If the Chinese are going to bring in a lower priced fuel efficient vehicle that meets emissions and safety rules they had better hurry. Dodge has just lowered the bar - yes, lowered the financial bar. Their new 2007 Dodge Caliber will start at $13,995. Toyota and Nissan are set to meet them in this competitive segment, but what all of them are saying is the gauntlet has been thrown for low priced fuel efficient vehicles. And they are known products. In fact, the Caliber will be known in almost 100 countries.
The front of the Caliber is distinctively Dodge with its crosshair grille. The muscular stance is reminiscent of the Dodge Magnum, in a mini-brutish sort of way. The roof spoiler has the center high-mounted stop lamp. The coolness of this vehicle lies inside.
Dodge Caliber is going global. The Caliber will be offered in almost 100 countries not including North America. The Caliber comes in three different packages; the SE, SXT and R/T. There are three 4-cylinder engines available for the Dodge Caliber. This engine is being billed as the "world engine" and is being built in the Global Engine Manufacturing Assembly (GEMA) plant in Dundee, MI. GEMA is owned equally by DailmerChrysler, Mitsubishi Motors and Hyundai Corporation.
The parental factors may like the standard side-curtain air bags, but the kid in you is going to love the little touches such as speakers in the liftgate for that tailgating party. In the glove compartment there is a storage bin for cooled beverages (non-alcoholic please) that can hold up to four 20-oz bottles or cans. It's obvious that Dodge is targeting the 20-something crowd that is starting a family.
The 1.8-liter Dual Overhead Cam (DOHC) 16-valve Inline-4 (I4) with dual variable valve timing (VVT). The 1.8-liter is the standard engine you will get if you buy the SE at $13,985 (destination charge included). The engine gets 148 horsepower@6,500 rpm and 125 lb.-ft@5,200 rpm. Fuel economy for the 1.8-liter is 28 city/32 highway. The 1.8-liter 5-speed manual I drove started at the base price of $13,425, with the options of air conditioning with the chill zone storage unit ($1,000), the sunburst orange pearl coat paint ($150) and the front and rear floor mats ($50). Add in the $560 destination charge and it totals out at $15,185.
I have to stop for a minute and give kudos to Chrysler. I am sure NHTSA will join me. It would have been really cool to offer as standard the speakers in the tailgate or the chillzone in the glove compartment. They didn't. Instead, they gave as standard side curtain airbags. I can't say for certain, but I doubt a 25 year old on a limited budget is going to opt for more airbags instead of the "look at me I'm cool dude" accessories. Even if Chrysler did this to raise their NHTSA rating, it is smart. A friend of mine, with plenty of money was driving his child, unbuckled with no side airbags, and got into an accident that sent them sliding sideways. After they got hit he looked at his son and saw that he was okay, but they slid further into a telephone poll and the child's head hit the window. The child died and the father still wishes he had. Nuff said.
The 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve I-4 with dual VVT is the optional engine for the SE and SXT. You'll get a boost in hosepower bringing it up to 158hp@6,400rpm and 141 lb.-ft@5,000 of torque. The extra 10 horsepower will cost you in fuel economy, the 2.0-liter still gets a respectable 26 city/30 highway. This is partly due to the standard continuously variable timing on the 2.0-liter.
The 2.0-liter SXT I drove had a base price of $15,425 with mega options. The driver convenience group ($400), music gate power sound system ($495),continuously variable transmission 2.0 VVT engine ($1,000), aluminum wheels ($400), power sunroof ($750), fog lights ($85), speed control ($250), Sirius satellite radio ($195), AM/FM stereo with in-dash 6 disc CD/MP3 ($320), and sunburst orage pearl paint ($150) and destination charge ($560) still all totaled only $20,130.
The third engine is the 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve, I4 with dual VVT. This engine is only available in the R/T edition. The R/T will come out as an all-wheel drive first and then later as a front-wheel drive. The AWD with continously variable timing gets 23 city/26 highway for fuel economy and starts at $19,985. This dual variable valve timing engine produces 172 horsepower and 165 lb.-ft of torque. This is coupled with CVT2, anti-lock brakes,sport suspension, performance steering and 18-inch aluminum wheels. CVT2 is Chrysler's second generation CVT that was engineered to simulate six steeped gears. CVT2 gives an extra 6-8 percent fuel economy above a traditional 4-speed automatic.
The 2.4-liter R/T AWD I drove had a base price of $19,425 with mega options. The driver convenience group ($400), music gate power sound system ($400 on R/T), Sirius satellite radio ($195), AM/FM stereo with in-dash 6 disc CD/MP3 ($320), and sunburst orage pearl paint and destination charge ($560) still all totaled only $21,300.
According to Judy Wheeler, Director Dodge Car Marketing, the sales split between the three models will be 20 percent buying the SE, 60 percent buying the 2.0 and 20 percent buying the 2.4 R/T. It is not the way I would predict it if the consumer were able to drive all three vehciles back to back. The 1.8-liter SE is a 5-speed manual only and hence only comes in 5 gear ratios. Yes, it is a manual and most people don't buy manuals anymore, but when you have a 4 cylinder you really do have more control over your power with a manual and you need that in a 4 cylinder. The SXT is an automatic with CVT. The miles per gallon will be hyped on this one because it is comparable to a 1.8-liter manual. However, it is done by utilizing a CVT. CVT is fine in larger machines, but in a 4-cylinder, once again, you need the control of power. The control of power was not there when I tried to pass another car, even on the open roads. The 2.4-liter R/T is an automatic CVT, but because it is geared with more horsepower and a lower end torque (4,400) setting the power comes in when you need it.
The Caliber will go on sale the first quarter of 2006 and in global markets in the second quarter of 2006. A 2.0-liter diesel engine will be available in markets outside North America. The Dodge Caliber is being produced at the Belvidere, IL assembly plant. My favorite, for the money and control of the car, was the SE at $15,185. If you want an automatic get the 2.4-liter. If you choose your options carefully the money won't be that much different and the car will be peppier and safer. It will be interesting to see which models the Asians in Asia buy.