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Car reviews - Dodge - Caliber - 5-dr hatch range

Launch Story

Dodge logo22 Aug 2006

DODGE has catapulted its five-door Caliber hatch right into the middle of the boiling small car segment.

The new hatch kicks off with a $23,990 price point for the entry five-speed manual 1.8-litre ST.

Five models are available - entry level 1.8-litre ST, mid-range SX and range-topping SXT.

Both the SX and SXT will be available with either 1.8-litre or 2.0-litre engines.

However, buyers opting for the CVT automatic will have to fork out $28,490 for the cheapest auto-equipped hatch – the SX 2.0-litre CVT.

There is no automatic available for the entry 1.8-litre ST but Chrysler Group Australia executives are hopeful of getting one in the future.

The 16-valve 1.8-litre VVT four-cylinder develops 110kW at 6500rpm and 168Nm at 5200rpm, endowing the car with a zero to 100km/h sprint time of 11.9 seconds and top speed of 184km/h.

The 16-valve 2.0-litre VVT four ups the ante slightly with 115kW at 6300rpm and 190Nm at 5100rpm, allowing a zero to 100km/h time of 11.3 seconds and top speed of 186km/h.

Fuel economy is 7.4L/100km combined for the 1.8 and 8.1L/100km combined with the 2.0-litre with the car tipping the scales at more than 1300kg.

A Volkswagen sourced 103kW/310Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, mated to a six-speed manual, arrives later this year, along with the higher performance 127kW/224Nm five-speed manual 2.4-litre RT model.

CGA is also hopeful a more powerful 224kW/353Nm turbocharged petrol-engined SRT4 version will become available in the longer term.

With the Caliber’s arrival, the Chrysler Group hopes to emulate the success it has enjoyed with the Chrysler 300C, capitalising on the public’s appetite for bold, American-designed vehicles that stand out from the crowd.

However, Dodge has modest sales expectations for the hatch and is not expecting an overnight conversion to the US-way of thinking.

It expects to sell 2500 Calibers over the next 16 months – about 160 cars a month.

The important thing is it offers an entrant into the brand, according to Chrysler Group Australia managing director, Gerry Jenkins.

Following Caliber will be the Nitro four-wheel drive, based on the Jeep Cherokee, which arrives early next year.

After that there’s an as yet unnamed “medium vehicle” based on the new Chrysler Sebring and then in 2008 a large sedan.

Dodge claims the Caliber will offer a new slant to the small car market, even though it must measure up against benchmark cars like the Ford Focus, Holden Astra, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.

Dodge also believes that some small SUV buyers may be lured by the Caliber’s tough off-roader looks, even though Australia will only received the front-wheel drive model.

An all-wheel drive version is offered in the United States.

The managing director of the CGA, Gerry Jenkins, claims the Caliber will be a success because its own research had shown that buyers were getting tired of the bland offerings currently available.

It’s a big claim as many rivals have European dynamics, and styling, that appeals to style conscious Aussies brought up on a diet of strong Japan and Euro offerings in the small/medium car segment.

Dodge is hoping that some buyers will be won over by the Caliber’s so obviously US-inspired, chunky good looks, big grille and SUV-style packaging.

“Caliber brings emotion to this segment. And with fuel efficient cars booming in Australia, Caliber is hitting the streets at the perfect time,” Mr Jenkins said.

He describes the Caliber as “five-door crossover hatch” that combines a sporty coupe-like profile with the strength, stance and functionality of an SUV.

The design is distinctive and bold, from the signature crosshair grille and oversized headlights, to the chunky rear end.

The car has a high waist line, combined with wheel-arch blisters and a distinctive bonnet.

A black graphic design accent, which runs the length of the roof, melds into an integrated rear roof spoiler, creating a coupe-like visual sweep along the car’s profile.

The squared-off rear end houses a black roof spoiler, integrated centre high-mounted brake light and large modular, crystal-like tail lights.

The car has received a five-star crash rating by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Equipment levels are comprehensive, with the ST offering dual front and curtain airbags, vinyl load floor, electric windows and mirrors (heated), central locking, height-adjustable seatbelts, immobiliser, air conditioning with chilled glovebox, in-dash CD stereo, alarm, four-whesel disc brakes, ABS, 12-volt power outlet, sliding front centre armrest, 17-inch steel wheels, 60/40 split fold rear seats and rechargeable/removable interior lamp.

The SX adds reclining rear seats, fold-flat front passenger seat, 17-inch five-spoke alloys, adjustable driver’s seat, cargo cover and six-disc CD changer.

The SXT adds leather seats (heated up front), leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, cruise control (a $450 option on other models), bright silver instrument bezels, body coloured mouldings, chrome grille and front foglights.

ESP and traction control will be offered later this year (standard on the diesel) for about $490.

An optional nine-speaker 458-watt MusicGate Power Boston audio system with sub-woofer and two articulated hatch-mounted speakers is available for $1075 on the SXT model.

The R/T a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, sport appearance package, chrome interior door handles and door lock knobs, body kit, body-colour door handles with chrome inserts and 18-inch machine-faced alloy wheels.

The Caliber sits on a 2635mm wheelbase - a Ford Focus is 2640mm – with a 1520mm front and rear track, which means interior room is plentiful for four and there is a large luggage area with a washable rear vinyl floor.

At 4415mm long, 1800mm wide and 1535mm high the Caliber sits right in the small car class. By comparison a Ford Focus is just 63mm longer, 40mm wider but 92mm lower.

Dodge was last sold here up until 1976 when Chrysler Australia built the Dodge ute. Chrysler Australia also assembled the Dodge Phoenix between 1960 and 1972.

The Caliber range will be sold alongside Jeep and Chrysler through 48 dealerships nationally.

The Dodge brand is the world’s eighth largest automotive brand and is the Chrysler Group’s best selling global brand.

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