For decades domestic brands have had a hard time selling small cars in America for a profit. Even the adoption of popular designs from Europe and Asia has not always worked with demanding American consumers. So the Chrysler group is trying something bold. First, design a new compact car that’s not really a car at all, and second, unleash that design on the world. Now the first of this fresh take is the 2007 Dodge Caliber. Let’s see if it’s on target.

The 2007 Dodge Caliber is only the latest example of the Chrysler Group’s innovative design work. To replace the aging Neon subcompact, Dodge opted for a form that’s a long way from the cute, pudgy Neon four-door.  While generically the Caliber can be described as a compact crossover utility vehicle, one look instantly telegraphs that this CUV is also a Dodge, with a Ram-truck front-end styling derived most directly from the Durango SUV.

Length is 173.8-inches, about the same as a Neon, and wheelbase is 103.7-inches, a little over an inch shorter. But the Caliber is almost 2-inches wider and over 4-inches taller, and vastly more versatile. Also unlike the typical small car, the Caliber offers a choice of front or all-wheel-drive, cementing its capable crossover appeal.

Surprisingly, Caliber offers a choice of three four-cylinder engines. The base 1.8-liter with 148 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. Next up is a 2.0-liter with 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet. While our R/T-grade all-wheel-drive example comes standard with a 2.4-liter with 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque.

Transmissions are a 5-speed manual, or optional CVT automatic. Our R/T all-wheel-drive adds AutoStick manual shift mode to the CVT, and together they delivered consistent, if unremarkable, 0 to 60 times of 9.3 seconds. The quarter mile is also a leisurely 17.2 seconds at 83 miles-per-hour. The engine is slow-revving and a bit noisy when pushed. Add in our R/T’s 3,308 pound curb weight, and it all feels a bit sluggish.

On the flip side, in everyday driving the Caliber has one of the most refined CVTs we’ve tried, adapting to changing demands quickly, especially in city traffic. And in keeping with its EPA fuel mileage estimates of 23 city/26 highway, our Caliber delivered a top-end 26 miles-per-gallon in our mixed driving loop. That loop includes plenty of curves, for which the Caliber is well equipped with a MacPherson strut front and independent multi-link rear suspension. 

Wheels range from basic 15-inch steel designs to our R/T’s standard 18-inch alloys, which resulted in handling that nicely splits the difference between car and small SUV. There is a fair bit of front end push, but overall the Caliber responds well to driver inputs. Body roll is moderate, but reasonably well controlled. And the rack and pinion steering, while a little numb, has good weight and resistance. Front discs and rear drums, with optional ABS, delivered short average stops from 60 of 122 feet. Pedal feel was solid, with fine feedback.

Inside Caliber easily displays its crossover credentials. Front seats wear standard 2-tone cloth upholstery in the R/T, while leather and heat are optional. Novel features include a cooled glove box for beverages, a removable, rechargeable flashlight, and a place for your iPod in the center console, which can be plugged into the auxiliary input jack of the standard AM/FM CD stereo. Upgrades include a 6-disc changer, wireless communications, and Sirius satellite radio, and if you’re a regular tailgater, this optional flip-down speaker cluster in the rear liftgate. The SUV-style flat cargo area has an easy to clean vinyl floor, with 18.5 cubic-feet of space with the rear seat up and 48 cubic-feet with it down.

Good numbers to be sure, but not as good as the prices! The base Dodge Caliber SE costs only $13,985. SXT trim will run you $15,985, while our R/T all-wheel drive edges into Honda CR-V territory, with a $19,985 base price.

The 2007 Dodge Caliber is definitely much more than just a Neon replacement. While there is clearly a trade-off between power and fuel economy, it still pulls the compact crossover up to the next level. But that’s the kind of stretching-the-box thinking that we expect from the Chrysler Group; in this case a two-box CUV that will also rewrite the rules about what all small family vehicles should be.



  • Engine: 2.4-Liter
  • Horsepower: 172
  • Torque: 165 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 9.3 Seconds
  • 60-0 MPH: 122 Feet
  • 1/4 Mile: 17.2 Seconds @ 83 MPH
  • EPA: 23 MPG City/ 26 MPG Highway
  • Mixed Loop: 26 MPG