); R/T AWD ($19,425); SRT4 ($22,435)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, child safety seat anchors (LATCH)
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
2.0-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4
Transmissions
CVT automatic

Specifications as Tested
YES Essentials cloth upholstery; tilt steering column; removable and washable vinyl cargo mat; power windows, mirrors and locks; remote keyless entry; floor mats, cargo area tonneau cover; cruise control; air conditioning with the interior air filter and Chill Zone; tachometer; Sirius satellite radio; 115-volt, AC power outlet; rechargeable rear flashlight; height-adjustable driver's seat; fold-flat front passenger seat; reclining 60/40 split folding rear seat; all-season P215/60R17 touring tires on aluminum wheels

Engine & Transmission
Engine
2.0-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
158 @ 6400
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
23/27
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
vented disc/drum with ABS and Brake Assist
Suspension, front
independent, MacPherson strut, coil spring-over gas-pressurized shocks, stabilizer bar
Tires
P215/60R17 all-season touring
Suspension, rear
independent, multi-link, coil spring. gas-pressurized shocks, link-type stabilizer bar

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
40.0/52.2/41.8
Head/hip/leg room, rear
38.9/49.6/35.6

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
48.0
Wheelbase
103.7
Length/width/height
173.8/68.8/60.4
Turning circle
35.5
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
1000
Track, front/rear
59.8/59.8
Ground clearance
7.0
Curb weight
3039


Search car listings & find the right car for you
Click here for 2008 Dodge Caliber Wagon 4D SRT-4 local listings

Vehicle History Report

Get answers to buy with confidence
  • Check for accidents
  • Confirm the reported mileage
  • Purchase multiple reports and save

Car Buying and Selling Resources