The Neon is gone; long live the Caliber. The production version of Dodge's new, entry-level small car looks nearly identical to the concept shown at the 2005 Geneva auto show. Compared to the Neon it effectively replaces, the Caliber moves up a notch in size, but not price, starting at $13,985. Although just shy of a Neon lengthwise, the Caliber is four inches taller and slightly wider as well. Dodge claims the Caliber has a mid-size interior, based on EPA measurements. Optional interior amenities such as a Boston Acoustics stereo with speakers that can swivel out of the open rear liftgate, Bluetooth phone connectivity, heated leather seats, and a chilled compartment for drinks can elevate the Caliber to a level of luxury the Neon never dreamed of. On the safety front, side curtain air bags are standard, but anti-lock brakes and stability control are optional.
The four-door hatchback uses three new four-cylinder engines (shared with Mitsubishi and Hyundai) of 1.8, 2.0, and 2.4 liters, with power output ranging from 148 hp to 172 hp. Dodge boasts of variable valve timing for both intake and exhaust valves, but we wonder why the specific power outputs of these engines are so low; ten years ago, Acura managed to get more horsepower out of its 1.8-liter than Dodge gets out of its 2.4-liter. The Caliber's 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter can be paired with a CVT; the 2.4 (which is exclusive to the R/T model) is available with all-wheel drive. The Caliber goes on sale in the first quarter of 2006.