Although it’s the Neon’s replacement in the Chrysler family, the Caliber is not just a compact hatchback Crossover substitute. On the outside, it has the crosshair grille and tough-looking body panels present in many vehicles across the Dodge lineup. But while most of the Caliber models are inexpensive and useful, actual driving performance is lackluster at best. The SRT4 is Dodge’s way of injecting a little firepower into the Caliber.
In its most practical use as a people and cargo mover, the Caliber’s capabilities in hauling stuff is enhanced by rear seats that fold in a 60/40 split that increases cargo space to a maximum of 48 cubic feet. The front passenger seat can also be folded forward to make room for longer items, such as ladders, skis or surfboards. The Caliber has decent headroom and legroom in the front and back, but as a small car, 4 adults are the limit in what the it can comfortably accomodate. Impressively, in an increasingly crowded field of contenders, available all-wheel drive and variable transmission options do set the Caliber apart from the pack. Unfortunately, any advantage with potential customers that those options may give the Caliber are outweighed by its underwhelming power and handling. Dodge’s response to remedy this fact is the SRT4, whose turbocharged 4-cylinder engine produces 285 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission that gives it 21 and 26 mpg in city and highway driving. The SRT4 is over 100 horses higher than the next model down, the R/T, and nearly twice the amount of the base model. The SRT4 also gets, 19-inch wheels, lowered suspension, upgraded brakes, a performance trip computer and sport seats.
As seemingly impressive as those numbers would seem to indicate, the translation of this engine into a car that weighs over 3000 lbs. results in only a modest 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds. While that’s a nice figure, it does not allow the Caliber to completely pull away from other hatchbacks in this segment or make up for its weighty and lumbering handling. The other shortcoming of the SRT4 is the cheapo level of finish to the interior that does little to distinguish itself from the interior of the base economy versions. Despite all of the cute contraptions like a “cool zone” compartment for drinks, death by hard plastic is the most egregious fault , which compared to it’s competition seems particularly low-grade. Some will also likely be disappointed that the SRT4 starts at just a shade under $24,000; several thousand dollars higher than the previous Neon SRT4.