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Dodge Caliber

Small cars, brief impressions.

Dodge Caliber R/T AWD

Plus

Cheeky design: not beautiful, but audacious and interesting. So will it age like a good cheese? The six-speaker Boston Acoustics stereo is superb, and with Sirius radio there's plenty to hear. (But I'll never get used to losing the signal beneath overpasses.) The interior is nicely trimmed with leather upholstery. Heated seats are a felicity.

Minus

I wasn't crazy about the continuously variable transmission, so the gear selector went into manual mode and stayed there.

Overall

Dodge made up a lot of ground with this compact five-door. (It's built in the factory where they used to make the Neon.) The engine is refined. The equipment level is high. The Chill Zone storage for beverages is clever, and the same may be said for the MusicGate sound system, which houses two speakers inside the tailgate. With eighteen-inch wheels and tires, the Caliber R/T AWD rides a bit on the hard side, but it's acceptable. I'm left asking why, when offered utility like this, anyone would buy a sedan? The sticker price of $23,885 seems reasonable, and it's easy to see why the Caliber's launch has been a success.

Volkswagen GTI

Plus

Fast and entertaining! The optional six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox is a racing-car feature. The steering is superb. I felt hooked up with the GTI from the first moment. And the colorful instrument panel is fun, especially after dark. The optional eighteen-inch wheels add quite a bit of curb appeal.

Minus

On concrete surfaces the ride is choppy. Although they would be no cause for complaint on an autocross course, the sport seats are rather snug. Short-shifting the DSG leads to a blah-sounding exhaust note.

Sum

Available in two- or four-door versions, the GTI makes a pretty persuasive case for itself because it also offers a hatchback's utility. Volkswagen put it all together this time. Obvious incentive was provided by the Mini Cooper S.

Honda Fit Sport

Plus

This bug-eyed little wagon is strangely cute. Typical of Honda, the interior has huge dials and controls with great ergonomics. The center console offers lots of useful storage for small items. The instruments' blue glow at night is pleasant. Yes, the Fit Sport is small on the outside--wait'll you come back to the parking lot and see it next to the full-size pickup that just arrived--but it has a reasonable amount of room. Road noise is bearable. No, it's not racy, but the steering (nice, leather-wrapped wheel) is pretty sharp, handling is decent even with rear torsion-bar suspension, and the ride quality is impressive even with 195/55 R15 tires. Boy, is it easy to park!

Minus

The dash rattled like heck when we bounced over some dirt roads. The interior trim is generally very nice, but the Fit Sport lacks a lighted accent ring around the ignition switch. The instrument panel eschews a water-temperature gauge in favor of an indicator light. Radio reception is poor. Fireflies burn more brightly than the cargo area light. Using the paddle shifters on four-three-two downshifts for enthusiastic cornering can pitch the car way onto its toes before entering a turn; with a manual transmission and heel-and-toe downshifts, it's possible to blip the throttle and neatly match the revs for a more composed attitude.

Sum

For this money ($16,565 as tested) it has much to offer. The paddle shifters are by and large a delight. Oh, for twenty-five more horsepower!

This bug-eyed little wagon is strangely cute. Typical of Honda, the interior has huge dials and controls with great ergonomics. The center console offers lots of useful storage for small items. The instruments' blue glow at night is pleasant. Yes, the Fit Sport is small on the outside--wait'll you come back to the parking lot and see it next to the full-size pickup that just arrived--but it has a reasonable amount of room. Road noise is bearable. No, it's not racy, but the steering (nice, leather-wrapped wheel) is pretty sharp, handling is decent even with rear torsion-bar suspension, and the ride quality is impressive even with 195/55 R15 tires. Boy, is it easy to park!

This bug-eyed little wagon is strangely cute. Typical of Honda, the interior has huge dials and controls with great ergonomics. The center console offers lots of useful storage for small items. The instruments' blue glow at night is pleasant. Yes, the Fit Sport is small on the outside--wait'll you come back to the parking lot and see it next to the full-size pickup that just arrived--but it has a reasonable amount of room. Road noise is bearable. No, it's not racy, but the steering (nice, leather-wrapped wheel) is pretty sharp, handling is decent even with rear torsion-bar suspension, and the ride quality is impressive even with 195/55 R15 tires. Boy, is it easy to park!

This bug-eyed little wagon is strangely cute. Typical of Honda, the interior has huge dials and controls with great ergonomics. The center console offers lots of useful storage for small items. The instruments' blue glow at night is pleasant. Yes, the Fit Sport is small on the outside--wait'll you come back to the parking lot and see it next to the full-size pickup that just arrived--but it has a reasonable amount of room. Road noise is bearable. No, it's not racy, but the steering (nice, leather-wrapped wheel) is pretty sharp, handling is decent even with rear torsion-bar suspension, and the ride quality is impressive even with 195/55 R15 tires. Boy, is it easy to park!

This bug-eyed little wagon is strangely cute. Typical of Honda, the interior has huge dials and controls with great ergonomics. The center console offers lots of useful storage for small items. The instruments' blue glow at night is pleasant. Yes, the Fit Sport is small on the outside--wait'll you come back to the parking lot and see it next to the full-size pickup that just arrived--but it has a reasonable amount of room. Road noise is bearable. No, it's not racy, but the steering (nice, leather-wrapped wheel) is pretty sharp, handling is decent even with rear torsion-bar suspension, and the ride quality is impressive even with 195/55 R15 tires. Boy, is it easy to park!

This bug-eyed little wagon is strangely cute. Typical of Honda, the interior has huge dials and controls with great ergonomics. The center console offers lots of useful storage for small items. The instruments' blue glow at night is pleasant. Yes, the Fit Sport is small on the outside--wait'll you come back to the parking lot and see it next to the full-size pickup that just arrived--but it has a reasonable amount of room. Road noise is bearable. No, it's not racy, but the steering (nice, leather-wrapped wheel) is pretty sharp, handling is decent even with rear torsion-bar suspension, and the ride quality is impressive even with 195/55 R15 tires. Boy, is it easy to park!

This bug-eyed little wagon is strangely cute. Typical of Honda, the interior has huge dials and controls with great ergonomics. The center console offers lots of useful storage for small items. The instruments' blue glow at night is pleasant. Yes, the Fit Sport is small on the outside--wait'll you come back to the parking lot and see it next to the full-size pickup that just arrived--but it has a reasonable amount of room. Road noise is bearable. No, it's not racy, but the steering (nice, leather-wrapped wheel) is pretty sharp, handling is decent even with rear torsion-bar suspension, and the ride quality is impressive even with 195/55 R15 tires. Boy, is it easy to park!

This bug-eyed little wagon is strangely cute. Typical of Honda, the interior has huge dials and controls with great ergonomics. The center console offers lots of useful storage for small items. The instruments' blue glow at night is pleasant. Yes, the Fit Sport is small on the outside--wait'll you come back to the parking lot and see it next to the full-size pickup that just arrived--but it has a reasonable amount of room. Road noise is bearable. No, it's not racy, but the steering (nice, leather-wrapped wheel) is pretty sharp, handling is decent even with rear torsion-bar suspension, and the ride quality is impressive even with 195/55 R15 tires. Boy, is it easy to park!

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