Dodge Caliber SXT 2010 Review

In our highly competitive world sometimes you have to be that little bit different just to get noticed. Carmakers worked this out a while back and have recently given the automotive world some unique and progressive designs. This holds especially true in the hatchback segment where radical styling has almost become the norm. So how exactly does a new car cultivate a unique appeal in these diverse times? To get the answers, Car and SUV spent a week with the updated 2010 Dodge Caliber because it still looks like no other vehicle on NZ roads.

What makes the Caliber aesthetically different is a mixture of traditional Dodge DNA and a body shape that’s a mash-up of hatchback, crossover and sports coupe. Its styling talks loudly and offers a truly American take on the conventional hatchback. The Caliber announces its arrival with its signature Dodge crosshair grille. In profile it shows off pumped up wheel arches, a coupe like roofline and a front foot, pouncing stance. The squared-off rear features jeweled tail lamps a narrow back windscreen and a protruding chunky bumper.  Exterior changes to the updated Caliber are minimal but do include some subtle chrome trim and a new 17-inch alloy wheel design which helps give the 2010 model an even sharper edge.

Step inside the Caliber and the unique styling continues with a fully refreshed interior design. The instrument panel, centre console storage bin and door panel trims have all been redesigned using higher quality materials. The result is a cabin that is more modern and user-friendly. There are some nice touches like chromed surrounds for the instruments and air vents and smart LED lighting which illuminates the cupholders. The hot rod red plastic inserts in the centre control stack may not appeal to all tastes but it provides another unique feature and matches up with the stain-resistant red/black cloth used on the seats. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good to grip and has audio controls at your fingertips. The majority of cabin plastics feel solid, particularly the soft-touch dashboard, but there are still some that feel lightweight like the indicator stalk and the untextured stereo buttons.

The standard equipment list is long for a vehicle under $40k and includes modern kit like a chilled glove box, removable LED flashlight, cruise control, 6-disc CD player, keyless entry, fog lamps, trip computer and an alarm system.

Interior space is ample all around and despite the dark plastics and fabrics the Caliber cabin doesn’t feel confined. The rear seat can take three adults with a squeeze, is fitted with three sash-belts and is reclinable for increased comfort on long journeys. Cargo capacity in the hatch is a useable, if not class leading, 352-litres that can expand out to 1,013-litres with the rear seat backs folded down.

Unfortunately the Caliber’s unique styling brings with it some visibility issues. Between the high waistline and low roofline the side glass is quite narrow particularly for back seat passengers. Rear visibility is further compromised by thick C-pillars and a small rear windscreen and without reversing sensors it can be occasionally tricky to judge distances during parking maneuvers.

With the Caliber range consolidated to just one variant, the SXT, the only engine option is Chrysler’s 2.0-litre VVT 4-cylinder motor. With 115kW of power and 190Nm of torque it’s a capable powerplant but does struggles to shift the 1,475kg Caliber with any real gusto. That said, it moves well around town and is best suited to suburban use – like hatchbacks should be. But during open road or motorway jaunts, adequate space will be required before overtaking.

Power is sent exclusively to the front wheels through a CVT transmission that generally goes about its business without issue. A heavy foot on the accelerator can cause the CVT to flair up but that’s a common complaint with this technology and its overall behaviour is credible. There’s also a manual change available on the gearshift if you want full control of the ratios.

In terms of handling, the Caliber has a solid feel with well weighted steering and brakes that bite in with strength. There is very little body roll when cornering sharply which is surprising considering the Caliber’s slightly raised ride height. Grip on the tarmac is fairly good and useful feedback from the front treads can be felt through the steering wheel.

Ride quality is fair with the Caliber offering nice comfort on well-sealed roads. On broken or gravel roads it can struggle to absorb heavier bumps but always feels easy to control. Some tyre roar can enter the cabin but engine noise is quite muted and unless you’re ultra-sensitive it won’t prove an issue.

When it comes to safety the Caliber is guarded by front, side and curtain airbags and also side intrusion beams in the doors.  There’s also an electronic stability control system with traction control and brake assist.

So what’s the verdict on the refreshed 2010 Dodge Caliber?

For $38,990 you get a lot of car, it scores highly in terms of standard equipment and unique appeal. The new interior trim is an excellent update and mixes good quality materials with thoughtful ergonomics. Overall performance won’t excite but the Caliber has a solid, engaging character and genuine appeal as a suburban run about. What really makes the Caliber stand out, however, is its unashamedly American styling – it really is a little bit different to every other hatchback on NZ roads. While it’s not an aesthetic that will appeal to everyone, for some potential buyers it will prove a real selling point. If you dig the styling and are tempted by the price then the updated 2010 Dodge Caliber is worth a closer look.

Price: from $38,990

What we like:

  • Well appointed interior
  • Great equipment level for the price
  • Bold and unique styling

What we don’t like:

  • Powertrain could use more grunt
  • Compromised rear visibility
  • Ride quality on uneven surfaces

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Other reviews of interest:

Nissan Qashqai Ti (2010) — Road Test

Jeep Patriot (2010) — Road Test

Mazda3 SP25 (2009) — Road Test

Subaru Forester 2.0D Euro Spec (2010) — Road Test

Dodge Caliber SXT (2010) – Specifications

Measurements and Weights

Wheelbase 2,635
Overall length 4,415
Overall width 1,800
Overall height 1,535
Track   ” front/rear 1,520/1,520
Ground clearance  ” front/rear 208/203
Seating capacity 5
Turning diameter kerb-to-kerb (m) 10.8
Head room   ” front/rear 1,012/988
Leg room   ” front/rear 1,062/906
Shoulder room  ” front/rear 1,408/1,356
Hip room   ” front/rear 1,325/1,261
Cargo capacity (L)  ” behind rear seats 352 ” rear seat folded 1,013
Maximum towing (kg) ” including tongue load (braked) 1,200/80
Kerb Weight (kg)          ” 2.0L CVT 1,405 – 1,475
Engine 2.0L Petrol
Type 2.0L DOHC 16-valve dual VVT I-4 petrol

Engine

Displacement (cc) 1,998
Bore and Stroke  86 mm  x  86 mm
Valve System Chain-driven DOHC 16 Valves, Variable Valve Timing
Fuel Delivery System Sequential, multiport, Electronic Fuel Injection
Power kW @ rpm 115 @ 6300
Torque N.m @ rpm 190 @ 5100
Fuel tank L 51.5

Transmission

SXT Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT)

Steering

Type Rack-and-pinion
Turning diameter (m) 10.8

Wheels

18-inch polished aluminium wheel

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