California Autos Examiner

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dodge Caliber: Why Isn’t it Doing Better In Comparative Tests?

With the flock of new small cars coming on the market, every car magazine is doing what comes naturally to them: comparison tests. What is interesting to me is the poor showing that the Dodge Caliber is having in these tests. Normally when a new car comes on the market there is a honeymoon phase where the critics’ opinions are usually quite favorable. This doesn’t seem to be the case in these tests as the Caliber is ending up in the back of the pack. Let’s take a look at two such tests:

First up is Motor Trend’s comparo called “Rolling Coasters: Will the Hatchback Formula Work in America this Time Around?” The contestants are the Mazda3, Toyota Matrix, Chevrolet HHR and the Dodge Caliber (172hp version). That also happens to be the order in which they finished. It’s no shocker that the Mazda3 ended up on top, but that Dodge is last? What gives? There is a caveat thrown out by MT, the Caliber is a “preproduction pilot” and was a heavy top of the line model with all wheel drive and big 18” wheels. The Caliber was the slowest to 60, slowest in the quarter mile and it was the noisiest due to road rumble and suspension clatter. The Caliber also was the only car tested that couldn’t have its seats flipped down from the rear hatch area. Also deducting points from the Caliber’s score was the fact that it had the fewest features to aid in cargo hauling and a dearth of package bins and trays. There wasn’t a prop rod or hook for the rear luggage floor/spare wheel cover. The trick flip-forward plastic tray for an iPod just got in the way of the shift lever.

Next up is Car and Driver with their “Comparison Test: $15,000 Cheap Skates. The competitors, in order of rank, were the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Kia Rio5, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, Dodge Caliber (148hp version), and Suzuki Reno. Wow. The Caliber only defeated the Reno? Beefs? Interior surfaces were cheap and hard and its high effort shifter required a two step jog from second to third and forth to fifth. There was torque steer and axle tramp. The Caliber’s engine was thrashy at high revs and there was no tachometer (a tach is available). The Caliber’s handling was judged to be heavy and clumsy with ambiguous steering.

Well, there you have it. For now the Caliber seems to be less than fully baked or as C&D put it the Caliber “needs more calibration.”

Personally I like the Caliber's styling, but am disappointed with the quality of its interior--especially the plastics. I’ll be on the lookout for more comparos and report back. In the meantime I’m looking into why the Honda Fit seems to be winning everybody over!

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