Dodge Caliber Production Ends, Soon to Be Replaced by Dodge Dart

Chrysler Group has finally ended production of its aging and slow-selling Caliber hatchback after almost six years. The final copy of the Caliber rolled off the assembly line in Belvidere, Illinois, last week.

The Caliber hatchback was launched in early 2006 as a replacement for the Dodge Neon sedan and coupe models, but never proved a strong success. Annual sales peaked at 101,079 in 2007, but soon fell to 84,158 in 2008 and just 36,098 in 2010. Through the end of November this year, Dodge sold just 33,632 Calibers.

Though the Caliber’s SUV-like design, generous level of standard equipment, and optional all-wheel drive were meant to appeal to buyers both stateside and globally, a disappointing driving experience marred the car’s reputation. Saddled with a continuously variable transmission, we found “the Caliber’s powertrains don’t inspire.” Engine choices at launch comprised a 148-hp 1.8-liter inline-four, a 158-hp 2.0-liter inline-four, and a 172-hp 2.4-liter inline-four. Even a refresh for 2010, which included better transmission tuning and a new interior, failed to ignite much interest in the Caliber.

At the 2006 Chicago auto show, Dodge introduced a performance version called the Caliber SRT-4. Named after the earlier Neon-based Dodge SRT-4, the new model endowed the Caliber hatchback with stronger brakes, enhanced suspension, and a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine good for 285 hp. Although the hotted-up car was fun to drive, we still concluded, “You’ll never get a world-class meal when you start with Spam, and neither will you get a world-class hot hatch when you start with a Caliber.”

The car’s successor, the 2013 Dodge Dart, will take the place of the Caliber at Dodge’s Belvidere assembly plant, which currently employs about 2500 people. The plant has a long history of building small Chrysler vehicles, including the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon from 1978 to 1987; the Dodge Neon from 1994 to 2005; and most recently the Dodge Caliber starting in late 2005 (along with platform-mates Jeep Compass and Patriot from 2006).

The 2013 Dart will give Dodge an all-new entrant in the C-segment, starting with a chassis adapted from that of the European Alfa Romeo Giulietta. From what we’ve seen in early photos, both interior and exterior quality has been vastly improved over the old Caliber. Full-width LED taillights and an optional touch-screen infotainment system are styled like those in the larger Charger. Dodge also promises that high-strength steel and independent suspension will make the Dart fun to drive.

We also are optimistic that the Dart’s powertrains will be more scintillating than those in the old car; buyers will be able to pick from 2.0 and 2.4-liter inline-four “Tigershark” engines, as well as a turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine, with a choice of three different transmissions. At least one of those combinations should return 40 mpg on the highway.

The 2013 Dodge Dart makes its public debut in January at the 2012 Detroit auto show.

Source: The Detroit News

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